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Trading Punches In A Male Bastion

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In the tiny dining room of a dimly-lit home in Alexandra, Johannesburg’s oldest township, the only child of Davidson Moyo would sit transfixed on her father’s lap, usually in the wee hours of the morning, watching grainy images of boxing matches on the family’s small television screen. Those were the moments when the father, a big fan of the sport, and his daughter, Promise Moyo, bonded most.

“People said I should have been a boy because I was with my dad every time and everywhere,” says Promise, who is today one of two female boxing promoters in South Africa.

“But obviously at that age, I never thought I would work in boxing. Funny enough, when I was older and working, I would rather watch a boxing match than go out partying. I would go just about everywhere for boxing, be it Carousel [a hotel] or Carnival City [a casino]. It has been always like that.”

Promise does not fit the popular – and rather unfair – perception of a woman in boxing. For this feature’s photoshoot, she showed up in an elegant silk black blouse with matching pants and stilettos. On her left arm, she sports a small tattoo of a rose. Her immaculate red painted nails matched the color of her lips.

Promise’s other avatar is as an entrepreneur running a beauty parlor, the KP Salon in Wynberg, an industrial area north of Johannesburg. There is more to her career graph.

Prior to turning both boxing promoter and salon entrepreneur, Promise worked as a civil servant for 15 years for the City of Johannesburg, starting as a reception clerk and working her way up to become deputy director. In April 2012, three months before her employment was to be reviewed – she had no doubt her five-year contract would be extended owing to her success at work – Promise injured her back, falling down the stairs at her workplace.

The accident resulted in her being hospitalized for a week, and she had to take a month off work. While Promise was recovering at home with only two weeks left to resume work, her employers served her with a letter telling her, to her shock, they were not renewing her contract.

Promise was shattered and depressed; she couldn’t look for another job for months as a result. The only silver lining was that a few days before she had received the disheartening news, the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, where she was studying for a post-graduate degree in private management finance, informed her she had passed the course.

Fortunately, during her tenure with the City of Johannesburg, Promise had also opened her salon. It was when she lost her permanent government job that she decided to fall back on her childhood passion – boxing.

“My dad played a major role in influencing and encouraging my interest in boxing,” says Promise.

But it took years and several bouts of disappointment to realize her dream.

“I didn’t know I would end up in boxing. All I knew is I loved the sport passionately, I would be going up and down to fights. But if you were to ask me anything about boxing, I was on point, I knew what was happening where and how many knockouts a certain boxer had. Being a young woman, people just couldn’t understand ‘why boxing’. Some raised concerns that I would turn out a violent person. That’s a lack of understanding. Boxing is a gentleman’s sport. If you are a boxer, you are the most disciplined athlete. Those are the things we need to continuously educate the people [about],” says Promise.

Promise spent months researching boxing promotion and by the end of 2012 was registered with Boxing South Africa. This was entering a terrain with few women officials, except for referees. Mbali Zantsi, South Africa’s first female boxing promoter, was licenced in 2003, two years after women’s boxing was officially established. In 2011, Ntambi Ravele was appointed chairperson of Boxing South Africa. She replaced a former Minister of Sports, Ngconde Balfour.

A future for women in boxing seemed impossible but Promise held her own.

“My family tried to persuade me to reconsider my decision and look for other business opportunities. They reminded me I have the necessary qualifications and experience to work at any municipality in the country. But it was only my pastor who understood and encouraged me to pursue my dream.”

It was a long and arduous journey for Promise as she faced umpteen rejections from potential funders.

“There were times where I would put up a proposal and a person would look at it and say ‘this looks good but I don’t think boxing is something I can fund’. Quite a few people turned me down. They would say to me I could choose anything else but not boxing. They thought I was wasting my time because no one would take me seriously with my boxing project. They would ask why not [start a] catering business.”

By January 2013, Promise had registered her company Skylon Promotions which signed a veteran boxer and former South African WBA and international WBC junior lightweight champion, Phillip Ndou, as its first boxer. Ndou, in his zenith, had fought and lost to Floyd Mayweather, a recently-retired world champion with a record 49 undefeated fights.

“When my licence was due to be issued, I went to see Phillip Ndou in his gym in Hillbrow and there were many others I approached. I think that was a wise thing to do because I heard boxers’ issues, their limitations, their frustrations. Those were good boxers with good records but they were not happy,” says Promise.

When Promise met Ndou, he had not fought for almost two years, but in six months, he fought against Pius Dipheko, a South African. Ndou won with a knock out.

On August 9, Women’s Day in South Africa, Skylon Promotions hosted an international event at Thohoyandou, in Limpopo province. This was a homecoming for Ndou who had never fought in front of his community since turning professional in 1996. Ndou fought a young Tanzanian, Ramadhani Shauri, and won by knock out.

Margaret Nemukula, Ndou’s mother, was there to see her son fighting for the first time at home.

“Here is the man with forty fights but he never fought in front of his people. His mother couldn’t believe it was really happening since there had been many speculations that Phillip is fighting at home but those ended up in disappointments,” says Promise.

She did not only realize Ndou had similar traits to hers, Ndou was among her favorite boxers in the early 1990s. Ndou, aged 38, is the only man standing among those pugilists.

“Despite his tribulations, Phillip was at the gym for over a year without fail and yet there were no fights forthcoming. I knew he was the perfect dream team partner.”

A week after the fight in Thohoyandou, Shauri became a Skylon Promotions signee and was due to have his first overseas fight in October in the United States. Lulu Kayage, a Tanzanian female boxer, is also with Skylon Promotions. Mimi Bwanamoya of the Congo who lives in South Africa, is the recent woman signee in the stable.

The sport around the world is administered by men of questionable ethics, but Promise says she wants to keep her business clean.

“Bwanamoya recently approached me, but I had to check if she’s clear from any contractual agreement with another manager. I don’t want to step onto people’s toes, I am for clean business. Also being a woman I have to lead by example, I have to give opportunities to sportswomen.”

Petite Promise is a 21st century African woman who knows her place is not limited to the salon; she’s the one calling the shots in a boxing ring.

Entrepreneurs

Make The Colleges Pay: How This Entrepreneur Helps Companies Offer Education Benefits That Employees Will Actually Use

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Most edtech startups are idealistic outfits with little revenue and low valuations, but Rachel Romer Carlson’s Guild Education is worth $1 billion and is on track to book $100 million in sales. Her secret? Connecting workers who have tuition benefits to colleges that will gladly pay to meet them.

It’s 9AM two days before Thanksgiving in Arkansas, and Walmart executives are dragging their suitcases around a windowless office building in search of a large conference room. They settle on an interior lunchroom with dull gray carpet, claiming one side of a long table in the corner and gesturing for their guests to sit opposite them. Ellie Bertani, Walmart’s director of workforce strategy, says she’s struggling to find qualified people to staff the company’s expanding network of 5,000 pharmacies and 3,400 vision centers. Her fellow Walmart execs are silent, but Rachel Romer Carlson, 31, cofounder and CEO of Guild Education, sees her opening. Without hesitation she says her team can work with Walmart and find a solution fast. “You guys and us,” she says, “let’s do it!”

Carlson flew to Bentonville from Guild’s Denver headquarters the day before. Dressed in a sensible navy blazer and black slacks, she hasn’t bothered with makeup. Since 7:30 that morning she’s been huddling with teams of Walmart brass, going over options to train workers for those new jobs. They range from a one-year pharmacy technician certificate program offered by a for-profit online outfit called Penn Foster to an online bachelor’s degree in healthcare administration at nonprofit Southern New Hampshire University.

Carlson’s groundbreaking idea when she launched Guild four years ago: help companies offer education benefits that employees will actually use. Many big employers will pay for their workers to go to school (it’s a tax break), but hardly any workers take advantage of the opportunity. Applying and signing up for courses can be cumbersome, and in most instances employees have to front the tuition and wait to be reimbursed. Meanwhile, many colleges are desperate for students because they have small—or nonexistent—endowments and are financially dependent on tuition. Many nonselective online programs spend more than $3,000 to attract each new student. Carlson charges schools a finder’s fee (she won’t say how much) for the students she delivers from her corporate partners.

So far Guild has signed up more than 20 companies, including Disney and Taco Bell. Guild gets paid only if students complete their coursework, so a full 150 of the company’s 415 staffers serve as coaches who help employees apply to degree programs and plan how to balance their studies with work and family. When a company like Walmart requests a customized training course, Guild solicits proposals from as many as 100 education providers (nearly all of them online) and recommends the programs it deems best. It also negotiates tuition discounts and facilitates direct payments between employers and schools, a big plus for workers who would otherwise have to wait months to be reimbursed.

Carlson, an alumna of the 2017 Forbes 30 Under 30 list and a judge on the 2020 list, says she has already channeled $100 million in tuition benefits to workers. She expects 2019 revenue to top $50 million, and Guild investor Byron Deeter of Bessemer Venture Partners predicts 2020 revenue of more than $100 million. In mid-November Carlson closed her fifth round of financing, led by General Catalyst, bringing her total money raised to $228 million at a $1 billion valuation. In the sleepy, well-intentioned world of edtech, Guild is one of only a few startups whose values have soared, says Daniel Pianko, a New York-based edtech investor with no stake in the company. “I can see a path for Guild to be a $100 billion company,” says Paul Freedman, CEO of San Francisco venture firm Entangled Group, who has known Carlson since she was in business school and was one of Guild’s earliest investors.

When asked to detail Guild’s inner workings, like its strategy for soliciting custom courses, Carlson eschews specifics and delivers what sounds like a political stump speech: “The economy’s moving so fast,” she says. “We can’t let higher education dictate the skills and competencies that we need five to ten years from now.”

 There’s a reason she talks this way. Her grandfather Roy Romer was a three-term (1987–1999) Democratic governor of Colorado before spending six years as superintendent of Los Angeles’ public schools. Carlson started riding along on his campaign bus when she was 6 years old; occasionally she would even speak at his rallies. When her father, Chris Romer, a former Colorado state senator, ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Denver in 2011, she served as his finance director. (“The loss was devastating,” she says.)

Along with politics, the Romers were committed to increasing access to education, especially for working adults. Roy Romer helped start Salt Lake City-based Western Governors University, a pioneer in online adult education. In the wake of Chris Romer’s mayoral bid, in 2011, he cofounded American Honors, a for profit company that offered honors courses at community colleges (the company struggled, and the brand is now owned by Wellspring International, a student recruitment firm).

After graduating from Stanford undergrad and working briefly in the Obama White House, Carlson launched her first venture, Student Blueprint, while getting her M.B.A. (also at Stanford) in 2014. Student Blueprint sought to use technology to match community college students with jobs. It was a noble idea, but she decided to finish school and sold the software she had developed to Paul Freedman’s Entangled Group in 2014 for a negligible sum. In 2015, after she wrapped up her M.B.A., she pitched the idea for Guild to one of her professors, Michael Dearing, and to seed investor Aileen Lee, of Cowboy Ventures, raising $2 million.

After relocating to her home turf in Denver, she landed her first major corporate partner the summer of 2016 when she sent a LinkedIn message to a Chipotle benefits manager that played up the fast-food chain’s “strong Denver roots and social mission.” With help from Guild, Chipotle’s $12-an-hour burrito rollers are now pursuing bachelor’s degrees from Bellevue University in Nebraska or taking computer security courses at Wilmington University in Delaware. In October 2019, Carlson persuaded Chipotle to lift its cap on tuition benefits above the $5,250 the IRS allows companies to write off.

Guild’s biggest competitor is a division of Watertown, Massachusetts-based publicly traded daycare provider Bright Horizons, which has offered tuition benefit services since 2009. It works with 210 companies including Home Depot and Goldman Sachs. Under Bright Horizons’ system, the companies—not the colleges—pay. Much of the genius of Guild’s business model is that it correctly aligns incentives: The colleges are the most financially motivated party, so they foot the bill. Another competitor, Los Angeles-based In Stride, launched in 2019 with funding from Arizona State University, and like Bright Horizons it charges the corporations.

“I see our competition as the status quo,” Carlson says. “Classically, employers have offered tuition-reimbursement programs, but no one is using those programs.”

The nonprofit Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation has done five case studies showing returns on investment as high as 140% for companies that offer tuition reimbursement programs. “We saw powerful impacts on retention,” says Lumina’s strategy director, Haley Glover.

 “Walmart and Amazon are in a death struggle,” proclaims Joseph Fuller, a professor at Harvard Business School. “If a Walmart worker can say, ‘I got an education that allowed me to get promoted,’ they’re going to be someone who speaks generously about Walmart and they are more likely be a Walmart shopper.”

Like a good politician, Carlson is working to please everyone. “We found a win-win,” she says, “where we can help companies align their objectives with helping their employees achieve their goals.”

 Alexandra Wilson and Susan Adams

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Billionaires

How To Become A Billionaire: Nigeria’s Oil Baroness Folorunso Alakija On What Makes Tomorrow’s Billionaires

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One of only two female billionaires in Africa, with a net worth of $1 billion, Nigeria’s oil baroness Folorunso Alakija elaborates on the state of African entrepreneurship today.

The 69-year-old Folorunso Alakija is vice chair of Famfa Oil, a Nigerian oil exploration company with a stake in Agbami Oilfield, a prolific offshore asset. Famfa Oil’s partners include Chevron and Petrobras. Alakija’s first company was a fashion label. The Nigerian government awarded Alakija’s company an oil prospecting license in 1993, which was later converted to an oil mining lease. The Agbami field has been operating since 2008; Famfa Oil says it will likely operate through 2024. Alakija shares her thoughts to FORBES AFRICA on what makes tomorrow’s billionaires:

What is your take on the state of African entrepreneurship today? Is enough being done for young startups?

There are a lot of business opportunities in Africa that do not exist in other parts of the world, yet Africa is seen as a poor continent. The employment constraints in the formal sector in Africa have made it impossible for it to meet the demands of the continent’s working population of which over 60% are the youth. Therefore, it is imperative we harness the potential of Africa’s youth to engage in entrepreneurship and provide adequate assistance to enable them to succeed.

Several governments have been working to provide a conducive atmosphere which will promote entrepreneurship on the continent. However, there is still a lot more to be done in ensuring that the potential of these young entrepreneurs are maximized to the fullest. Some of the challenges young startups in Africa face are as follows: lack of access to finance/insufficient capital; lack of infrastructure; bureaucratic bottlenecks and tough business regulations; inconsistent government policies; dearth of entrepreneurial knowledge and skills; lack of access to information and competition from cheaper foreign alternatives.

It is therefore imperative that governments, non-governmental agencies, and the financial sectors work together to ameliorate these challenges itemized above.

The governments of African nations should provide and strengthen its infrastructure (power, roads and telecom); they should encourage budding entrepreneurs by ensuring that finance is available to businesses with the potential for growth and also commit to further improving their business environments through sustained investment; there must also be a constant push for existing policies and legislation to be reviewed to promote business activities.

These policies must also be enforced, and punitive measures put in place to deter offenders; government regulations should also be flexible to constantly fit the dynamics of the business environment; corruption and unethical behavior must be decisively dealt with and not treated with kid gloves. We must empower our judicial system to enable them to prosecute erring offenders with appropriate sanctions meted out. There should be no “sacred cows” or “untouchables”. The same law must be applied to all, no matter their state or position in the society; non-governmental organizations can also provide support for them through training and skills acquisition programs that will help build their capacity; they could also provide finance to grow their businesses; more mentorship programs should be encouraged, and incubators of young enterprises should be supported by public policy aimed at improving the quality of these youths and their ventures; and also, avenues should be created where young entrepreneurs will be able to connect, learn and share ideas with already successful well-established entrepreneurs.

What, according to you, are the attributes needed for tomorrow’s billionaires?

There is no overnight success. You must start by dreaming big and working towards achieving it. You must be determined to succeed despite all odds. Do not allow your setbacks or failures to stop you but rather make them your stepping stone. Develop your strengths to attain excellence and be tenacious, never give up on your dream or aspiration. Your word must be your bond. You must make strong ethical values and integrity your watchword. Always act professionally and this will enable you to build confidence in your customers and clients. 

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Brand Voice

Charmaine Mabuza Honoured With FORBES WOMAN AFRICA Social Impact Award

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Brand Voice by Zamani Holdings and ITHUBA

Group CEO of Zamani Holdings, Charmaine Mabuza was honoured with the Social Impact Award at the 2020 FORBES WOMAN AFRICA Leading Women Summit held in Durban ICC recently.

This award recognizes Mabuza for her measurable philanthropy that has positively impacted the lives of many South Africans for the past 21 years. 

At the top of her philanthropical projects is the Eric and Charmaine Mabuza Scholarship Foundation which she founded with her husband, Advocate Eric Mabuza in 1999. The Scholarship Foundation started in Mpumalanga, where the Mabuza’s business hub is centered. Speaking to Ukhozi FM in an interview, Charmaine Mabuza said that together with her husband, they funded this foundation straight from their pockets. “Both my husband and I come from humble beginnings and we know what it’s like to not have means to study further, especially when you believe that education is your way out of poverty. So when we started making good profits from our small businesses at the time, we decided to dedicate a portion of our personal income to funding tertiary education fees of previously disadvantaged children”, said Mabuza.

Powered by Zamani Holdings, the Scholarship Foundation later expanded its reach to the rest of South Africa, supporting over 160 students countrywide, many of which have qualified as Doctors, Chartered Accountants, Engineers, Quantity Surveyors and many more. The 2020 Scholarship Foundation programme launched on 13 January, with an intake of 21 students.

Zamani holdings has empowered the rest its group of companies to roll out CSI initiatives that truly transform the lives of ordinary South Africans. At the forefront of these initiatives is ITHUBA, the South African National Lottery Operator and Zamani’s flagship company.

In July 2017, ITHUBA launched the ITHUBA Female Retailer Development programme, specially designed to empower women who own spaza shops and informal supermarkets, who currently sell National Lottery products, from all around the country. This included women from previously marginalized communities in the rural outskirts.

In collaboration with reputable institutions such as Regenesys and the University of Johannesburg, this programme has upskilled over 100 women in retail business. The latest group of 14 women graduated in October 2019 at the University of Johannesburg’s Kingsway campus, each being awarded a qualification in Advanced Entrepreneurship and Social Innovation.

Zamani’s Social Responsibility initiatives include:

  • ITHUBA Graduate Programme: An annual skills development programme for graduates within the Marketing, Finance, IT, PR, HR and Logistics fields, with intake of 13 students in 2020.
  • Youth Enterprise Development:  Eradicating youth unemployment through developing upcoming entrepreneurs and helping them build sustainable, profit making business. 
  • Housing project: A project that builds houses for employees in the lower income brackets, who have been in the employment of the company for 10 years and more.
  • A media campaign to condemn femicide and violence against women.

“I firmly believe that education is key to eradicating poverty and injustice. This is why all of our initiatives are based on imparting knowledge and skills. Through education we empower, through education we liberate” said Mabuza.

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