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GLAMOUR Women’s Month Series: Catherine Wijnberg

The GLAMOUR Women’s Month Series is an ode to women who are following the beat of their drum and doing it successfully.

Catherine Wijnberg an entrepreneur with experience in starting, growing and operating businesses in five different sectors across three countries.

Catherine is the founder of Fetola and a book author of ‘Sheep Will Never Rule The World.

She was born in Ndola, Zambia to an entrepreneurial father and is the fourth of five children.

“I travelled from an early age to the UK for boarding school and studied agriculture in Scotland and Australia. I started my working life as an agricultural economist at the Zambia Farmers Union. My first entrepreneurial venture was a leap of faith into the new forex auction system in Zambia and an import business serving the local farming network,” said Catherine.

Catherine is a trained pilot and an avid paraglider. She says jumping off mountains is her idea of a great day out!

Catherine and her husband relocated to South Africa after they sold the first business venture that had brought to them some of life’s most hard lessons about running a business.

“This was an exciting, truly entrepreneurial journey of daily learning and brought with it some hard lessons, such as the devastating impact of the exchange rate and how to manage difficult clients - all of which have stood me in good stead in later years.”

She added that after her husband’s business failed as a result, they were forced to live off welfare and generosity of others. Catherine says when her husband left the country after their failed businesses she was forced to look after their children.

Fast forward through some tough times, Catherine took up full-time employment until 2006, when she realized that there was a greater purpose for her to be on earth and that it could be expressed through Fetola.

“Fetola has had its own ups and downs, as do all businesses, but what has made Fetola such an incredible business to grow, is that its purpose is to serve others. Quite simply, we help people to grow the economy and create jobs, by building businesses that last. We do this by helping people to realise their own personal potential and express this in the success of their business.

Catherine Wijnberg

“In summary, there can be nothing more rewarding and more thrilling than building a business – the tough times are simply the pathway along which we walk and make us able to appreciate the sweetness of success when we see it.

“I believe in grabbing every day and making the most of it and have taken these experiences and used them to help others in their business journey as they develop to become sustainable, create jobs and grow the economy,” she said.

Catherine has shared her story of defiance, hope and courage with Glamour.

Which woman has positively impacted you in your career? And what is the one lesson she taught you?

I admire strong, authentic leaders who use their skills to unify people and as a result, have gained the respect needed to succeed in a man’s world - such as Thuli Madonsela, Angela Merkel and Jacina Arderne. The woman who has most inspired me personally though is the late Torga Buchanan of Torga Optical, the spectacle company.

Torga’s wise words “beware the ego” often ring in my head to remind me that success is a moving target and anyone who thinks they have ‘made it’ are probably in for a surprise!

What are the three words that spring to mind when you hear Women's Day/Month?

You go girls!

To you, what is the most beautiful thing about being a woman?

I was forty years old when I finally saw myself as a beautiful woman. It took that long for me to recognize I was actually a swan not an ugly duckling and that I was fine with not fitting in to the society norm of women as beautiful, demure ….and silent!

I would have to add that the most beautiful thing at age 60 is knowing myself and having the self-confidence to let that inner person shine. Thankfully as a woman this level of sensitivity, intuition and insight is considered a strength, not a weakness.

In your industry or in general, have you seen any more movement to gender equality in the workplace?

I haven’t – but then gender equality has always been the norm in my business, and we work with majority female entrepreneurs, so we live this every day.

As a woman who looks to inspire young girls that look like you, what are some of the measures you think should be put in place to assure young girls have an equal say in society?

Well first of all I would hate to think that only girls that look like me would have an equal say in society! Girls, no matter their looks, race, religion, sexual orientation, culture or wealth profile should be afforded equal opportunity to succeed. For this to happen we need better access to high quality schooling, inspirational leadership and teachers that are themselves role models.

With Black Lives Matter being at the forefront and black people calling out racism and transformation. What do you think we can teach the next generation about inclusion and representation?

The BLM movement has sparked a new appreciation around the globe for the generational injustices served by slavery, colonialism and entrenched racism. I believe this is a pivotal phase in history that will change the way we view ourselves. Change is amongst us.

Gender Based Violence (GBV) especially women and children abuse has been prevalent in the country for a very long time and there have been various initiatives that speak to this but the scourge of abuse still continues at a large scale, what would you advise as a solution going forward? And who should be involved?

This is one battle too far for me – I have enough on my plate managing equality, empowerment and entrepreneurship. My love and appreciation to those that do battle in this arena

What does women’s month mean to you and what would you like to see being done to push or commemorate this month?

Every day is Woman’s day in my book, so whilst it is great to have a month to focus on women, I prefer to do the right thing every day.

As a modern woman, who is a powerhouse in her own right, how do you maneuver the African expectations for what Africa believes a woman should be, particularly in countries that are rooted in patriarchy like ours?

I had it easy growing up in an entrepreneurial family who never made me question that I could not succeed, girl or not. So, I am often awed by the strength South African women display in overcoming the cultural challenges of running a business, especially in more rural communities where patriarchal norms are very strong.

Catherine Wijnberg

It’s hard to succeed as an entrepreneur and family support can make all the difference. So those families who do support their wives, mothers and daughters are a vital part of creating a better future for all, for generations to come.

What are some of the great possibilities about being a woman in the world right now, that may not be easy to see but you feel women should take full advantage of without being ashamed or afraid?

If you believe you can, you can. There is something magical about self-belief, focus and commitment – that makes stormy waters part and challenges fall away. Its for this reason that praise, encouragement and positive affirmation is so important for our girl children

The imposter syndrome is something a lot of women confess to suffer from or have suffered from. Have you ever had to deal with it? What would you say to another woman reading this about not letting the syndrome run one’s life in anyway?

Yes, I, like most women have and do still suffer from the belief that I don’t deserve to succeed, or that my voice is not worthy of being heard. I have found that the way to overcome this is to stay true to my purpose, which is to serve others. In this way I take the pressure off myself and can just focus on doing the best I can.

How has self-care contributed to the woman you are in all facets of your life? Why is self-care important, particularly for women, as most of us are raised to believe we put everyone else first before ourselves?

High stress levels from the manic pace of this Covid work from home life are certainly getting to me. Despite this I maintain pretty strict working hours and avoid late night or weekend work.

I also include some form of daily exercise and whenever I can I get right away from work stresses to go paragliding, which is my way of pressing the reset button!

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