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Founder of GirlIgnite Africa Academy Lerato Motsamai. Photo: Supplied.
Education

This Kick-Ass South African CEO Is Empowering Girls and Women to Achieve Their Potential


Why Global Citizens Should Care
Gender equality is one of the UN's Global Goals — which work to end extreme poverty by 2030. But as well as being a goal in itself, gender equality is also at the heart of achieving many others: education, health and wellbeing, ending hunger, and decent work and economic growth. Join us by taking action here for gender equality. 

Lerato Motsamai, from Johannesburg, has a passion for empowering women and girls in South Africa.

It was this passion that inspired her to launch Girlignite Africa in 2014, a foundation focussed on helping young women and girls ignite their true potential through entrepreneurship, and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.

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Motsamai told Global Citizen that she was motivated to keep going in her mission by a statistic from this year that showed that, among black African females aged 15-34, some 40% were not in education, employment, or training.

She empowers women and girls by creating opportunities for them and urging them to make decisions to help improve their financial wellbeing. And, over the four years, she said she has been able to reach 3,300 girls and young women.

“I was able to do this through the year-long Girlignite Africa Academy Saturday programme and the annual Girlignire Africa Summit,” Motsamai continued.

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She has also been able to create job opportunities for over 100 young women and girls in Gauteng, who were interested in a global health programme Motsamai was running with health company Johnson & Johnson.

“Women empowerment is all about providing tools, skills, and resources that will enable women to access equal opportunities that will benefit them and their communities, socially, and economically," continued Motsamai. "It shouldn’t stop there though." 

"After empowerment must come accelerated advancement, and this is the era that I believe we are witnessing now,” she added. “Ethiopia and Rwanda are our forerunners, where we see women occupying the highest level of decision-making roles in policy and business.” 

“Not only are they defining their position on the table of power and influence, but they are bringing a tangible shift to their economies,” she said. “This is the women empowerment we want and is most needed for Africa’s economy to thrive.” 

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A key programme offered through the Girlignite Centre is mentorship.

“As a mentor, one introduces [these] girls to new experiences and help them unleash their inner ambitions,” Motsamai said.

While economic equality is a social problem that still needs to be resolved, Motsamai added that she believes dynamic partnerships — such as mentorships — are critical to solving Africa’s complex challenges.

“Our partners — from corporations to foundations to entrepreneurs — are committed to developing and supporting socially responsible initiatives that build stronger communities in the developing world, while enhancing business and development goals that we have,” she said.

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“I believe women’s success is based on their ability to connect with people from different walks of life, and their know-how of building relationship equity which then creates access to unlimited opportunity for all,” said Motsamai.

As well as her work with Girlignite, Motsamai is also the founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Petrolink, a South African manufacturer of industrial and automotive lubricants — which she launched in 2012 and through which she has been able to create jobs for more South Africans.

Before she launched Petrolink, Motsama had worked for more than 15 years for corporations in South Africa, and has been recognised by IOL’s Business Report as one of three women influencing the energy sector — and by Financial Mail as a driving force in energy.

She is also a 2018 Fortune United States’ Department of State Alumni and, most recently, was named a winner of the 2018 Inspiring Fifty SA — an award for women working in STEM fields, and presented by the Netherlands’ embassy in South Africa.

She was also presented with an award from the South African Bureau of Standards Design Institute in 2017; and has been named as a 2016 Graca Machel Women Advancing Africa Alumni.

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Not only that, Motsamai is also a mother of two young children and is, she told Global Citizen, passionate about cycling.

“I have completed numerous challenges including the 94.7km Cycle Challenge, the 108km Cape Argus, and the 40 mile New York TD 5 Boro Bike Tour in May this year,” she said.

“What inspires me is knowing that each one of us is creating something from a vision or a dream, to better humanity,” Motsamai continued. “I am moved by the intergenerational conversations that are being started, the thoughts that are being shared, the creativity and possibilities that are coming alive.” 

“I believe that the overarching ingredient that trumps all others is people,” she said. “If you want to be successful in life and in business, you have to be successful with people.” 


The Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100 is presented and hosted by The Motsepe Foundation, with major partners House of Mandela, Johnson & Johnson, Cisco, Nedbank, Vodacom, Coca Cola Africa, Big Concerts, BMGF Goalkeepers, Eldridge Industries, and associate partners HP and Microsoft.