Impact Story

Zibu Masotobe — bringing real solutions to communities

real solutions to communities

Enrolling at the USB gave Zibu clarity on her purpose, the WHY in her life. It made her question her role in society – and this has propelled her to be part of the solution in a country where there are high levels of poverty, inequality and poor education. This is the life that she knows very well, given her own background. Growing up she did not have any real or tangible
expectations, with very little exposure to the world except that immediately around her.

Through a treacherous road of trial and error and becoming a mother at 17 years old, Zibu, now in her early thirties, has achieved an MBA, has met President Obama, putting South Africa on the world stage and has started initiatives that bring real solutions to communities. Here is an inspiring story of resilience, perseverance and finding the good in oneself and the reflection on the impact of doing the MBA.

The impact of doing an MBA at the USB, Zibu relates her personal journey:

The MBA was and still remains an eye-opener in terms of how Stellenbosch helped Zibu approach her education. That approach had more focus on her development as a human being as opposed to simply giving her information. In her view, personal development made the absolute difference.

Before the MBA programme started, students were required to register for an online leadership style assessment which
was then sent to her colleagues, managers and staff for feedback. When the assessment results were revealed to her, she found out how they experienced her as opposed to what she thought she was. This feedback was crushing in many ways, but it taught
her more about herself – it made her more self-aware, aware of how she was impacting other people. She discovered that she was managing people instead of leading them.

This new awareness led her to make changes in her life and work. Subsequently, two of the executives in her team were inspired to do an MBA as well. Since completing her MBA, she feels that she has become a producer of leaders, more conscious of other people’s achievements and less caught up in herself. She feels she has become more approachable, more open to having faults, and this has had a significant impact on the dynamics in her team and the way in which her staff approach their own work.

The Business in Society module on the MBA made her, for the first time, question her role as a leader in South Africa, honestly
reflecting on the impact she is making in terms of transformation or the lack thereof in industry. Previously, she had looked to
government and authorities for solutions but never at herself. She had never thought of herself as an official in a state-owned
entity and the impact of the decisions that she was making in creating solutions. She reflects that when she joined the MBA programme, she was a portfolio manager in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) for Electrification.

Her responsibility was delivering electricity in rural areas and to schools in KZN, which had the biggest backlog in terms of un-
electrified households. Prior to the MBA, she saw her work simply as a numbers game: how many households were in this area
and how many would be lit by this period.

At the time there was tough resistance from the communities, who would cut down the poles being put up. There was ignorance on her part and the department as to why this was happening. During her time at the USB she instituted community meetings to explain the electrification design principles, spoke to local community leaders about when they would be catered for in relation to other villages. She discovered that when communities were not consulted, this led to aggressive behaviour.

Since then, she has purposefully incorporated stakeholder engagements in her work projects. Zibu brought into her work the approach to engage society as partners, as stakeholders, and not as by-products of the business.

She reflects that the MBA was a full experience – she learned to have self-discipline, and even learnt meditation in an MBA class. She had never tried to quieten her life before. Meditation helped her to stop going against the current, demanding
of people to deliver results and struggling to lead them.

Before completing the MBA, she had never related education to life – education had been about career progression. The personal development, the definition of her role, her story, discovering her true voice, and quieting the ‘other’ voice inside her head, brought about a complete turnaround. She started understanding the resentment she had for people, her need to tell her story and be acknowledged for it. She started taking responsibility for herself and her choices, all of which has impacted on what she went on to do.

Zibu went into self-employment (into public service as she likes to refer to it), as a social entrepreneur. Two years ago when she made a call on Facebook for women wishing to start a revolution to join her, she received an overwhelming response. Women from all walks of life answered the call. MMC Business Advice was born, which she co-owns with
60 other women. She steered away from starting a business on her own, which would just have fed her ego – that had nothing to do with service.

She was inspired to give women a voice, a platform. The start of MMC highlighted some of the women in the network needing
mentorship. One of these owns a business called ‘New Africa’, a marketing and design company.

Another woman who had sewn her a dress two years previously, with which she was rather impressed, was mentored by Zibu and helped to develop a marketing strategy (taught on the MBA programme). Zibu got her a presence on Facebook and linked her up with New Africa, who in turn helped her to do her online marketing, logo and branding. This woman has since tripled her earnings and is able to support her family.

As a result of MMC’s model as, a business association, most of the women are fully employed and have start-up companies as
well. Even though as a collective they all own MMC, Zibu mentors the women in their own businesses. She stresses the importance of a start-up culture in South Africa because of high unemployment levels, and the degree of incompatibility that people experience with their employers and having no choice to leave.

With her commitment to using education for service, she was inspired to write a book, ‘The Personal Finance Evolution’,
due for publication in August 2017. This book is intended to help people get out of debt. The biggest problem in South African
society, she feels, is the high debt culture, lack of information about money and lots of ill-discipline supporting poverty habits
driving poverty decisions – something she knows about through personal experience.

The book supports the new division within the association, MMC Invest. The aim is to tackle the lack of investing in South Africa. Through MMC Invest, Zibu tries to promote an investment culture as opposed to a consumption culture. MMC offers seminars to encourage people to review their savings.

The result is that every 36 months women take stock of their investments and are equipped to decide whether to invest in
long-term assets such as property, or to cash out. In addition to the seminars, Zibu runs a broadcast on her Facebook page
every Tuesday at 19:30. The last topic she presented was a debt review.

As part of an MBA assignment, students had to form a Facebook group. Zibu had not been on Facebook before; in fact she was
against it. Today she has 40 000 followers. She has found it to be a mine of information. The USB introduced her to Facebook and her work impacts 40 000 people, a massive number for one person.

The MBA challenged her worldviews and the decisions she was making. Her mindset is now driven by problems she sees in society, asking herself what her role in it is, how she can help. Facebook is giving her the platform to effect change.

The MBA changed Zibu’s life significantly. By the time she finished studying, she had many community development projects.
She had adopted a school and many other facilities to uplift the community. When Barack Obama initiated the Young African
Leaders Initiative, she was selected to represent South Africa as one of the young African leaders for the Mandela Washington
Fellowship.

The Fellowship chose people who had the privilege of education and were using this gift for the greater good. This is one of the things she thanks the USB for. The honour of meeting President Obama and how that opened her mind, changed her life immeasurably.

She talks of this 100-year-old ‘white’ institution, the University of Stellenbosch, and through it, the USB that
has cornered the market of knowledge and opened its doors for her – giving her the privilege of education. She used and still uses that privilege and transfers it to others. She has learnt that privilege is transferrable and that learning from each other is the best form of education.

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