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Social entrepreneur receives Henley Africa scholarship

Social entrepreneur Phano Ramoeketsi receives the Dean’s scholarship 2022 from Henley Africa.

Phano Ramoeketsi is on a mission to improve girls’ lives – and soon she’ll have the necessary business skills to scale up what she’s doing and make her dream of a sustainable reality.

The Lesotho-born social entrepreneur suffers from endometriosis, one of the side effects of which is early onset menstruation and crippling period pains. As a child, she’d miss several days of school every month because she was simply too unwell to go to class.

It was only after she had matriculated from Eunice Girls School in Bloemfontein and had enrolled at the University of Pretoria that her condition was finally diagnosed, ending almost a decade of torment.

Knowing what it was and that she wasn’t alone – it affects 10% of all reproductive age women - sparked a passion in her to ultimately do something that would break the stigma around menstruation and alleviate the plight of young women by providing them with affordable and accessible solutions.

“Too many young girls are ashamed, but it’s normal. Young girls don’t deserve to have to miss school because of their period. That breaks my heart. So many girls fail, they stay at home and become victims of rape and abuse because they’re vulnerable to predators.”

Ramoeketsi completed her studies in marketing at the AAA School of Advertising but found that her natural skill was as an entrepreneur. After stints an assistant brand manager for L’Oréal and an investment banker with Investec, she used the opportunity of a retrenchment to travel.

After a trip to China when she returned with three suitcases filled with handbags and 60 pairs of shoes which she sold for a profit, she knew she was onto something. After repeating this several times, she realised that she needed to have a business with purpose, rather than just profits for profit’s sake. She realised she wanted to give hope to young girls by providing them with the knowledge and wherewithal to cope with their periods in a financially and environmentally sustainable way.

After designing feminine hygiene pads, she settled on menstrual cups and she formed a company, Even Bow in 2017 to drive this. Shortly afterwards, she teamed up with her friend. A Tanzanian social entrepreneur Mwanaidi Mwilima. Mwilima, who also suffers from endometriosis, specialises in reusable feminine hygiene products, while Ramoeketsi’s products are both disposable and reusable.

Ramoeketsi set her sights on distributing her product range through Southern African countries, while Mwilima’s focus is on the East African region. The pandemic though scuppered her business plans, so she turned to education – and specifically Henley Business School Africa.

“I’ve always believed in education,” she says, “and the power it gives you. I love education. I took the last R90 000 I had when COVID-19 hit and enrolled for a post graduate diploma in management practice. It changed my life,” she says.

COVID-19 hadn’t only affected her business, it affected her personally too. She contracted the virus and it hit her hard.

“It was an incredibly difficult year. I was sick throughout with long COVID and I fell behind, but I pulled through.”

She attributes her success to a combination of determination, Henley’s legendary flexibility as well as the concern and efforts of Dr Zondré Keevy and Tholsiluxmi Pillay, Henley Africa’s PG Dip programme director and post graduate admissions manager respectively.

“The PG Dip opens your eyes. It’s where you learn to look at things from a different perspective. It also opened my eyes as to who I am,” she says. The personal mastery component of the course was a real highlight: “it solidified why I’m doing what I’m doing and what my purpose is, to continue with my journey and perfect it. I’d recommend the PG Dip programme to anyone who works with people and who needs to learn how to be understanding and show love. This teaches you how to be empathetic.”

She finished the PG Dip in March, but she wasn’t finished studying – and she wasn’t finished with Henley either, receiving a full Dean’s scholarship based on her contribution to South African society, to go on and do her MBA, which she began at the end of July.

“Winning the scholarship was like winning the lottery. I wasn’t expecting it. If the education I get can be filtered down to young girls, then I will have succeeded. I’m like a mother feeding a child, if they can get those skills, then that is power. It’s about giving back without taking back. This is not about me, but what I can be able to offer others when I have it.”

For Henley Africa dean and director, Jon Foster-Pedley, there’s no doubt that Ramoeketsi is a worthy winner of this year’s Dean’s Scholarship.

“We run the widest range of scholarships of any business school in Africa – for a reason: to make sure that we can broaden the skills base and ensure the people who are making extraordinary contributions to African society and our common futures can access the skills to magnify that contribution.

“In Phano, we have a young potential business leader with a passion to make a massive difference to the lives of young women, breaking the stigma, keeping the girl child in school and possibly developing a business that can employ many of them to pay it forward when they matriculate.”

Henley Africa, he says, is committed to its mission of building the leaders who build the businesses that build Africa.

“NGO and NPOs need to be run with excellent businesses and management skills too. We need them to become financially independent so that they can scale up the work they do and have an even greater impact as we all work to reduce the scandalous Gini coefficient in this country. I hope Phano and her Even Bow company can ultimately be at the forefront of doing just this.”

Useful resources:
Henley Business School
At the core of Henley’s philosophy is the belief that we need to develop managers and leaders for the future. We believe the challenge facing future leaders is the need to solve dilemmas through making choices. We work with both individuals and organisations to create the appropriate learning environment to facilitate the critical thinking skills to prepare for the future.
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