Empowering Women in Sub-Saharan Africa through Entrepreneurship
Lerato, one of the Ashinaga Africa Initiative’s first graduates, studied at Mount Holyoke University, a liberal arts university in the northeastern United States, from 2016 to 2020. During her degree, she majored in Political Science, Entrepreneurship, Organizations, and Society.
She participated in various entrepreneurial programs that pushed her to develop business ideas as a student. One of these led to Ya Samaki, an initiative that served as the undertone for her entrepreneurial journey. Throughout her career, she learned the value of being able to pivot while proactively defining her career journey. She also focused on the integral importance of her role as a player through the journey. This skill turned out to be helpful at the International Business Ethics Competition, where she earned two gold awards and one silver award. As a result, she was selected for a summer accelerator program with the Clinton Global Initiative, which provided training, mentorship opportunities, and access to a network of international experts and change-makers.
Besides her entrepreneurial journey, Lerato interned as a community host at Impact Hub in Johannesburg, South Africa. Her role involved onboarding new members into the community, enabling connections, and fostering engagement and collaboration. Through this internship, she had the opportunity to gain insights into various roles within the organization and the value of learning through a community.
Throughout her undergraduate degree and her experience as an AAI Scholar, she had the opportunity to build a community and create strong connections. One of the events that enabled this was the international tsudoi, Ashinaga’s workshops on leadership and professional development. Another crucial component of her journey was her network of peers, which supported her several times and expanded during her internship. She has learned to be independent and to have her voice heard through leadership and ownership. Two mantras that are particularly important to Lerato are: “nobody can tell your story other than yourself” and “walk into rooms and claim your purpose.” To Lerato, the Ashinaga Africa Initiative (AAI) has, among other things, helped her understand the value of empowering young people through leadership. This realization manifested in the wealth of cultural knowledge she has obtained. It has also helped her acknowledge and control her biases when interacting with others, including being mindful of cultural differences and the different perspectives that make conversations richer.
Lerato is now working as an Entrepreneurship Specialist at Anheuser-Busch InBev in South Africa, where she runs developmental training programs for taverns and retailers. As an entrepreneurial specialist, she also leads partnerships, communication, and projects for the team. She believes strongly that her journey prepared her to be a leader within her current role, understanding the needs of the stakeholders she works with.
Addressing Ashinaga’s supporters, Lerato emphasizes the importance of providing access to opportunities and education, focusing on inclusivity and diversity to allow students like herself and other AAI Scholars to unleash their leadership potential. Nurturing strong leaders requires an environment that promotes continuous self-development. In other words, strong leaders are forged in strong communities.