As part of our #MakeItHappen series, we meet Olwethu Leshabane, the Port Elizabeth-born and Joburg-based digital strategist who's an activist at heart.
Tell us about your current job and how you got there?
I’m a digital strategist by occupation and a sanitation advocate by passion. Red Wings Project (RWP) is a non-profit organisation (NPO) that aims to primarily empower women through different initiatives. RWP addresses the lack of affordability of and accessibility to water, sanitation, agriculture, lighting infrastructure, products and services.
What does it mean to be a woman in your industry?
On the digital strategy side, it is particularly tough because it is a white, male-dominated space and it has taken a long time for the industry to open up for women. On the RWP work that I do, working with government organisations has been incredibly testing, but I do believe change will come. Working with private organisations has given me some of the best experiences in terms of personal learnings and growth. As a woman who is trying to pave the way in the water, sanitation, agriculture and lighting industries for other women, it means one must work hard and have endurance. I am also part of Vital Voices programme in partnership with Pond’s, as a fellowship member. This is a recurring 21-month fellowship programme designed to empower women around the world who have a bold vision for change. This programme is named VVLead Fellowship that aims to connect, provide training for, and give visibility to women who lead mission-driven companies and organisations from around the globe. The programme has instilled confidence in me that being a working woman isn’t so lonely and that women conquer when they work in unity.
Who are your role models today?
I don’t necessarily have role models as I do feel that this, in a way, is propaganda that we grow up with, particularly as young women. We get so consumed by this person whose path you would like to walk, but soon you realise that you have your own unique calling. I have a lot of women I look up to that include Khanyi Dhlomo, Basetsana Kumalo, Carol Bouwer and Judy Nxasana. I hold many men and women in high regard and they have inspired my life’s journey and the woman I would like to become. My husband is also someone I’m inspired by. He’s so strong, I’m not referencing the physical sense but rather mentally with a gentle and sweet soul and heart. I admire Beyoncé’s work ethic. I admire the unconditional love mothers have and one woman who stands out for me is my mother-in-law – her love is unwavering and steadfast.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your career?
The glass ceiling based on the colour of my skin, being a mother and being a wife.
Best piece of advice you’ve received from another woman?
In all that you do and decide about your future, put yourself first. When your glass is full, it is easier to pour into the loved ones around you.
What was your first paying job?
At the age of 15 (though illegal in age to be working), I managed to convince a restaurant manager to hire me as a waitress.
When you were a little girl what did you want to be?
I wanted to be a doctor at some stage, then an investigative journalist, then later a quantity surveyor.
What’s one thing that is always in your handbag?
Wet wipes and hand cream. I cannot live without these items.
What makes your world go round?
God, prayer, my hubby and my kids.
What’s the first thing that you do in the morning?
Open and then quickly shut my eyes to say my thank you to God for waking me up yet again.
Definitely the future.
How do you balance work and life?
Honestly, I don’t know. I just do it. I try very hard to give my hubby time, my kids time and also have my own ‘me time.’ It can get crazy and overwhelming. But having an understanding and supportive husband who is very hands-on even with his crazy schedule, is amazing.
What makes you laugh?
When my sons must explain why they have been misbehaving; my hubby when he cheers me up – his laugh is hilarious, you can’t not laugh; myself – I sometimes think about something and just laugh to myself.
How do you unwind?
Meditation and prayer, blogging, a long bath or just relaxing with a book.
PHOTOGRAPHY: SUPPLIED COURTESY OF OLWETHU LESHABANE