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Born to Succeed: Putting women to work in South Africa

By Sandiso Sibisi, Consultant, Accenture Digital, Johannesburg
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We need to start engaging our business leaders and governments more in women’s initiatives to lobby more investment into women. Young women need to stand up and fight for the economic emancipation of women and young girls, because the men will not do it for us, although men need to be involved in the conversations around women’s issues. And women in high authority need to also help combat these issues.

"There is wisdom in starting small and persevering."

Taking real action
In 2013, I founded a program called Born to Succeed to fill a gap in society by trying to curb the steep female youth unemployment rate in South Africa by increasing skills. Born to Succeed identifies ladies from the townships of Gauteng who have passed grade 12 but are unemployed. The program imparts soft skills, such as CV writing, interview strategies, personal image, and communications skills to assist them in finding jobs. It also provides entrepreneurial skills like writing a business plan, financial literacy, and funding a business, to inspire the ladies to start a business.

Additionally, Siyathuthuka, a partner of Born to Succeed, provides computer end-user training and/or programming skills. The ladies are also assigned a mentor from my company’s Women’s Forum for 12 months, who helps them set goals and seek employment. We also educate the ladies on what to do in the workplace during an internship in order to increase their chances of being retained as a permanent staff member.

Born to Succeed has also partnered with companies that commit to providing 1-5 internship positions from their business. Where required, Born to Succeed sources second-hand laptops that ladies can use on the job. After completion of Born to Succeed program, participants are placed at these companies or in other places of employment.

In 2013, we mentored 66 ladies from disadvantaged backgrounds, giving them access to corporate South African women and business leaders. The ladies who participated achieved 94 percent employment within a year after the program in areas such as hospitality, administration, arts and supply chain. One of the ladies built a similar program to Born to Succeed at her hometown church, and at least two successful small businesses have stemmed from Born to Succeed.

In 2014, we had 35 participants of whom two have already claimed employment positions. The group graduated in August 2015, and we’re eager to see the success of the group in the year following their graduation.

In 2015, we recruited 50 ladies for the program, who will graduate in August 2016. I am so excited to be doing this project, because I have walked the journey with many of the ladies and have seen lives being transformed through my efforts. It makes me so happy to see a better South Africa.

Making hard choices
The minimum requirement for Born to Succeed Ladies is to have passed grade 12 and be living in Gauteng. I sometimes receive requests to join the program from ladies who have not passed Grade 12 and from ladies living in other provinces. I redirect them to other appropriate non-governmental organizations (NGOs). For the first time this year, we funded a day trip for ladies from Eastern Cape, KwaZulu Natal and Free-State to attend the Born to Succeed Conference 2015 in Johannesburg. The aim is for the participant to execute a small workshop or simply share with friends and family in their hometown the lessons learned from the conference.

Today, after receiving so many requests I cannot appease, I keep an inventory of different avenues people can reach out to given their current circumstance and the help they require.

Effectively, I have had to learn that you cannot help everyone. When running an organization, one needs to remain focused and stick to the mandate, because too much dabbling can jeopardize the success of the organization or program at hand.

My secret to funding
The very first Born to Succeed in 2013 was funded by family and friends. It was a lot of work trying to chase after lots of people for their donations, but it was all worth it. I believe that all the hard work has paid off. The donation amounts from friends and family have grown, and corporations now have a track record to refer to when I approach them for funding. Today, Born to Succeed is not only funded by personal donors but also major corporations.

This success has shown me that there is wisdom in starting small and persevering. If I had not started any of my initiatives three years ago because I didn’t have funding, it would have been detrimental for all the people I have helped today. Lack of funding should never be a reason not to start something, especially something for a social benefit.

Accepting all kinds of help
I have learned that not everyone is as passionate about education as I am. Therefore, I should never expect the same amount of effort I put in from the next person. I need to appreciate that little bit of effort and either improve the deliverable myself or hand over to another person I know can achieve the desired outcome.

Many for-profit organizations struggle to find people who are as passionate about the company as the founder or CEO. I am running a non-profit where we do not even pay the team. I consider it a blessing that individuals are willing to give any of their time. I have been fortunate enough to discover three individuals who have a similar passion for education as I do, and they are constantly adding value towards Born to Succeed.