A New Chapter
After working in the corporate sector for a number of years, Loretta Joseph says she became increasingly aware of the extent of the discrimination against women in all spheres of the commercial world. Joseph says she often witnessed women she worked alongside not being taken seriously, regardless of their role in the company,
Based on this, she decided to pursue a career that would help empower women in their business endeavours and contribute to the upliftment of women across society. This is exactly what she does in her current role as the director of Women’s Hope Education and Training Trust (WHEAT). WHEAT is a national fund for women started in 1988 by women who work in different fields, including education, community development, academia and activism.
Joseph says the primary focus of this women-led organisation is to deliver technical and financial support to disenfranchised women. One of the most successful aspects of the work Joseph does at WHEAT is to provide small businesses with grants that help them achieve self-sustainability. “A sewing business that received a small grant from WHEAT is now a supplier to a large manufacturer, and the business owners of the original grantee project have been encouraged to give grants and training to other small businesses to also help them become economically sustainable.”
Before taking on her role as executive director of the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children, Bernadine Bachar was an advocate of the High Court of South Africa. Established in 1999, the Saartjie Baartman Centre is a place where abused women and children can find refuge, transitional housing and job skills training.
Bachar says she changed careers because she is “passionate about social justice, specifically gender-based violence and children’s rights”.
As a result of abuse, women are also immensely economically disempowered because they are forced into poverty and don’t have the means to alleviate the situation.
The Saartjie Baartman Centre provides a 24-hour crisis response programme; a residential shelter programme and transitional housing for abused women and their children; a psychosocial support programme, including a children’s counselling programme; a substance abuse recovery programme; and accredited job skills training programmes.
“I’m privileged to be able to work with these women and appreciate the platform it gives me to make people aware of the problem of gender-based violence in South Africa. It is a busy job, but I believe the work we do matters and helps them build new lives, despite the difficult circumstances they are facing when they come
to us,” says Bachar.
Lillian Masebenza, founder of Mhani Gingi Social Entrepreneurial Network, previously worked as a marketing manager for Old Mutual. Despite her demanding corporate career, Masebenza worked on community projects in her personal capacity throughout her working life. So, when she retired, she chose to devote herself full-time to development work.
“What drew my interest to community work was my own roots in a rural community; I have valuable first-hand knowledge of the problems that the poor and marginalised face. Mhani Gingi is based on the premise of social practice among communities, not in the sense of handouts, but rather on the basis of working together and sharing where possible. Its creation was inspired by my desire to solve our pressing social problems,” Masebenza explains.
Masebenza encourages women to aspire to create wealth through being shareholders in their own businesses, as opposed to being “consumers of goods and services and suppliers of labour”. Her work with Mahni Gingi has refined her goals for addressing the problem of poverty in South Africa.
“I have seen women who are forced to stay in abusive relationships for economic reasons, as well as gifted young people who, with proper assistance, have the potential to do better in life. To prepare for a better future, all these problems have to be addressed with sustainable solutions such as the transfer of skills. I see the Mhani Gingi model as one such solution.”