#WIB – Q&A With Melene Rossouw Founding Director of WLM

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1.      Can you please tell us more about your business?

A. Women Lead Movement (WLM) was started with two key objectives in mind:

i) Promoting Gender Equality and Empowering women and girls (UN SDG 5). Our four pillars of empowerment are social, political, health and economic, and

ii) Promoting an Active and Participatory Citizenry

WLM’s focus is predominantly on the millions of ordinary women and girls at a grassroots level that is often excluded from the gender equality conversation, yet they are the primary victims of gender discrimination. Our patriarchal societal norms and standards foster and sustain this vicious cycle of abuse and, in the absence of a political will, our laws have proven futile in the battle against gender stereotyping, and the oppression and suppression of women and girls. WLM is therefore resolute in confronting and challenging any arbitrary laws, policy, social constructs, mindsets, and behaviours which threaten gender equality and stifles the realization of gender parity. To achieve these objectives, WLM educates, mobilizes and equips women and girls, particularly, in our disadvantaged communities to take a stand, cement themselves as social change leaders, and, in a constructive manner, support one another and collectively advocate for gender equality and the end of Gender-Based Violence.

WLM believes that by empowering and educating women and girls to be social change agents in their communities and schools will not only promote an active and participatory citizenry but will be the catalyst for more organized and impactful community action against human rights violations afflicted upon the marginalized, disempowered and vulnerable groups. Our intended outcomes are:

  • Increased leadership, skilfulness, and self-confidence of women and girls;
  • Increased knowledge and understanding of human rights, women’s rights and the impact of gender discrimination to reduce human rights violations and abuse of women and girls;
  • Increased participation and representation of women in local government, community-based organizations, existing community structures, and decision-making processes;
  • Educated and empowered women and girls on the frontlines advocating and campaigning in schools and the community for women’s rights, gender equality and the elimination of GBV;
  • Equipping women and girls to become agents of change in their communities and schools;
  • Organized community activities through established Women Community Forums which is a WLM Flagship initiative
2.      When, how and why did you start your business?

A. Women Lead Movement was registered in 2017 as a Non-Profit Organisation. The problem we want to address is gender inequality and discrimination against girls and women. According to the World Economic Forum Gender Gap Report 2018, at the current rate of progress it will take the world 108 years to achieve gender equality and we are saying that this is unacceptable. Women and girls have been systemically oppressed and suppressed in the social, political, and economic sectors of society for eons and we want to see an increase in gender parity. Women and Girls must be empowered and educated to participate meaningfully in social and political leadership and decision-making tool, to increase their voices in society and government. Moreover, women must form groups/forums in communities to collectively drive the gender equality agenda and advocate and campaign for more gender-equal laws and policies. Through their Forum they will be able to influence decisions at a community level as a start and drive community activities that will raise awareness about GBV and Women’s Rights.

3.      What is your role in the business?

A. I am the Founding Director of the Women Lead Movement and currently serving as the Executive Director of the organization. I am responsible for leading the development and execution of the organization’s long and short term strategies; to ensure that the organization is appropriately organized and staffed; to promote sound financial and corporate governance, to ensure that effective internal controls and management systems are in place; to develop policies and ensuring adherence to policy prescripts within the organization, to fundraise for programmes and to foster, build, and manage new partnerships.

4.      Where did you study and what did you study?

A. I completed both my Bachelor of Laws and Master of Laws at the University of the Western Cape. I specialized in Public and Constitutional Law and was admitted as an attorney in the High Court of South Africa in 2009. During my time as a Mandela Washington Fellow I had the opportunity to complete a short study program in Civic Leadership at the College of William & Mary as well as the University of Virginia in Virginia, USA.

5.      How did you finance your business?

A. At the beginning of my organization we only had the vision and a plan but no external finance. I invested my savings into the organization. This went into setting up the entire business including the development of content for our training and education programmes. Those initial personal investments were critical in legitimizing the organization to apply for outside funding and contracts.

6.      Describe your average workday, if such a thing exists.

A. There is not an average workday for me. If we are not in training in the communities, we are conducting media interviews, meeting potential donors and organizations that we have identified as partners, research and applying for funding, attending to public speaking engagements, or strategizing our next steps.

7.      How do you balance your home life and your work life?

A. WLM is a young organization and requires a lot of work daily. I think every entrepreneur would agree that it is very difficult to separate your home life with work-life especially if you are the head of a young organization/ business.  It will require all your attention and commitment. However, I have my indicators for when I know I need time to rest and exercise and I take it seriously because for my organization to do well it will require me to present the best version of myself.

8.      What drives you and inspires you?

A. I find inspiration from people and events happening in the world and this can be both negative and positive. My primary inspiration is found in people who have the moral courage to stand up for justice, truth, fairness, and equality. Those people who rise irrespective of how intimidating the situation may be or the consequences thereof. Those are the people that inspire me. Things that drive me to make a difference is seeing the level of poverty, inequality, and suffering that millions of South Africans, in particular children and women, must endure daily. Also, the high level of corruption, nepotism, and fraud that is taking place in government and corporate at the expense of those women and children who is depending on them to lead with integrity and wisdom to improve their lives by realizing their human rights.

9.      Where and when do you have your best ideas?

A. We might not be aware of this but ideas are generated through interactions and experiences every day but because we are always busy we never get an opportunity to make sense of it all. My best ideas come when I take time to reflect and rest because at that time I can see and understand things clearly and in context. I also get my best ideas when I am happy or inspired by beautiful surroundings and good people

10.   Where and how do you market/advertise your business for sales leads?

A. There are many methods we apply to the market Women Lead Movement. Firstly, we believe that our work should speak for itself and rely on word of mouth as the oldest and most important way to market our organization. Secondly, we do have a presence on the internet and social media and our following is growing steadily. Thirdly, before I founded Women Lead Movement I have built my brand and many clients believe in Women Lead Movement because they believe in my professional capabilities. Building a solid reputation takes time but is worth every effort. Lastly, we get many opportunities to market our organization via media (print, radio, television and mass media)

11.   What is next for your business?

A. Women Lead Movement will be celebrating its third year of existence in 2020 and as a young organization we have grown in leaps and bounds in a very short space of time. We have three key steps we want to take this year:

  • Expanding our membership- We will commence online membership this year to expand our network of women and girls across the globe. Growing membership is critical because you need a committed constituency who supports your work. We drive gender equality agenda and our work will require writing those open letters to world leaders and starting petitions against laws, policies, and practices that negatively impact the progress of women and girls across the world, and for that, we need a larger collective voice to speak. Through our membership, we will also give an opportunity for those members to input and share their experiences and this will provide us with vital information that will inform our future strategies.
  • Establishing Women Lead Movement Offices in Africa- The vision for our movement transcends South Africa. Our vision and mission have the potential to transform societies and we want that for every country in Africa. This year we will be opening a Women Lead Movement office in Madagascar and we intend to grow each year by opening up a new office that will be headed by a capable gender rights activist in that country.
  • Deepening our work in South Africa- We want to have a larger footprint in the country and positively impact diverse communities. This will require collaboration with other women’s rights organizations and growing our pool of donors.
12.   What advice would you give to female entrepreneurs hoping to start their own business?

A. Women have long been underrepresented in entrepreneurship but this trend is shifting substantially with more female entrepreneurs entering this male-dominated space. Moreover, it has been estimated that if more gender parity existed in entrepreneurship, and women started businesses at the same rate as men, global GDP will increase by $28 trillion by 2025. So my advice to female entrepreneurs is that they should leap forward and start their businesses. As women we must take it upon ourselves to fight this deeply entrenched unequal system as a collective and ensure that women are equally represented in the economy, politics, and society as a whole. Be fierce and persistent in your business pursuits and unapologetic about your success. Be radical, innovative, bold, and revolutionary in your thoughts and actions because starting a women-owned business will pave the way forward for millions of other women and they will look to you for inspiration.

My practical advice for female entrepreneurs based on my own experience would be to go big and do not underestimate yourself. We are not building businesses we are building legacies. Secondly, become an expert in your work and stay authentically you because that is what will attract clients to your business. Lastly if you want to build a large and successful business you must grow your network and be willing to work with others because no big vision has ever been achieved alone. 

Social Media Links

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/melene.rossouw

Instagram: melenerossouw

Twitter: @melenerossouw

Website: www.womenleadmovement.org

Facebook WLM: @womenleadmovement