Kelebogile Ramokgopa speaks to The Mentorship Challenge

Having worked with the youth, Kelebogile Ramokgopa has seen the impact mentorship can have on people, if we all avail ourselves and act as mentors. Coming into The Mentorship Challenge, she set out her own goals to be a pillar and mentor because she loves seeing people thrive and succeed in their paths.

Kelebogile is currently a lecturer at the Tshwane University of Technology, specialising in Marketing, Advertising and Consumer Behaviour, she is also widely known for heading her department’s mentorship programme. She’s also the founder of Secrets of Sistahood, as a life coach and practitioner, specialising in Neuro-Linguistics Programming and currently serves as a member of the Women Leadership Forum at the Tshwane University of Technology as well as the departmental marketer for the Department of Marketing, Supply Chain and Sport Management at TUT and a marketing representative in the Faculty of Management Sciences. Kelebogile is an Alumni of the CEO Magazine MentorMe247, UN-Women Empower Women & the Young African Leaders Initiative.

Read her interview below.

1. What role has mentorship played in getting you to where you are today?

Mentorship has been a pinnacle in my journey to date, from my younger years to now in my adult years. It has served as a foundation and a cushion on my journey because in essence I could not have walked this journey alone. Mentorship did not just open doors for me, but it serves as a guide to my path, and hence my passion for it, because I see and reap the rewards on a day-to-day basis, in all aspects of both my professional and personal life.

2. Who are the standout female mentors in your life?

My standout female mentors in my life are the following women:

Mrs Koo Govender who came in as a mentor when we were paired through the CEO Magazine MentorME247 programme in 2013. I walked a year-long journey with Koo and learned so much about the marketing industry from the space in which she was working.

One biggest take away from this journey was how Koo taught me how to find a work-life balance, as a young mother, student and working professional who was aiming to merge my work in academia with my marketing and entrepreneurial interests in industry. The mentoring relationship with Koo was truly mutually beneficial and empowering. Dr Sarah Britten who introduced me to authoring and contributing for industry publications. It was a really interesting path as there is a huge difference in academic writing and industry writing.

I have Prof Therese Roux as a mentor in my place of work who has also contributed tremendously to my academic growth and understanding of the subjects which I am currently specialising in as an academic. She has guided my path in research and industry liaison. Dr Althea Mvula and Dr Yvonne Senne, who are continuously cracking the whip and encouraging me to step up and live my potential. They have added to my passion for entrepreneurship and leadership. Dr Irmeli Pietilä and Dr Merja Alanko-Turunen from Haaga-Helia, University of Applied Sciences in Finland, who shaped my journey to becoming a vocational teacher in higher education and helped reignite my passion for teaching and for being an academic marketer.

Ms Minky Seromo, who is a mother figure to me, has always seen my vision and believed in it, against all odds. She has served as a guide for my journey as a coach and mentor, through her vigour and unapologetic nature.

My mother and aunts have also really shaped me as mentors in many areas of my personal life. They have served as my pillars through the hardest of times and have shown me light where it was needed and served as motivation to push harder and achieve more while empowering myself against all odds.

There are many more women who have walked this path with me, professionally, personally and academically whom I am eternally grateful for because as a multifaceted woman with a very dynamic personality and skills set, you cannot walk this journey alone and need guides to hold your hand and be there for you in all the stages of one’s development.

3. Mentorship is a two-way street – what has being a mentor on The Mentorship Challenge taught you?

Being a mentor on The Mentorship Challenge has been a liberating journey. I enjoy the mentees whom I have been paired with because they are so diverse, driven and carry so many hopes and dreams which they are in pursuit of. I am learning so much from them, from our sessions. Their commitment, enthusiasm and determination inspire me to step up and be a better role model for them. I appreciate their humility and open-minded nature.

“Mentorship is a selfless commitment, and it’s a true opportunity to empower while learning from the ones whom you are paired with.”

Mentorship is indeed a two-way street and my biggest take-away from walking this journey with my mentees, Zinzi and Happy, is that if we work together and listen to each other, we will unleash our power, in all its existing and undiscovered dimensions.

4. What is the one piece of mentorship advice you believe all young women could benefit from hearing today?

Mentorship is a journey of growth and empowerment. I tend to compare the process to that being of one, learning to drive. You learn to drive with a guide by your side until such time that you are confident and brave enough to get on to the road alone and drive on. The process is scary at first and needs constant guidance and reassurance. The process does require you to be fearless and brave, as fear will always be there, but it serves as a driving force to bravery.

One important advice which I always relay to my mentees as well as women around me is to be bold and believe in your voice, the power which you behold. You need to believe in yourself, no matter how scary it is to actually do that. Learn to be intentional. You will never achieve anything lucrative without intention. Intention, and positive intention is a very powerful force which gives direction and alignment to your goals and dreams. Be intentional in all that you say and do and speak positivity into your plans.

5. These are challenging times for women in SA – the female leaders of our time are guiding, helping and inspiring our vulnerable women, what is your view on this?

Our female leaders are doing enough under the circumstances, and while others are still learning and using their voices to bring about change. The majority of the female leaders out there are really pushing against all odds and their efforts are going unnoticed. One thing that we should take into consideration is that, our female leaders are just not women who are occupying high positions in government, big corporates, academic institutions or in business and entrepreneurship. Our female leaders also include women who are running households, some who are at grassroot level and are pushing to make a living for their children and families. We need to recognise women at all levels because in one way or another, we are the architects of society and we are the same women that are there to support and inspire vulnerable women. We need to demystify the definition of female leaders being attributed to being those in high positions, because there are many amazing women who are impacting lives, regardless of their social standing. We are doing enough, and there is still more that can be done and achieved against all odds, if we are also a collective.

6. Fast forward ten years – what do you hope for the women of SA?

My hope for women of South Africa is for us to authentically stand together and proudly and unapologetically be our sisters’ keepers. We need each other as much as we may think that we don’t. Our challenges are similar and none of us are immune to one another’s challenges. The change we want to see begins with us, being fearless and unapologetic about protecting each other, opening doors for each other and standing up for one another. I hope that ten years from now, I will be living in a time where we are reaping the benefits of our current efforts to empower each other and open doors for each other. So we have a huge agenda which we need to align to as women of SA and of the African Continent, and I would like to make mention of this because it serves as a foundation to where I hope and envision us to be. We are currently in 2020 and ten years from now, we will be in 2030. We have the 2030 UN Agenda for Sustainable Development and Sustainable Development Goal No: 5 which is centred around achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls, especially those in crisis and humanitarian situations. We are still living in times where women and girls are subjected to discrimination and femicide due to them being female. Taking into consideration the massive progress that’s been made in emancipating and empowering women and girls, we need to continue pushing for more progress, as humanity is also dependent on the magnitude of this process. We are still living in times where many women are not afforded opportunities to empower themselves due to gender inequality and patriarchal norms and standards, which govern many institutions which are male dominated. We have cases of women being awarded opportunities, they are awarded as a tick box to certain criteria, or by favour, or some law. It still shouldn’t be this way, but it is and hence the need for more progress. I wish in 2030, we can see more glass ceilings being broken to allow more women and girls to take up space in all industries. I would like to see more women and girls standing together defying patriarchal norms and rewriting old narratives to new ones which are empowering and beneficial towards the emancipation and empowerment of humanity. We need to keep in mind that patriarchy doesn’t only affect us women and girls, but it also affects our male counterparts as well. In us being empowered, we cannot leave our sons, brother and husbands behind, because they matter too, and not all of them are instigators of crimes and injustices against women.

7. What would you say to any female who feels disempowered because she is a woman – how does one break those societal shackles and succeed as a woman, despite the challenges? 

Firstly, we need to redefine the way we perceive and define the strength of a woman. Many women are held back by the definition of strength which is just attributed to their endurance and survival of abuse and atrocious situations.  There are many circumstances and situations which women experience, endure due to their strength and resilience, and we cannot down-play them, but there are more positive traits, achievements, milestones and successes which can be celebrated and attributed towards a woman’s strength. Yes, surviving an abusive marriage or relationship, walking away from one, sticking it out, etc. require some form of mental strength and resilience, but this is not the only form, which should be highlighted. We as women succeed in so many facets of our lives and we are told not to celebrate these, because it will be perceived as pompous or arrogant. The reason I am highlighting this point is because these are some of the factors which drive women to feeling disempowered because of societal norms and criteria to success, which some feel they can’t relate to because of their own challenges.

There is strength in being a woman, and that should be our starting point. There is pride in being a woman, and that should be appreciated. It doesn’t matter where you come from, your background and circumstances. The fact that you are a woman is strength. I wish that we as women can become more self-aware and more appreciative of ourselves and the strength that resides within us. We need to learn to love ourselves, and that is another form of strength. Society has its own definition of what a woman must be based on patriarchy, and that needs to be redefined. So to any woman who feels disempowered, Lady, Sista, Diva, please know that it starts within, and trust me when I say this, accepting and loving oneself is the core of breaking societal shackles, and it’s the pinnacle of self-awareness and self-mastery.  You are worthy.  Be confident enough to understand that, and don’t be afraid of the power that comes with being worthy.

Remember that your voice matters, your presence is important, and nobody has agency and power over your life except for yourself. Learn to use your voice. Get used to hearing your voice and using it to express how you feel as well as to empower those around you. Your voice matters and trust me, it will be heard and accepted by the right people.

Take responsibility for your actions. Be accountable and learn from your actions. Do not succumb to the expected helplessness that comes from negative events which occur in our lives. These negative events and circumstances can become a chapter of a beautiful story which can be used to heal and inspire growth and self-mastery. We all have an inner story which stems from somewhere. We need to own our stories because in essence, believe it or not, your inner story is your source of resilience. It‘s your foundation for authentic growth and strength.

As women, we are multi-talented and so resilient, resourceful and driven. When you are in doubt and feel uncertain, take time to introspect and reflect. Identify your strengths and your positive traits, which you can build upon and use to open up doors for yourself. Believe in yourself and your abilities, because these are your gifts and using them will make you feel empowered and elevate you to greater heights. You can achieve so much against all odds.

Celebrate your progress. Everything that has happened to you can be a source of wisdom if you allow it to be. If you want to feel great just do this every night before you go to sleep. Reflect on something you did that helped or encouraged another person. Put all your attention on the goodness of that action. Feel your humble self-worth. You will be empowered.

Always remember, the biggest unseen work that makes noticeable work successful is centred around making yourself and others better. We need to learn to condition our minds and actions towards achieving so that we can use our achievements to inspire other women as well as open up doors for them. It really takes nothing away from you to assist and cheer other women, especially when you are aware of the circumstances that hold them back or deter them from progressing. Competitiveness is one of our biggest downfalls as women, because we compete to be better, which is good, but we need to collaborate with each other in order to strengthen ourselves and our networks and communities. At the end of the day, we have the potential to achieve so much as collaborators and we can use competition to raise and create new standards and benchmarks to aspire to, not against each other.

We learn from each other while empowering one another. It is a commitment Kelebogile is willing to make to contribute towards the lives of the youth worldwide. Let’s empower and inspire! To find your ideal mentor, visit www.mentorshipchallenge.co.za and sign up for the journey of a lifetime.

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