With no pageanting experience, Keri Stroebel entered Mrs South Africa in 2016 to do something different and combat her post-partum depression. The experience changed her life, giving her the direction she’d been looking for.
I’d never believed I had the potential to be an entrepreneur.
The thought of running my own business terrified me. But that’s where I’ve ended up because I’ve found something I’m passionate about, and where I can add value. My goals have changed, and I have this incredible drive linked to my purpose. It’s been a revelation.
Today I’m the chairman of the South African Council for Business Women in Cape Town.
I’ve spent the last 18 months networking and building up my branches. It hasn’t been easy. But I’ve discovered that if you find something you really care about, you can make it happen. You need connections and to surround yourself with like-minded people, and the only person who can make that happen is you.
Princess Bootcamp has been my answer to helping girls who are like me.
I suffered from depression my entire life and never knew it. When I matriculated I didn’t know what I wanted to do. This was the story of my life, and resulted in a lot of job hopping, which took an additional toll on my self-confidence.
Before I gave birth to my son, I didn’t realise I’d been dealing with depression my entire life.
I thought it was hormones, or stress. It was only once I was diagnosed with post-partum depression that I realised this was something I’d always battled with, and it had affected the progression of my life.
I entered Mrs South Africa because I wanted to do something completely different and outside of my comfort zone.
I wasn’t thinking about launching a business to help young girls at that stage — I was still trying to find my own meaning and purpose, step by step. I ended up being a semi-finalist, which was totally unexpected, since I’m short and curvy, and suddenly things started coming together for me.
These new experiences helped me find my purpose.
At the same time as I’d achieved a level of self-awareness about my own life and its new direction, I was given a platform to speak to teenage girls about depression. I started speaking at schools, and the more girls I spoke to, the more I realised how prevalent this feeling of “I’m not good enough” is.
I didn’t have a strong female role model growing up and I looked to celebrities.
Some celebrities use the platform to share powerful messages, others behave badly. It’s confusing for young girls. I also realised that school wasn’t giving them a safe space to explore the issues they were facing, and so I launched The Princess Bootcamp.
I felt like I’d woken up. For the first time in my life I was doing something I was passionate about.
It’s amazing what a difference that makes. I spent my life looking for the right fit — sales, PR, digital marketing, travel — I’ve tried it all. And then I found that if I shared my experiences with other young girls and women, I could help them.
Now instead of trying to find something I care about, I’m trying to figure out how to make something I care about work.
It’s scary and incredibly rewarding. I realised almost immediately that, as a business, this needed to be sustainable. We launched with incredible partners who helped with the talks, and Essence Cosmetics, who gave free goodie bags to girls attending the full-day Saturday bootcamp. Parents pay R550 for R6 000 worth of value.
The goal is to make the day as accessible as possible, and eventually offer it for free to girls in need who cannot afford to pay.
Our biggest challenge has been how to pay the message forward, after the bootcamp wraps up. We’ve created workbooks and open lines of communication, but making a real impact in the lives of teenage girls takes more than just one intervention.
We’re arming them with information, insight and tools to cope with challenges they encounter
But the change needs to be permanent, and that’s what I’m focusing on now — that, and growing the business nationally.