As the world celebrates International Women’s Day on 8 March, global talk show icon and inspirational celebrity Oprah Winfrey is looking to young women in South Africa to make a difference.
This is through the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy (OWLAG), which looks at the impact of young South African women globally – women who have defied the odds of the circumstances that they were born into and are now giving back to communities worldwide. The goal of OWLAG is to identify young women with the potential for greatness and provide them with the tools needed to make a positive impact wherever they go.
OWLAG’s Executive Director, Gugu Ndebele, has dedicated her career to empowering children and women. She says, “empowered women have the ability to empower communities, families, businesses and countries and it’s great to see OWLAG girls leading life-changing initiatives and paying-it-forward for the next generation”.
Today, we celebrate three former OWLAG students who are now leaders in their professions in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), health and medicine.
Avukile Zoya – OWLAG Class of 2012
Avukile has always been interested in the public health sector and after she completed her internships where she had the opportunity to work with nurses, doctors, government officials, and traditional healers, she knew that she wanted to work with people who are invested in bettering the health of South Africans. This led her to Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) in Pretoria where she works as a Sexual and Reproductive Health Analyst.
Through her work, Avukile, seeks to better the quality of Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) services to women through public health facility quality interventions and providing women with the family planning services that they need to make informed decisions as to how they create families of their own.
Although Avukile’s work involves crunching numbers and data, she has been extremely fulfilled by her experiences going into the field and interacting with youth to learn about their perceptions and experiences around reproductive health. She says, “It’s so powerful when women can take ownership of their bodies and make better choices for themselves and so we hope to give this kind of power to women.”
Andronica Klaas – OWLAG Class of 2012
While studying a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, Information Systems at Johnson C. Smith University in North Carolina, Andronica and two of her peers were approached by the Google IgniteCS initiative to create a programme that would gauge the interest of minority students in technology. This led them to create the STEMites summer camp targeted at young women from underprivileged communities.
The three-week-long summer camp gives high school students with an interest in STEM the opportunity to learn how to create a website using HTML while developing their leadership skills. In its pilot year, two of the students that completed the camp entered university with a major in Computer Science.
Andronica continues to look for ways that will empower young women in the technology field and recently attended the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing after being identified as one of the leaders in technology by her employer.
Mohau Mazibuko – OWLAG Class of 2012
From Atteridgeville, Pretoria, Mohau started her career with a focus on branding but has since found success in inspiring people to become the healthiest versions of themselves through her work for WW – the new Weight Watchers.
WW defines its purpose as inspiring healthy habits for real life – for people, families, communities, the world – for everyone. This means making wellness accessible to everyone and was brought to life through a program called WW Good. Through a series of free festivals across North America, WW Good offered nearly 8,000 attendees the opportunity to hear inspiring speakers, enjoy fitness activities and sample healthy foods.
More importantly, for every person who attended, WW in partnership with WE, Wholesome Wave and Community Food Centres Canada provided an entire month’s worth of produce to a local family in need. Through this initiative, Mohau was able to see first hand the immediate impact of her work in ensuring that families had healthy food to put on their tables.
Mohau says, “no matter where I end up in the world, I’ll remember Maya Angelou’s words, ‘Good done anywhere is good done everywhere.’”