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Women Who Lead: Bonnie Cooper And Esna Colyn On Wearing The Mantle Of Leadership

Recently I had the privilege of speaking to two inspirational leaders who happen to be women. Here is what Bonnie Cooper and Esna Colyn shared on wearing the mantle of leadership.

Dirk Coetsee




“It is the ultimate luxury to combine passion and contribution. It is also a very clear path to happiness.” – Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook)

Arnold Schwarzenegger, in that very interesting and powerful German accent of his, gave a very thoughtful and inspiring answer to a female listeners’ question during a Tim Ferris Podcast. The essence of her question was about how a woman should go about the very challenging task of being a leader.

In this writing I will abbreviate and paraphrase his answer as it was a very long powerful lesson in politics, history and business – “Angela Merkel does not think about being a woman when leading Germany it is about the person and having strong leadership characteristics. I am sure that Catherine the great of Russia did not think of being a woman as she led her country, it is about the person.”

Related: Why Donna Rachelson Believes The Secret To Your Business Success Lies With Women

“The Terminators” answer lends more weight to the theory that leadership has very little if not nothing to do with gender, background, or position and much more to do with having a clear vision, inspiring others, and being an example that others want to follow. Leadership is about being passionate about what you do and leaving other leaders behind by adding value to them and serving them.

Recently I had the privilege of speaking to two inspirational leaders who happen to be women. Here is what Bonnie Cooper and Esna Colyn shared on wearing the mantle of leadership. 

“Leaders create energy”

Taking on the dual roles of being the Chief executive of BPD Advertising Agency and the Chief Marketing Officer of Roman’s Pizza requires a vast amount of energy, and Bonnie Cooper has bucket loads. Creating an energetic environment and an inspirational atmosphere is what true leaders do. She pointed out to me that high levels of enthusiasm and drive are critical factors when success is contemplated.

She asked me to emphasise that she has many flaws but immediately added that the very same flaws can open the door to opportunities when you admit them and put in the hard work to change. This positive attitude towards personal transformation can ignite inspiration in other team members who are willing to improve themselves.

Bonnie admitted to being an extreme introvert. Some see introversion as a detractor of performance especially within roles where public speaking, constant group engagement and corporate presentations are the rule and not the exception. She is however one of many examples of people who has obliterated this assumption. The determination in her eyes, the expansive body language and the confidence in her voice provides undisputable testimony to the fact that she has purposefully evolved her introversion into being an influential presence.

Leadership is about character, being the model of behaviour that you desire for your team to adopt. Bonnie is an inspiring example of how constant change and a focus on self- improvement can help others to leave their comfort zones behind to become leaders.

She strongly believes in empowerment and in part sees that as creating an environment where you as team member have no option but to venture outside of the self-imposed boundaries of your own comfort zone.

Related: Funding And Financial Assistance For SA Women Entrepreneurs

“Respect is all that matters”

This statement is part of her e-mail signature and part of her belief system, and in having interacted with her I can honestly say, part of her actions. She will admit when she was wrong and show you the respect of a sincere apology.

Bonnie respects her team members by truly having an open-door policy and as a team member you are given the freedom to make mistakes, if you own them and fix them.

“A boss will blame and take credit, a leader will give credit and take the blame.”

The above quote alludes to the huge level of responsibility on a leaders’ shoulders and the high level of character that a leader must maintain to win and keep the trust of her team members. You can trust Bonnie to say what she thinks, to apologise when she is wrong, to roll up her sleeves shoulder to shoulder with her team when the hard work needs to be done and to give credit when and where it is due.



Question the status quo

A  leadership lesson that Esna has learnt is to understand her business by constantly questioning the status quo through the following questions:

  1. What are you passionate about?
  2. What is the economic engine that drives your business?
  3. What do you want to be the best in the world at?

Related: 10 Successful SA Women Entrepreneurs’ Top Advice On Balancing Work And Family

Key leadership principles

She highlights the importance of asking for help and to seek guidance as a leader and to never stop to read and learn.

Strong leaders entertain strong beliefs and Esnas’ belief system is applied in her business through the following key principles:

  • Work with and grow passionate people of great character and integrity.
  • Bring people into the organisation that are stronger than yourself.
  • Aspire to change the world and leave a legacy.

She does not hesitate to mention that to consistently apply the above principles are tough. The CEO of Imbalie believes that authenticity is the most effective vehicle of communication when it comes to motivating all key stakeholders around the purpose of the company.


Esna sees the late Nelson Mandela as an inspirational leader who’s example she looks up to. She is proudly South African and aspires to the changes that he facilitated in our country and in the world. Speaking of inspiration and aspiration the quote that Esna most resonates with comes from Joshua 1:9 – “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage, do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Imbalies’ theme for 2017 is “#LIFT OFF“ and she sees all franchisees as leaders and entrepreneurs whom in unison with the organisations’ leadership must make this theme a reality.

Dirk Coetsee is an international Peak Performance Business and Master NLP coach. He is an entrepreneur and founder of DCGlobal business and life coaching. DCglobals’ purpose is to multiply the performance and growth of businesses and individuals. Contact Dirk directly at:

Support for Women Entrepreneurs

11 Quotes On Hard Work, Risk-Taking And Getting Started From Beauty Billionaire Estee Lauder

The cosmetics tycoon provides lessons on the importance of passion and perseverance.



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Like most entrepreneurs, passion was at the core of cosmetics tycoon Estee Lauder. From a young age, Lauder was obsessed with beauty, and it wasn’t before long that she turned her dreams into reality. With the help of her chemist uncle, Lauder developed creams and other products that she would sell to local beauty stores in her hometown of Queens, N.Y. In 1946, Lauder officially launched her now world-renowned beauty company Estee Lauder with her husband Joseph Lauder. The business skyrocketed to success.

In 1998, Lauder was the only woman to land on Time’s top 20 business geniuses of the 20th century. In 2004, the year Lauder died, the beauty entrepreneur was named Time’s person of the year. Estee Lauder has become one of the biggest brands in beauty, with a worth of more than $50 billion. The company employs more than 46,000 people worldwide.

To learn more from Lauder and the cosmetics empire she built, here are 11 inspirational quotes on hard work, perseverance and getting started.

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Support for Women Entrepreneurs

Funding For Women Entrepreneurs – A Collective Effort

The bottom line is that while funders need to stretch further to reach female entrepreneurs, these entrepreneurs need to make their own efforts to connect and ready themselves to tap these resources. Only then will the latent economic value of women in our economy reach its full potential.

Jenny Retief




It is well recognised that women are powerful drivers of economic growth in South Africa, and are vital to the country reaching its full economic potential. Yet women account for only 18% percent of business owners in South Africa, according to the second Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs (MIWE), released earlier this year.

The reasons are many, including lack of financial literacy, but one of the biggest constraints facing women entrepreneurs is access to finance. As most women entrepreneurs are concentrated in the informal sector, the majority of them access financing through micro-lending institutions, which offer only limited support. When they are ready to grow into SMMEs, they again face difficulties in obtaining loans from commercial banks.

According to the ‘Inaugural South African SMME Access to Finance Report’, published last year by the online access to finance portal Finfind, the SMME sector provides a “compelling, largely untapped market opportunity for innovative funders”, estimating the SMME credit gap at between R86bn and R346bn.

Finfind’s research showed that many SMMEs that are eligible for funding are still unable to secure it due to their lack of finance readiness, i.e., they are unable to produce the financial documentation required by funders to assess bankability and affordability, in order to approve their funding applications. These documents include up-to-date management accounts, latest financial statements, budgets, forecasts and tax clearance certificates, among others.

Related: Funding And Financial Assistance For SA Women Entrepreneurs

This was reiterated at the recent African Youth Networks Summit in Tswhane, where the head of Old Mutual Foundation Millicent Maroga stressed, “the key issue is a distinct lack of support in getting the business ready for funding”.

Enter initiatives like the Riversands Incubation Hub, a campus north of Sandton that houses over 150 established and start-up small businesses in subsidised premises, with access to business support services. One of its key values to its SMMEs is bridging the gap between them and the many players in the funding space, in particular through its annual FundEX event, a platform giving guidance and helping to match entrepreneurs with funders.

“Contrary to popular belief, there is funding available. FundEX provides practical guidance on what funding is available and what it takes to access this capital. It also gives entrepreneurs the opportunity to interact with a variety of funders, including banks, government funders and alternative funding platforms,” says Jenny Retief, CEO of Riversands Incubation Hub.

The theme this year is ‘Secrets of Scale’, unpacking what it takes to build a ‘fundable’ business. This is highly pertinent, as much of the complexity in the SMME funding environment is seated in the size of the business, and what stage of growth it is at.

Finfind’s research found that although SMMEs and start-ups may qualify for venture capital funding, funding opportunities for less scalable SMMEs are less promising. “This opens the door for new, innovative funding models to serve this section of the SMME market. Start-ups and micro-businesses represent a significant potential market for innovative funders who are able to develop new lending models tailored to address this growing market,” said the report.

As women proliferate in this space, they need to equip themselves with as much as information as possible about the funding opportunities out there, says Retief.

“The DTI, for example, offers funding programmes, and aggregators such as FinFind and others can help entrepreneurs navigate the more than 400 different funding solutions available in SA. Entrepreneurs can also boost their business by regular engagement with a mentor. Many incubation programmes offer this type of support,” she says.

Related: Watch List: 50 Black African Women Entrepreneurs To Watch

There are also many initiatives to bring resources closer to entrepreneurs. For example, the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) offers Technology Stations in diversified sectors, ranging from agro-processing, chemicals, clothing and textiles to tooling. These provide entrepreneurs access to university-level technical levels and specialised equipment at affordable pricing levels.

This speaks to upskilling, a key offering of incubation hubs and critical for women entrepreneurs needing to become finance literate. “At Riversands, we have a team of coaches and mentors who guide entrepreneurs in specific areas such as finance or strategy. Relevant educational material is regularly presented in formal as well as informal ways and reinforced with practical coaching to help entrepreneurs put theory into practice in their own businesses.  This is flanked with professional bookkeeping services provided on a subsidised basis. This allows business owners to build the financial records and systems their businesses need to qualify for understanding,” says Retief.

The bottom line is that while funders need to stretch further to reach female entrepreneurs, these entrepreneurs need to make their own efforts to connect and ready themselves to tap these resources. Only then will the latent economic value of women in our economy reach its full potential.

Riversands FundEX takes place on August 16. For more information visit:

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Support for Women Entrepreneurs

13 Female Entrepreneurs Rising To The Top In SA

These 13 black businesswomen are rapidly rising stars. You can learn from their journey and their entrepreneurial advice.




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Women all over the world are the powerhouses behind some of the newest, innovative start-ups and concept businesses. South African businesswomen are gaining momentum in this global arena too, with success stories like the 13 ladies below.

Female-led business growth is happening in South Africa, despite the latest Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) statistics showing that only 6.2% of South African females take the leap into entrepreneurship.

These 13 black female businesswomen are going against statistical trends and represent some of the rising stars in South Africa’s entrepreneurial landscape. 

  1. Boitumelo Ntsoane
  2. Phuti Mahanyele 
  3. DJ Zinhle 
  4. Polo Leteka Radebe
  5. Michelle Okafor
  6. Sonia Booth
  7. Basetsana Kumalo
  8. Sibongile Sambo
  9. Molemo Kgomo
  10. Nkhensani Nkosi
  11. Bonang Matheba
  12. Matsi Modise
  13. Khanyi Dhlomo
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