We believe in celebrating the successful women of the Western Cape throughout the year. Today we chat to 39-year-old, Zambian born, business owner and gender-lens investor - Lelemba Phiri, to find out more about her journey, and how she empowers other women through her career.
Tell us a bit about yourself, what you do, and the journey it has taken to be where you are today.
I am Lelemba Phiri, the Principal at Africa Trust Group. We invest in women entrepreneurs across the SADEC region.
How I got to where I am today is by working in government, corporate and in start-ups. My journey has always had a golden thread of working with, and empowering women wherever I have been. It was a natural progression for me, that the next step would be around empowering women entrepreneurs, particularly because there was a gap in access to finance for women. This is a global gap and it is quite severe in sub-Sharan Africa, even though it is the only region in the world where there are more women than men that start-up businesses – there is still less finance accessible to women which means that they often close their businesses within the first 3 years, or the growth of their business is limited to being small.
I got into this space to be a part of the solution.
What challenges have you had to face, on how did you overcome them?
Challenges are a part of life. Every part of my career there has been support, but there have been challenges. I look at challenges as an opportunity for learning something. Whenever we are uncomfortable or find ourselves in a challenging situation, I think that there is so much opportunity for learning about ourselves – what we like and what we don’t like, but also a growth opportunity. Challenges push us to move to another place, grow into another position, evaluate what are we going through. I embrace challenges, it hasn’t always been easy, but if you can look at it as an opportunity, you will see that optimum growth comes at the balance of challenge and support. If all you got was support, support, support, you wouldn’t be who you are.
How has/ will your position as a prominent female business leader positively contribute to the economy and other aspiring women in the Western Cape?
I invest in women. When we are looking at a business to invest in, we always think about the value chain it creates for making other businesses or empowering other women further. So, when we are investing in an entrepreneur and her business, we are not just looking at her, but also at all the businesses she is touching.
We are more interested in the businesses that don’t just empower the immediate team, but that have got a cascading effect, whether in a community or a particular sector.
Why did you choose Cape Town and the Western Cape as your base to pursue your career path?
I chose the Western Cape as the base for my career path because of the diversity. I love the cosmopolitan nature of the city, I love that there is a mix of races, religions and cultures. It is such a learning pot because of the diversity we find in Cape Town. I also love the fact there is so much to do here, particularly with children. I am a mother of two teenage sons, and when we moved to Cape Town, my children were small - five and one years old. My career decisions are also shaped by my family life, and being in Cape Town where there is so much activity and so much stuff to do with children - outdoors and indoors - it was quite an easy decision for me.
Do you have any advice for other young, aspiring females?
My advice for aspiring female leaders is that I think as women, we often look outside of ourselves for a hero, for somebody to come and save us, and maybe this has something to do with the fairytales we grow up reading. I think that everything that we look for is already within, otherwise we wouldn't be looking for it. I'd like to encourage aspiring young female leaders to be their own SHERO’s, to look within and to believe that they are capable and that it starts with them. It's difficult for others to value you and you don't value yourself and so, start with you, be your own SHERO and make that difference that you want to see in the world!