NOMPU SIZIBA: Some successful South Africans pull together in order try and overcome social problems which on their own would be insurmountable. One such organisation is the International Women’s Forum of South Africa [IWFSA] . It was founded by Ms Zenele Mbeki together with a group of like-minded women by crystallising their skills and resources. The IWFA is seeking to make a difference in the country.
To tell us more about it I’m joined on the line by Dot Field of Dot Field Consulting. Thanks very much for joining us, Dot. You have all these heavyweight women – not in a physical sense of course, I hasten to add, but in the compliment sense – who come together under the IWFSA banner. Just tell us why the organisation was conceived in the first place, and what it’s doing in practice to make an impact on those whose life chances are less fortunate.
DOT FIELD: Hi, and thank you for the opportunity. Yes, the international Women’s Forum of South Africa is in fact a chapter of a far larger organisation globally, and that is of course the International Women’s Forum. So it might be a good idea for me to give you a bit of a history of that organisation because that’s from whence the deep heritage and legacy come.
NOMPU SIZIBA: Please do.
DOT FIELD: The International Women’s Forum was established in 1974 by Elly Guggenheimer, who was a famous writer, civic leader and philanthropist in the United States. It then went global in 1982, and in 1994 it became known as the international Women’s Forum.
This forum connects some of the world’s most preeminent women of significant and diverse achievements, and brings together a really unprecedented global membership, who exchange ideas and learn and inspire one another to promote better leadership. The real fundamental of the International Women’s Forum is promoting leadership. There are 6 500 women members across 33 countries and 74 forums across the world.
As you mentioned at the beginning, the South African chapter was established in 2000 by Ms Zenele Mbeki. We are really privileged to have a chapter in South Africa of such a wonderful organisation such as the International Women’s Forum. As I’ve mentioned, the real emphasis, particularly for us in South Africa, is on the development and upliftment of women and, in particular, leadership.
NOMPU SIZIBA: Absolutely. In practical terms, what type of work are you doing in that regard?
DOT FIELD: In South Africa we’ve got two important areas and I can touch on a previous programme and then the current programme.
The flagship programme is the Strategic Leadership Programme, or FLP. That is aimed at young women in senior management positions. It’s a 12-month part-time programme that provides a carefully structured balance between academic input and IWFSA-backed intervention.
Today 200 fellows have graduated from this programme. The academic credibility has been provided through a partnership with the Gordon Institute of Business Science, and it’s a very vigorous and highly interactive approach. That’s been our flagship programme to date.
And at present we’ve also got a wonderful programme called Young Leaders Connect and that’s a programme that provides an arena from which the future young leaders of Africa, including of course those from South Africa, can network with their peers across the globe, exchange ideas, learn from and inspire each other.
Just to give you an example of the kind of international inspiration the ladies and young leaders connect in, in February this year we had a very interesting fellow International Women’s Forum member, a previous president in fact internationally of the organisation, and that was attorney-general Allyson Maynard Gibson from the Bahamas. She came through to South Africa and I was privileged to attend a session where she was interacting with some of the young leaders in South Africa. It’s just that kind of exposure that you get to people you would never normally interact with or meet that is just do fascinating. That’s just one example of the Young Leaders Connect programme.
NOMPU SIZIBA: Just in terms of the ages – if you’ve got kids here in South Africa who are underprivileged, do you tap onto those who show that they’ve got good intelligence, are doing well at school, and just begin to get them familiarised with issues like leadership at an early stage? Do you intervene at an early stage?
DOT FIELD: Certain of the members within the International Women’s Forum are also partners on other programmes, and I can just speak of my own experience. I was a mentor with Cell C’s Take a Girl Child to Work, and they had a mentorship programme for young schoolgirls as well. In my capacity of being an IWFSA member I was approached to be a mentor on that programme, and there I very successfully engaged with a young girl who was from a very underprivileged background, and helped her through school – not financially but emotionally, and then in a true mentorship capacity – and she is now in her third year at university. So many, many of the International Women’s Forum members do mentorship like that in their personal capacity.
But the focus for IWFSA formally in South Africa is for women in business already and are wanting to go up the career path into more leadership positions. That is the primary focus but the members in their own capacity – I know many of our members were involved in that particular programme I mentioned, and in many others.
NOMPU SIZIBA: Who are some of the great women in South Africa involved in this body? Just give us a sense of some of their accomplishments.
DOT FIELD: Well, we’ve really got an illustrious membership in South Africa. Obviously our patron and founder is Ma Zanele Mbeki, the former first lady of the country. Then we’ve got Ms Bridgette Radebe, Naledi Pandor, Dr Anna Mokgokong, Namane Magau, Dr Vuo Mahlati, who were all past presidents of the South African International Women’s Forum.
Then you’ve got a business icon, who sadly passed away, Pam Golding from Pam Golding Realty, and then jane Raphaely, a legend in print and publishing in South Africa – and many, many others. Veronica Devine, who founded a massive beauty company in South Africa years ago, Joan Joffe and many other illustrious members. If your listeners wasn’t o have more information on the members, that can of course visit the website. I can’t rattle off 100 names. The website is IWFSA.co.za
NOMPU SIZIBA: Well, you’ve done a good job in giving us a sense of the calibre of people who you are talking about.
How much work does the organisation do with our youth, or for our youth, because, no doubt any interaction with them could assist them in terms of providing role models which I think we are sadly lacking. Also to give young people advice about the journey to success – that it’s not always paved with gold and honey and so on. Do you have those type of engagements with young people as well?
DOT FIELD: That is done through Young Leaders Connect, and the members are quite active with that programme. Often we’ll be asked as a member to come and meet fellow members of Young Leaders Connect, share our thoughts, our views. We also hold conferences. We were privileged enough to have the whole international body here in 2015 at our Cornerstone Conference. So there are those kind of areas where we do connect.
But there is a place for everybody in the sun, and International Women’s Forum per se looks at women who are currently in the workplace and not necessarily the young ladies that are at school or university. Perhaps that is an area where they should consider getting more involved, but at present it is for women who are already in the workplace.
NOMPU SIZIBA: We are celebrating Heritage Day, Heritage Month. What is your take or what are your thoughts around Heritage Day in your capacity as a representative of the IWFSA?
DOT FIELD: I can speak in my personal capacity and then of course by just being a member – I think it’s so vitally important to celebrate our heritage. South Africa is made out of a kaleidoscope of beautiful cultures and heritage. I myself am proudly South African, but I’m also proudly Swedish. So I will today be celebrating my heritage with my mother. I’m blessed to still have her alive. She’s Swedish, so I’ll be having a Swedish day with my mom, and then also celebrating with my South African family. But I think it’s incredibly important to celebrate and really embrace our heritage as South Africans. I’m grateful that we’ve got a day like today in which to do so.
NOMPU SIZIBA: Dot, there are so many socioeconomic problems in South Africa. On the one hand the educational outcomes for the majority of people are not that great, which negatively sets people up for adult life.
Then of course we have the realities of high unemployment and some people in employment are barely making enough to sustain themselves.
Then also we have social scourges we experience around drugs, abuse of women and other crimes.
When faced with these realities, how does the organisation work to intervene in these areas, if at all?
DOT FIELD: I will again say that each individual member in their own capacity decides what they can to influence and be a beacon of light and of hope in what sometimes seems to be quite dismal circumstances. It’s not something per se that the organisation embraces and takes on as a driver. We are primarily there to look at leadership, platforms of leadership development. But members in their individual capacity I know really do get stuck in and do try as best possible to help where they can.
Just in my own personal space I’m very involved with an organisation called the Viva Foundation of South Africa, and we’ve established an independent primary school in a squatter camp,. I know it’s a word people don’t like o use, but that is what it is outside Pretoria, where there are over 22 000 residents and no schooling. So each of the members equally is involved in similar projects. I must add that the membership of the International Women’s Forum is by invitation only, so you have to be nominated to be a member. We have around 120 members active in South Africa at the moment.
But it’s really a privilege and an honour for me to be a member of the International Women’s Forum and I take the role very seriously, as I know all of my fellow members do.
NOMPU SIZIBA: That’s lovely. You’ve really made it very clear that the emphasis is on leadership, and in South Africa there’s been an ongoing discussion, a debate about the calibre of leadership that we have in the country. You guys in one corner are trying to do your little bit to make an impact. How frustrating is it for you sometimes when you look at some of the consequences that have arisen from what we are now learning to have been bad leadership, and how can we get over the hurdle and get to a situation where people who are in positions of leadership are actually about serving others and not themselves?
DOT FIELD: I think what we must always do – and again I go back to my own personal space and what I do – is continue being a beacon of hope. You have to continue calling out bad behaviour or calling out bad leadership, and living by example. So if you have good moral values, if you stand up for what’s right, your light shines, and by your light shining you can’t ever give up hope. I think we’ve seen an incredible turnaround in the country. I’m personally extremely optimistic and quite excited for the future. I heard our president speak on Friday, announcing the the economic plans for the way forward, and I’m extremely excited and positive for what lies ahead.
I think wherever you see corruption, if you see something that’s amiss, don’t be shy, call it out. Say it as it is, and that’s the only way forward. If we all live by that, things will certainly get better – and they are.
NOMPU SIZIBA: Let’s remain optimistic. Thank you so much.