Women are the leading light

As we celebrate women in leadership, we receive insights from some of the leading women that are currently breaking the business world ceiling.


Much has changed, more needs to be done. As we celebrate women in leadership, we receive insights from some of the leading women that are currently breaking the business world ceiling. Uncovering what it takes to be one of them and how they feel women can break new ground.

South African women’s roles have significantly changed, especially when you consider the previous struggle they had to overcome. From freedom from oppression, community rights, gender-based violence to gender equality. Despite the South African constitution guaranteeing gender equality, many workplaces lack equality and there are unreasonable pay gaps between man and women.

However unfriendly the circumstances surrounding gender are, there are women who proved succeeding and being a leader is not a distant dream based on gender. These women ignite conversation, through proven efficiency in triumphantly running businesses. In light of women’s month, we celebrate the huge leap women have made since marching to union buildings in August 1956 protesting against the extension of pass laws to women.

Leadership sat with leading women across different sectors, to understand their fundamental drive, undeniable experience and how they have successfully integrated into the male-dominated world of business. These women broke barriers, their determination allowed them to climb to the top. Sharing their stories will help eradicate the fear among women to take risks, in turn maximising on their full potential. Numbers can only go up if women become more open to possession of power and equipping themselves with the necessary skills boosting their confidence to speak up and change the narrative. The way: Creative director of Nungu diamonds: Ursula Pule, Young Presidents Organisation loyal member and CEO of the Hodgson Group: Cathrine Hodgson and the CEO of LIASA, Nikki Crowster all did.

Turning rough diamonds into the most precious gemstones

They are considered symbols of everlasting love, eternal commitment and commonly referred to as a girl’s best friend. But what happens when the love for diamonds exceeds an over the counter desire and commitment to purchase. When a woman actually gets involved directly by running a diamond business that gives her the first-class experience of working with the best diamonds in the world. Creative Director of Nungu Diamonds, Ursula Pule is proof that diamonds can evolve and become much more than a best friend. She ensures a Nungu diamond purchase is an unforgettable experience.

South Africa is famous for its abundance of rich minerals and metals. As one of the world leaders in mining, it accounts for a significant portion of world production and reserves. Mining contributes immensely towards employment in South Africa, in 2016 the sector employed 457,332 people. Leadership sat with one of the leading women in the diamond industry, Creative Director of Nungu Diamonds, Ursula Pule, who elaborated on her experience, the company and how she hopes to constantly remind people that diamonds are indeed forever.

Initially starting her career in the creative industry, she graduated top six in her fashion design class at North West School of Design. A true creative, with a great eye it’s no surprise her vast knowledge and experience would give her a sustainable competitive advantage as Creative Director for Nungu Diamonds. Just three years into the diamond business, she was invited by De Beers Group to be on the panel of international judges for their annual De Beers Shining Light Awards 2018/2019 jewellery competition.

Ursula Pule formally joined the company in 2016, working along with her husband Kealeboga (Lebo) Pule, the founder of Nungu Diamonds. Nungu Diamonds is a licensed South African natural diamond manufacturer founded in 2013, today it is also a private polished diamond retailer and bespoke diamond jewellery brand.

They provide a wide range of polished diamonds to private clients looking for a bespoke diamond experience, straight from the source. Nungu’s diamonds are sourced from reputable diamond mining companies and rough diamond suppliers including De Beers, Petra Diamonds, Alexkor and the State Diamond Trader. Nungu also has affiliations with Diamond Associations such as the South African Young Diamond Beneficiators Guild and the International Young Diamantaires, which serves under the World Federation of Diamond Bourses, something that Ursula and Lebo are both very proud of.

Nungu Diamonds is one of only five-diamond companies selected to be part of the De Beers Diamond Beneficiation Project, launched in 2016. Pule’s career has had many highlights, but one of the most remarkable ones has to be her initiation and involvement in the Nelson Mandela Diamond Centenary Celebration held at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, in Hong Kong in September 2018. At this special event, their diamonds were showcased to private clients from Hong Kong and China.

Four countries participated in the Shining Light Awards 2018/19 competition: South Africa, Botswana, Canada and Namibia for De Beers. Being one of the judges at this competition was a remarkable honour for Pule, another special experience for the company and her was, personally meeting and working with actor and businesswoman Connie Ferguson on a custom special jewellery piece, where she purchased the diamonds from Nungu Diamonds and they created a bespoke item of jewellery for her. Pule now calls Mrs Ferguson a dear friend and adds that she is an amazing woman, a great South African icon and an exceptional role model, mother and businesswoman.

Nungu diamonds don’t only attract quality and respected clientele because of their rare beauty, they are responsibly mined and supplied by their partner De Beers. Who were pioneers of the Kimberly Process, they continue to make improvements to their pipeline integrity systems. Pule says they have worked hard to acquire and maintain their rough diamond supply from them. In turn, enabling Nungu Diamonds to supply polished diamonds, they take pride in the fact that the rough diamonds are sourced responsibly and adhere to all Kimberly process requirements. In general, mining companies in South Africa and in the SADC Region all adhere to the Kimberly Process, which was put in effect to prohibit the illicit global flow of rough diamonds.

Which brings us to the question of how they turn the hardest natural substance into these precious jewels that sparkle? “Diamond cutting and polishing have changed significantly over the past two decades. Nungu Diamonds cuts and polishes rough diamonds using the world’s most advanced diamond manufacturing technology to produce world-class quality polished diamonds sourced and manufactured in South Africa. The company prides itself in its beautiful, high quality polished diamonds and bespoke diamond jewellery, all of which is proudly South African, and fully Gemological Institute of America (GIA) Certified. This is the most renowned certification process in the world,” Pule explains.

Today Nungu diamonds makes use of rough diamond planning technology, which allows them to determine with a high level of certainty, the shape, clarity and colour of the polished diamond. Implementation of tools like a water laser, allow them to sew the diamond into multiple parts with a high yield recovery (weight retention is very important in the diamond industry.)

Technology such as Computer-Aided Design (CAD) has ensured that they are limited only by their imaginations in terms of what they can create, interestingly they are now working on a range of diamond lapel pins set in 18ct gold (yellow, white and rose) and platinum. Their jewellery manufacturing is true to original designs and the people behind their inspiration are the individual clients who come looking for a bespoke diamond experience.

Growing awareness in business through structured mentorship

Young Presidents Organisation (YPO) loyal member and entrepreneur Catherine Hodgson’s deeply rooted passion for structured mentorship, has had a massive impact in South Africa and across the globe. Changing the lives of mentees and mentors, giving them skills that no University teaches

Sometimes what instantly yields results among a certain audience, might need more perseverance and restructuring to yield the same results among a different audience. The world of business is all about learning from others and willingness to constantly reinvent and develop with the intention to expand one’s horizons.

Co-Founder and CEO of the Hodgson Group in South Africa, Catherine Hodgson sat with Leadership Magazine and dissected her passion for business and giving back through the YPO structured mentorship programme. It was not an easy feat, introducing this concept to the rest of Africa, as they were not as receptive as her initial founding group in Cape Town, but that did not deter her. She proved that quality leadership will require fierce determination and breaking barriers to get the desired results.

A woman of grace and an entrepreneur of noble yet highly impactful results, Hodgson broke down her successful business, explaining the importance of uplifting local upcoming entrepreneurs; she values sourcing local merchandise and hopes to do more in her industry, introducing local start-up entrepreneurs’ products to local retail supermarkets.

Can you tell us a bit more about your background, particularly focusing on what you do?

I’m an entrepreneur, I am co-founder and CEO of a business that my husband and I started twenty-four years ago. I started out in the corporate environment, in marketing for cosmetic companies, I realised that there were a lot of glass ceilings for women. My ambition pushed me to demand more, to have a say at the table but I could see that, the chair at the table was not readily available for women.

This was in the late eighties, I thought the best thing I could do was be a master of my own destiny and start a business, employing the people that I want to employ. I felt we could do great things in South Africa. We started an importing company supplying the retail chain, so we are an outsourcing arm for the retailers. We predominantly deal with China, but also work with the far Eastern Europe, supplying to major retailers.

It’s been an incredible journey. I mostly employ females because I believe they have so much to offer the world. My goal is to help develop these women into becoming great leaders, and exemplary people within the society. Employing women has been one of the successes of our business, my husband has been extremely supportive. He has stepped out of the business quite a bit, so I am running the business, working very closely with the retailers. We work on new products and collaborating to ensure we design beautiful new products for retail and consumers in South Africa.

That has been my business, but my passion has been mentoring and I have a whole other career in mentoring. Part of developing people to become great leaders entails massive training and working as a team. It is really important to me, that we build trust, build a great team that is motivated and understands and lives within the values of the company. Our success is mainly attributed to our remarkable team, that we continuously up skill.

What type of products and services do you provide, and where are you located?

We are based in Cape Town, our products are houseware, kitchenware, dining, gifting, cosmetic accessories, cosmetic bags, we supply none foods into supermarkets. Products like cooler bags, baking accessories, our merchandise is very diverse and covers multiple departments. In our head office in Cape Town we have thirty people, we have an office in Hong Kong and a warehouse in Epping. In our warehouse we have a pre-retailing area, we have teams that bring in cosmetic bags, putting on labels and so many more technical administrative duties.

We are trying our best to source locally, here in South Africa. It is really great that there are fantastic entrepreneurs starting up, we still have a long way to go especially with the kind of products we deliver but we are constantly looking for entrepreneurs that we can help develop, in order to get their products into retailers.

Can you please elaborate on your passion for mentoring?

I joined YPO ten years ago, I was certain I wanted to join the organisation but I was uncertain which avenue I would go into. Since their structures are elaborate and diverse, my main go was getting something that would afford me the platform to directly make a difference. Giving back and having an impact was really important to me, there was a little seed of mentoring that was planted by the board in me as they were searching for people to be mentors around the world, so I got involved in the first committee to start a mentorship programme in Cape Town.

By chance it sounded like something I strongly believed in, this was looking at mentoring in a more formal structure, which I was not used to as I had more informal mentors throughout my career. I was interested in pursuing this, so after a year I ran the mentoring programme in Cape Town. We started off with five mentors and mentees, and I grew that number to twenty-one pairs, so it was forty-two people involved with mentoring. It was YPO’s mentoring, when we started out, we were actually mentoring other business organisations, and some grassroots business organisations.

We were involved with the Entrepreneural Organisation (EO) after a year I noticed the impact mentoring had on these entrepreneurs businesses. I could also see the impact it had on the mentors, the YPO’s were coming to me and saying “wow I thought I was imparting my wisdom to my mentees but I’m embarrassed because I feel as though I am learning more than them”, one guy came up to me and said this was changing his life.

I knew we were onto something that was bigger than just forty-two people. I ran it for a couple of years in Cape Town, thereafter I was asked if I could go onto the regional board for YPO in Africa. Assisting in rolling out more mentorship programmes in Africa, initially it was very difficult, it was especially difficult for people to understand what structured mentoring was. It was also difficult for business leaders to listen and ask great questions, rather than give advice.

I had to redesign our training because I saw that we needed mentoring workshops and giving mentorship materials to mentors and mentees. This was exciting and people were coming out of it with tools and life skills that they could take into their businesses. Skills such as listening, how to receive constructive criticism and feedback, how to ask the right kind of powerful questions, timing when it comes to giving advice, empathy, body language and so many more. These things are not taught at university, yet their crucial in successfully running a business.

I started seeing the impact of the workshops and how YPO’s were integrating the knowledge in their businesses, it even led them to developing mentorship programmes in their businesses. I asked to come onto an international committee in YPO and run mentorship globally. We started off with nine pilots globally, and we ended up with a hundred programmes around the world. We saw them taking off in different areas such as London, South Paulo, the Philippines, Sydney and all around the world.

I got more involved in figuring out how we could get a mentor that is in Brazil to be speaking to a mentee in Madrid. Focusing on virtual mentoring, so we brought in the technical element and created the virtual platform. We started developing mentoring master classes, which have taken off globally and are running across the world now. For me this has become a passion, I’m so glad I have been part of something that has had a massive impact on several people across the globe.

I feel there is so much more that can be done, especially in South Africa with entrepreneurship going forward.

You are obviously very busy, from running a successful business and mentoring. How do you wind down and relax?

There are a few things, my husband’s passion is to go sailing, three years ago we bought a yacht. We now sail for five months a year. I run our business from there, it is my office. It took me two to three years to gear the company up for me to do this and be away. We have got two amazing senior managers who now run the business; they have really risen to the occasion.

Technology has also allowed us to have conversations every day. I believe you do not need to be sitting at a desk, you can be anywhere and yet fully involved in running your business. Interestingly I feel I bring more to the business because I now have time to sit and think of the bigger picture rather than micro managing smaller daily responsibilities. I also strongly believe in going to the spa, my favorite thing is getting a massage. That quiet quality time allows me to think. I enjoy walking a lot, with my dog or on the mountain, I love the movement and quiet time. I also exercise almost every day and do yoga and some aerobic exercises. I keep healthy, eat healthy, keep fit and travel. YPO has allowed me to go to places I wouldn’t normally go to like America and Australia, and I feel that I am bringing a lot of ideas from all these places.

She started her career in the Library and Information Services (LIS) fresh out of high school because there weren’t enough resources for her to study further. This year she celebrates 36 years in the field, she is currently a member of the Directorate in an Academic Library of a leading African University. CEO of LIASA, Nikki Crowster is proof that Rome was not built in one day, it takes hard work, constant focus and years of experience to become successful.

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

Along the way, she obtained a Masters degree in Library and Information Science, a postgraduate qualification in Educational Technology. Alongside 3 decades of management experience that became increasingly senior over the years. Crowster admits that the corresponding experience she gained, helped her understand the nuances of the LIS ecosystem which remains heavily focused in specific sectors: Academic, Public, School and Special libraries. She has acquired several skills over her two decades 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.

Please 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 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: SA NDP 2030, AU Agenda 2063 and the UN SDG 2030. The association creates a platform that offers programmes around information, digital literacy, 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 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 to 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 of 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 the members 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 Librarians 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, and whether we are we needed or relevant. The value proposition of the LIS sector and how we should respond to societal demands. The metaphor of the butterfly is deeper than an indicator of change.

A butterfly retains the DNA of the larva to the butterfly stage and likewise, LIASA will undergo metamorphosis while retaining its core values. The LIS sector remains true to its mandate of service to the community notwithstanding global changes such as 4IR.

Can you please tell us about some innovative solutions you have in place, addressing librarianship challenges?

The challenges in the profession are multifaceted; 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 and 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.

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