by Jacqueline Manyonga

Women stirring the leadership pot

They are highly skilled, driven by passion and motivated by the urging desire to take South Africa to the next level

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They are highly skilled, driven by passion and motivated by the urging desire to take South Africa to the next level. Through effective and purposeful leadership, these women have a constant relationship with victory and are living proof that success is not limited by gender as they do a brilliant job in undertaking roles previously regarded as male-dominated.

The status of women has gradually changed over the years, they have leapt to the top despite facing several challenges like gender inequality, unequal pay from their male counterparts and a significant amount of stereotypes.

Women are proving that former president Nelson Mandela was right when he said in his 1996 speech, “As long as outmoded ways of thinking prevent women from making a meaningful contribution to society, progress will be slow.” Ever since incentives were given to companies to appoint women in leadership roles, women are taking on jobs that they would never have dreamt off. They are excelling in those jobs, Leadership met with three women doing exceptional work and got detailed insight on how: President of the Library and Information Association of South Africa (Liasa), Nikki Crowster; CEO of Brand South Africa, Thulisile Manzini; and Creative Director of Regency Global, Shani Kay, are making waves in their industries.

When experience meets hard work, success is ignited.

President of Liasa, Nikki Crowster, started her career in the Library and Information Services (LIS) fresh out of high school because there was no money for her to study further. This year she celebrates 36 years in the field and is currently a member of the directorate in an academic library of a leading African university. Not having a silver spoon to lodged in your mouth does not seal your fate. Crowster is proof that Rome was not built in a day – it takes hard work, constant focus and years of experience to become successful.

Crowster worked her way up the ranks at Liasa over the years. Her success is attributed to her initial engagement with Information Communication Technologies (ICT) interests from a branch level. She was later elected National Executive and Liasa National PRO in 2014. In October 2018, she became the 9th Liasa President. Her term (2018-2020) is guided by the theme, Libraries: Advancing development through collaboration, partnerships and innovation.

Along the way, she obtained a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science and a postgraduate qualification in Educational Technology. Crowster admits that the experience she gained over the past three decades helped her understand the nuances of the LIS ecosystem which remains heavily siloed into the following sectors: academic, public, school and special libraries. She has acquired several skills over the years in the field, skills in ICT, expertise in project management and the ability to work successfully in complex hierarchical environments. Her key strengths are strategic planning and facilitation together with a deep understanding of social media and how this applies in business.

Elaborate on Liasa’s core purpose, values and goals?

Liasa arose from the passion, sacrifices and leadership efforts of disparate parties. Some were on the opposite side of the apartheid line to become a unified, inclusive, democratic organisation. The association connects, unites and empowers all library and information practitioners in South Africa. Through dynamic leadership, advancing the transformation and development of the library and information services for all citizenry. This is achieved through engaging with stakeholders, related lobbying and advocacy. In 2014, Liasa was recognised by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) as the Professional Body (NQF Act 67 of 2008) for the LIS sector. This was a game-changer because while the association remains a civil society body, this award places responsibility for ethical conduct within the sector, protection of the public, and engendering public trust in Library and Information Services.

What characteristics differentiate you from a passive supplier of books and information to a key partner in the community and social development?

Libraries are essential to communities notably through the enactment of the following sustainable agendas: South African National Development Plan 2030, African Union Agenda 2063 and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 2030. The association creates a platform that offers programmes around information, digital literacies, reading development, book clubs, digital inclusion, food and environment security and access to information. As the Professional Body for the LIS sector, Liasa champions the sector’s social responsibilities.

Industry 4.0 has changed how we do business; it has affected many sectors negatively and positively. How has the library informative service been affected by the new global era?

The main concern our stakeholders have with regards to the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) is how to further obtain a shared understanding of the concept through skills development. As with other occupations, continuous professional development must be exercised for the sector to remain relevant in this case for Industry 4.0. Furthermore, Liasa is part of the conversation on the investigations by the Council on Higher Education. It reviews the standards and quality of LIS qualifications. Libraries have been around for a long time despite the continued gloomy predictions of their demise through the industrial and technological cycles because of the ability to respond to the changes in the environment. Reinventing ourselves while continuing to provide information to all who need it regardless of economic and other statues is our primary focus.

How have you successfully integrated Industry 4.0 in the current state of libraries and librarianship?

Through redesigning spaces to cater for collaboration and innovation. We have also focused on developing staff with competencies that support the 4IR such as coding; encouraging and headlining LIS-related research on the matter.

What has been the biggest highlight in your career as President of Liasa?

Being part of the association’s restructuring, to embed the present zeitgeist of mindfulness and purposeful-drive. Expanding on Liasa’s values of being people-centric, nation-building and disrupting the sector. Together with members of the executive committee, I have embarked on the ‘S’yalalela Roadshow which engages in the membership on this process. In addition, we are advocating the professional body status of the association and the implications to employers and other stakeholders. It is too soon to call this a highlight, but the impact of these activities will see gained efficiencies in the association.

What are some of the key issues that the 20th Liasa Annual Conference will focus on discussing?

The 20th Liasa annual conference is themed: Liasa—the Butterfly Effect, together with sub-themes of innovation, reinvention and renovation of libraries and the LIS profession. Paying special attention to transformation, we aim to unpack the very questions you have posed here such as what it means to be a librarian or information professional in the present day, in light of Industry 4.0. The metaphor of the butterfly is deeper than an indicator of change. A butterfly retains the DNA from the larva to the butterfly stage and likewise, Liasa will undergo metamorphosis while retaining its core values and, the LIS sector remains true to its mandate of service to the community notwithstanding global changes such as 4IR.

Tell us about some innovative solutions you have in place, addressing librarianship challenges?

The challenges in the profession are multitudinous, our main challenge is retaining our legitimacy and validity as change agents or disruptors within society. There are several negative stereotypes with regards to the value we bring, such as the continuous image of the grey old lady with the bun and glasses shushing everyone.

Library and Information service practitioners have many titles, but the professional designation ‘Professional Librarian’ is a legal status, a consequence of the Professional Body award which acknowledges both the academic and practice competencies required within the LIS sector.

How does your organisation ensure inclusivity, equality and transformation are the constant focal point?

Liasa came to be because of certain ideals, these ideals are part of the association’s core being embedded in all practices. We share the struggles of this country in this regard and for this reason, we are mindful, ensuring that these principles are embedded in everyday practice.

First-class ingredients make an unforgettable meal

The experience she has within public service made her the best person to fulfil the position of Brand South Africa’s CEO. Her role is to steer the ship that manages the issues impacting South Africa’s reputation.

Leadership met with the multifaceted leader, Thulisile Manzini, who has more than 20 years’ experience in public service and got detailed insight on the priority of the organisation and how it is successfully mobilising South Africans in rallying behind their national brand reputation.

The conscious leader uses strategic marketing and communication initiatives to showcase the country’s strengths in the hope of building the brand. She explained how the organisation is maximising on selected programmes designed to help Brand South Africa build pride and patriotism.

You’re a multifaceted executive leader with more than 20 years’ experience in public service. Can you tell us more about your background?

Before my appointment as the acting chief executive officer at Brand South Africa, I was the deputy director-general for governance and administration at the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS), a position that I held since January 2016. Chief director of corporate services at the Department of Public Service and Administration and head of corporate services at the Municipal Infrastructure Support Agency (MISA). Other senior and executive management roles that I have held include Acting as director-general, chief operations officer and chief of staff.

Your appointment as Brand South Africa CEO came amidst several organisational challenges. How do you hope to drive the organisation moving forward?

My experience within public service and specifically the governance arena has prepared me to fulfil this role. My objective is to ensure business continuity as we all understand the strategic importance of the work that Brand South Africa does.

Brand South Africa’s mandate is to ensure that South Africa is positively positioned, domestically and internationally. What strategy do you have in place to achieve this goal?

Brand South Africa is tasked with managing issues impacting the country’s reputation and the nation’s brand including managing media relationships and content development related to profiling the country.

This is executed both proactively and reactively through direct engagement with media and stakeholders. The priority for the organisation has been to mobilise South Africans to rally behind the Nation Brand and position the country as an attractive destination for inward investment and tourism. Brand South Africa thus develops programmes to build pride and patriotism through the implementation of the strategic communications strategy to promote active citizenship and social cohesion among all South Africans.

How will you get South Africans excited about your brand?

Brand South Africa’s flagship domestic programme, Play Your Part, is a nationwide programme which celebrates individuals and organisations that contribute to nation-building. This is done to inspire, empower and celebrate active citizenship in South Africa, whilst encouraging others to do the same. Through strategic marketing and communication initiatives, the organisation also showcases the country’s strengths intending to enhance the Nation Brand reputation.

You’ve held various senior executive management roles in the South African government. What has been the highlight of your career?

In 2018, the DTPS hosted a successful International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Telecom World event in South Africa, where 180 countries were represented. I was tasked with leading the Communications Workstream which included the interdepartmental communicators and communicators from entities. Also the development of the overall communications strategy of the event. I participated as a panellist at the W-Suite event where I spoke on “Conscious Leadership: Leading with Authenticity, Intent and Purpose. How do we become Intentional about Change”

Recently, I was honoured to be selected as a finalist in the Top Gender Empowered Public Sector Leader at the 2019 Standard Bank Top Women Awards.

What leadership philosophy do you live by?

I am truly inspired by the concept of conscious leadership. Forbes Magazine defines; “conscious leaders as those who speak with integrity, lead with authenticity and hold themselves accountable.”

I try to lead with a positive purpose that seeks to grow the next person. The reality is that we spend so many hours at work with an array of personalities and I believe the least we as leaders can do is make the environment more conducive, purpose-driven and effective to growth.

Women are significantly underrepresented in top positions. What do you think needs to be done to encourage women to take on more leadership roles?

Female representation in top positions, particularly within the corporate sector, needs to improve. Government has laid the foundation for women empowerment and women have repeatedly proven their leadership strengths. I think the question should be focused on what needs to be done to ensure that women have equal opportunities to leadership positions.

Many people look up to you, they see your drive, passion and constantly evolving career and aim to be just like you. What words of encouragement would you like to give our readers, especially the young women who look up to you?

It may sound like a cliché, however, the reality is there are no rewards without hard work, dedication and constituency. That being said, I believe that successful leaders are followed because they are truthful. Our children need to be afforded a future where no person will be left behind based on gender, colour or faith. Commitment to self cannot supersede commitment to others.

Encouraging profit for purpose

Her passion is showing the world the massive power that lies in the beautifully crafted, authentic stories that deliver strategic value to businesses. Creative director of Regency global, Shani Kay, elaborated on how her company is transforming the story of businesses in South Africa. She has a Business Science Degree from UCT and an Executive MBA that focuses on Systemic Leadership from UCT Graduate School of Business. This coupled with her 15 years of experience in strategic social investment and development, together with her speciality in impact communications gives her confidence to say her company understands the business side of storytelling like no other.

You serve as creative director at an award-winning communications and development agency, Regency Global, a global impact film agency spearheading and producing the nation-building SA INC. Initiative. Can you tell us more about your background?

I started my career as a strategic planning and capacity building consultant in the development sector where my passion for social activism grew. Over the last 15 years, I have worked in the fields of strategic social investment and development as well as in specialist impact communications.

What triggered your passion for filmmaking?

I am not sure I would call myself a passionate filmmaker—that would be the domain of my incredibly talented team of producers, directors and cinematographers. What I am passionate about is the power of beautifully crafted, authentic storytelling in delivering strategic value to businesses. Of igniting that spark that transports us from stories of characters who we care about to positioning the brands who have walked alongside them. Transformative stories of profit with purpose are meaningful to stakeholders across the board. From millennials who want to work where their values align, to employees who are by far the most underutilised source of credible marketing.

From Investors, who are thankfully starting to look beyond the short-term financial bottom line, to suppliers and customers, whose social media power grows exponentially every day. We are visual creatures who learn and engage through stories and I am passionate about connecting those dots. About using communications content to integrate the silos of business to stimulate strategic value creation and to motivate and inspire for a more positive, equitable South Africa.

As someone who identified a gap for offering an opportunity to the business community to broadcast authentic, compelling stories. What has been the highlight of your creative career?

I am proud that we set out with a strategy to transform the story of business in South Africa and that it exceeded our expectations. The highlight is both giving South Africans something positive to talk about and watching our clients revel in both the beauty of their stories and the aha moments they experience around the impactful way they are received and engaged with.

Outside of #SAINC, our most exciting project is the global campaign we have built with CitiBank, where we travel the world producing commercials based on the progress they have enabled by working strategically with their clients. This for me is the ultimate culmination of brand positioning using the power of authentic storytelling.

Please elaborate on the products and services that your company offers, and set you apart from other storytellers?

We offer clients a selection of products and services designed to help them authentically position their brand with a key focus on authenticity, the stories must be real. So from bespoke production in customised formats and tailored digital distribution strategies to thought leadership positioning, public relations and participation in our local or global media campaigns. We bring a blend of insight into the development sector and social impact; understanding the systemic context of business, documentary film making capability and a creative aesthetic that wraps it all together into content that is interesting, engaging and memorable.

Beyond this, we offer the benefits of collaborative media campaigns like #SAINC and Time For Global Action (a television series designed to advance the UN Sustainable Development Goals), where we provide an opportunity to tell a company story under the banner of a recognised and credible goodwill campaign, with unprecedented media coverage provided by multiple broadcast platforms and digital distribution networks. People want real good news. Having worked in this niche space for the last six years internationally, I believe we understand the business side of storytelling like nobody else does!

How do you ensure your lens focuses on tangible examples of innovation, inclusivity and strong morals?

We invite companies to participate based on what we know about their commitments to transformative business practice. Of course, every business has some skeletons, it’s just the way it is. And the bigger truth is that businesses don’t have morals, it’s the people within them who do.

A strong company culture and sense of purpose (beyond making money) is always a good starting point. From there we help them to articulate the key areas that differentiate them in the contributions they make to sustainable business and social transformation and from there, to identify the spectrum of stakeholders whose voices and perspectives will bring these stories holistically to life. So because we tell authentic human stories, they are a true account of somebody’s lived experience and this is real, valuable and irrefutable.

Can you please elaborate on your partnership with SA INC?

#SAINC was a campaign we conceptualised with the objective of using our impact storytelling experience to help change the conversation in South Africa, to help South Africans understand that we need profitable responsible business in order to have a flourishing society and to encourage business to do more good, by getting more value out of the good that they do. We then set out engaging relevant partners in the form of Business Leadership South Africa and Brand South Africa to join us in this endeavour. Based on our shared objective of reinforcing the positive role of business in South Africa.

Since then we have added many more to the cause including Proudly South African, NBI and Black Umbrellas as well as digital influencers like Brent Lindeque at The Good Things Guy, to create an aligned and integrated network through which to distribute positive South African stories.

We all believe business is a national asset. We all believe South Africa is open for business. And we all believe that by changing the conversation we can turn the wheel in the direction of the South Africa we all want to see blossom and grow.

Your 10-year background in business is accompanied with much success. How has your experience shaped your leadership philosophy?

I have never quite understood why the world cannot be more equitable. There is enough for everybody, if only it were distributed differently. And with this as my constant, I have moved through life being known as the bunny-loving, tree-hugging socialist. What has changed through my learning experience, an enlightening post-graduate education, and thankfully the evolving conscience and longer-term outlook of global business. The work I do and believe in has become more strategic, and likewise, I have become more strategic at it.

Because contrary to historical popular belief, I am not and never was a ‘greenie’. What I am is a practical, big-picture long-term thinker, a conscious capitalist and a critical problem solver, whose fortunate experience has allowed me to understand materiality in the broader context and to use this understanding to highlight the win-win solutions for business and society, because that is where the crux of our social and environmental sustainability lies.

What do you hope to teach and expose through your lens next?

Most businesses do a lot of good work, they just don’t fully realise how effective the tangible experience of this work is in building a brand. So soon I’d like to broaden practical exposure to the notion that good business is good for business. By taking an integrated long-term approach to corporate strategy, sectors of a business create value for each other. That being a good corporate citizen is not as much about a social investment as it is about doing business the right way. About transforming organisations to leverage the value of diversity. About meaningfully growing a small business in supply chains because it’s good for your business and theirs.

I’d like South African business to understand that when you operate with purpose, the same story will appeal to all your stakeholder audiences, for all the right reasons and that authentic communications are an incredibly powerful and critical tool to build your brand, protect your reputation and retain your relevance into the future. I have another, much more idealistic answer. But that’s for another time. 

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