By Totsie Memela-Khambula, CEO of Eduloan

True leadership starts by contributing to others beyond self; nuclear, extended family and to one’s community. Women, because of their nurturing nature, are particularly well suited to do so.

As women, we don’t just have to be good at what we do; we must also be good for something, we need a purpose. All of us want to add value to a greater purpose.

This does not only relate to women, but also to companies – with Eduloan being a good example of this. Eduloan’s purpose is to have a considerable impact on education, and particularly for those who don’t have easy access to finance; those in the gap market of not being poor or rich enough to qualify for loans elsewhere.

Women play an important role in reaching Eduloan’s objectives. On our executive committee women are in the majority, and of the seven senior management team, six are women. This is not by design, but is the natural consequence of a company that has enabled women to lead.

Eduloan’s women understand that to lead means to serve. However, “to serve” has become a rather wide concept, almost meaningless. An Indian philosopher, Swami Parthasarathy while in South Africa recently, referred to five levels of service that resonated with me:

  • The highest being the dissemination of spiritual knowledge – to help young people understand their purpose in the world.
  • The lowest level is material service – to give clothes or money to those in need without any emotional connection.
  • A third level is intellectual service, which has to do with helping others understand the context we live and work in.
  • People often expect something back for emotional service – yet another level. However, it is important to give selflessly.
  • The fifth level is physical service – the kind of activity we engage in on for instance Mandela Day, painting schools, assisting the less fortunate where needed.

As CEO of Eduloan, I am proud to be part of an organisation where personnel voluntarily contribute to society by sponsoring a scholarship for a needy student, a programme driven entirely by women. As sponsors, our staff members have agreed to having a certain amount of money deducted from their salaries on a monthly basis towards this scholarship.

Education plays an important role in preparing women for leadership. It is the one factor that will take the disadvantaged out of poverty. Education helps us achieve our dreams and goals. It teaches us that we can live our dreams, no matter where we come from, no matter what our past. Instead life and leadership are about where we are headed.

Unfortunately, in South Africa it is an inconvenient truth that not all women (or men) have access to education, and many are too old to start or their circumstances simply don’t allow further study. Still, this does not mean that they have no role to play. Even the uneducated and the poor can contribute to society by being leaders through their families, street values and contributions to their own communities.

Our contribution need not benefit millions. If each one teaches only one other person we can make an indelible, positive difference to our nation. What stops a matriculant from helping a pupil whose parent is uneducated with her homework? If I have the expertise, what keeps me from coaching a principal to turn his school into a successful enterprise?

This kind of mentoring comes naturally to women because of our sisterhood and motherliness. It starts by understanding ourselves and developing ourselves and others into leaders.

To succeed, women can take these pointers to heart:

  • We can make a difference by being good at what we are and do, by continually improving our competencies so we cannot be ignored.
  • Be minimalist and don’t try to do more than three to five things well, a challenge I continue to battle with
  • Ignore the cynics – not everybody should or will love you or what you do.
  • Give yourself space to reflect, give yourself some time to be you and be with yourself.
  • When engaging with people, always leave them feeling better than they did before. Maya Angelou, American writer and poet, said “people never forget how you made them feel”.
  • Lastly, avoid the seduction of success – never think you are more important than others or forget where you came from.

Article issued by Eduloan