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Women Entrepreneur Successes

How Ramona Kasavan Built An Organisation That Helps Women Empower Themselves

Starting a business can be brutal. Your vision can take longer to materialise than you hoped, and you’ll probably have to adjust your model along the way. Ramona Kasavan knows that if you have a dream bigger than yourself, it’s worth fighting for. Here are her four pillars to a successful start-up that can change society as we know it.

Nadine Todd




Vital stats

“Understand who you are — and what you’re selling.”

Ramona Kasavan is a social capitalist. She is running a full profit organisation that aims to make a massive impact on the lives of impoverished South African girls and women, and help them break the cycles of abuse and poverty that define many of their lives and circumstances.

She’s doing this through contract manufacturing and selling sanitary pads. Like many start-ups, it took Ramona some time before she could articulate — both internally and externally — that her company is not a sanitary pad business, but an organisation that helps women to empower themselves.

Know what your business is really about

“One of my mentors, ex- FCBDraft MD Klasie Wessels, helped me to understand this,” says Ramona. “At the time I had already established my own sanitary pad brand, Happy Days, and he said to me, ‘Happy Days has nothing to do with periods. That’s not what this business is; it’s not the problem it’s solving.”’

Today, the company is called Mimi Women, based on the Swahili word for ‘I am’. “This business is about female empowerment; it’s about teaching girls to be ‘selfish’, giving them permission to believe that they are enough, just the way they are. They can be who they want to be.”

The benefits of rebranding

The seemingly simple act of rebranding helped Ramona shift her strategy, but it’s an important lesson that other start-ups can benefit from. Often, the idea that sparks a business, and the resultant product or service, can become so consuming that the business owner doesn’t take the time to step back and define exactly who the business is.

When this happens, the company struggles to develop a vision and purpose greater than its product offering, which can be extremely limiting to growth.

In Ramona’s case, it was the realisation that sanitary pads are not only expensive (which she discovered once she was in varsity, living in a flat and trying to make ends meet), but that for many households they are scarce resources, keeping girls at home during their menstruation cycles when they should be at school.

Creating a high quality product at a low price

“There were two options: Brands that are good quality but expensive, and cheap brands that are terrible quality and don’t solve the problem at hand. I wanted to create a premium brand at an economy price.”

With the assistance of the IDC, local partners and a successful relationship with a Chinese manufacturer, Ramona achieved her goal, but she soon discovered this wasn’t enough to make the impact she was looking for.

Related: For Founder Of National Tekkie Tax Day Having A Higher (Business) Purpose Keeps Her Driving Forward

“Don’t be afraid to pivot — it could take your business to the next level.”

Enter the pivot, an essential element in business innovation, sustainability and growth. “I was tired of being donor funded, which was how the business was operating. We had a campaign running with JSE companies to sponsor a girl child and keep her in school. It was working, but it was also incredibly stressful. Relying on donors was making it difficult to grow the business and create the intended impact.”

An integral element of the business’s rebranding was the opportunity to move away from a donor model, and develop a more sustainable for-profit model to support the Mimi Foundation, a new non-profit arm that donates sanitary pads to girls in need.

“We realised that we had a product, but that this wasn’t the business. Once that was in place, we could develop different, interlinking business models to achieve our goals.”

There are now three arms to the business: A foundation that supports keeping girls in school through donated sanitary pads; a distribution arm that provides business opportunities for women in impoverished areas; and fundraising to instal a factory that manufactures Mimi sanitary pads, which are currently sourced locally and from China.

The factory will be completed and operational before the end of 2017, opening the way for Mimi pads to enter the local FMCG retail chain. For every pack of Mimi purchased, a pack will be donated to the foundation, enabling consumers to buy local and support a good cause.

“It’s been a big shift from our original donor model, but it’s made a huge difference to the overall impact of our business on South African women.”

“If you want to grow, you need to find additional revenue streams.”


Ramona has evaluated multiple ways to get her sanitary pads into the market in such a way that the business makes an income, but can also deliver on its original mandate of keeping girls in schools, and its more sophisticated current mandate of empowering women.

“We’re negotiating with schools to have sanitary pad vending machines available for their students. This is a pilot that we are currently running with IDC. For each pad sold, a pad is donated to the foundation, so it ticks a CSI box for the schools while helping us to grow our footprint.” Ramona is also negotiating with the big five retailers in South Africa to get her product onto their shelves.

However, the biggest shift in her model has been the introduction of Agents for Change which is an empowerment direct selling model. “The initial aim was to have 1 000 agents selling our product. Within three weeks of launching the new division we had 100 agents.”

The impact of Agents for Change

Agents for Change focuses on women aged 18 to 35 years. “We look for historically disadvantaged individuals who have no experience in selling a product or running a business.

“By giving them an opportunity to create income for themselves we hope to assist them in breaking the cycle of poverty they’re in, while also getting our products into the markets that will benefit from a premium brand at an affordable price.”

The Agents for Change idea came from a pilot with SAB Milller called Pads and Cents, where Agents meet every second Friday for a full day of coaching in financial literacy, basic business principles and sales. “If you can sell pads you can sell anything. We’ve found that women build confidence when we help them to speak about important things that are taboo in their communities.”

Women who complete the programme can become Agents of Change who sell Mimi products, or they can pitch their ideas to current business incubators as a different route.

Related: How This Power Couple Hooked 2 Shark Tank Investors

Empowering not enabling women to achieve

“This is about empowering women, not enabling them. We’re not about covering their costs, but giving them the tools and opportunities to create and grow their own businesses. They can have their own agents, and we’re creating an ecosystem to support them.

“Mimi-branded tuk-tuks will deliver product and instal waste disposal units that they’ll empty and incinerate; the tuk-tuks will stock vending machines, and we can even offer bathroom cleaning services.”

The next step in the evolution of the business is building a manufacturing plant under the company’s investment arm, Full Circle Women, which Ramona developed with support from her mentor, Wendy Luhabe. The ultimate aim is to become a female-focused VC investor, and the manufacturing plant is the fund’s first project.

“One of the mandates when you receive IDC funding is that you need to source locally,” says Ramona. “I was 100% local for just over a year, but local suppliers couldn’t meet our supply needs. The IDC is aware of this, and understood when I sourced a Chinese manufacturer to produce the sanitary pads I had designed. The idea is that I source from the Chinese as a proof of concept, and they will help us set up the plant later this year.

“For the model to really be sustainable and have longevity, we need to control manufacturing. Therefore, we’ve created a fund whereby 100 women invest R100 000. We’ve currently got 32 women and are also talking to VC investors.”

“Don’t take no for an answer.”

Truly successful entrepreneurs have one trait in common: They don’t take no for an answer. Ramona is one such entrepreneur. Her involvement with SAB, for example, began because she kept being turned down for SAB’s Kickstarter programme, so she phoned SAB’s exco to ask why.

“I had my honours in marketing and two successful start-ups under my belt, yet I couldn’t get their support; I wanted to know why.”

In response, SAB asked Ramona what she wanted, and together they devised the financial literacy incubator, Pads and Cents, whereby Ramona spearheads her own pre-incubator programme supported by SAB Miller Egoli Region.

Keep your supporters in the loop

Another example is the IDC and her Chinese partners. “I needed the IDC to understand why I was finding a Chinese partner. You just need to lay down your case. They’ve made concessions as a result, particularly because this will help me to build a local manufacturing plant.”

The Chinese relationship wasn’t seamless to begin with. “I’m an Indian woman from South Africa, and I’d sit in meetings with my supplier and they’d talk over my head. I had to put my foot down, look him in the eye and tell him that if he didn’t start dealing with me, I’d take my dollars elsewhere.”

Related: 11 Secrets Of South African Entrepreneurs On Making It To The Top

Build relationships built on trust and respect

The move not only earned Ramona her supplier’s respect, but has laid the foundation for a very good relationship built on trust and mutual respect.

“In business, as in life, you won’t get what you want unless you ask for it — and fight for it where necessary. In 2016 I was stressed and despondent because I was so reliant on donors and my business wasn’t making the impact I wanted. I had to sit down, re-evaluate what I was doing, and adjust my model. Today our vision is bigger than I ever thought possible. This is also based on the relationships with mentors, stakeholders and people who are passionate about building a sustainable future for young women leaders.”

Do this

Identify your best route to market, and where you will have the biggest impact. The right focus is a key differentiator for success. 

Women Entrepreneur Successes

AnaStellar Brands Founders Top Tips For Taking On Entrenched Competitors

Launched in August 2016, AnaStellar Brands has seen strong growth over a short period. According to founders Anastasia Dobson-du Toit and Michelle Dateling, success depends on getting the fundamentals right.

GG van Rooyen




Vital Stats

  • Players: Michelle Dateling and Anastasia Dobson-du Toit
  • Company: AnaStellar Brands
  • Est: 2016
  • About: AnaStellar Brands is a female-owned South African company, with a focus on the development, marketing and sale of innovative brands in the FMCG, cosmetics and pharmaceutical sectors. All of the company’s brands are manufactured and packaged within South Africa.
  • Visit:

Anastasia Dobson-Du Toit, a qualified pharmacist with a BCom degree and Michelle Dateling, an optometrist, met while both were pursuing an MBA at Wits University in 2010. Anastasia had spent years working in her family’s pharmaceutical company, which was eventually sold to a multinational. Michelle, meanwhile, was working as an optometrist and also has a stake in an optometry business. A few years after successfully completing their MBA degrees, both were looking to start a business.

“Initially, there were six of us — six ladies who had been in the MBA programme together. We all felt that there was no gain in simply getting an MBA. We needed to actually do something with it, so we decided to start a business together,” says Michelle.

As often happens, though, several members of the group withdrew for one reason or another, until eventually, only Anastasia and Michelle were left. Having exited the family business in 2014, Anastasia was ready for a new challenge and Michelle was also keen to venture deeper into the realm of entrepreneurship.

The industry they settled on was a challenging one, but also one that Anastasia was intimately familiar with: Pharmaceuticals. They launched AnaStellar Brands in 2016, a company that produces consumer health products that target the body and its functions in a holistic way.

“We make use of a mixology of targeted ingredients in a safe, cost-effective and convenient way, ensuring continued compliance and thus effective results. Our products focus on the nutritional requirements of women throughout the various stages of womanhood, including prenatal supplementation,” says Anastasia.

Related: Funding And Financial Assistance For SA Women Entrepreneurs

Of course, making inroads into an industry that is incredibly competitive and heavily regulated isn’t easy, yet the company has enjoyed impressive growth over the last 18 months. How did the founders manage to establish and grow their start-up so quickly? Here are their tips for taking on entrenched competitors.

1. Focus on what you do best

“We focus on the development, marketing and sale of products.” says Anastasia. “We don’t manufacture anything ourselves and we don’t handle things like warehousing and distribution. When we launched the company, we knew that we wanted it to be a South African businesses — that the money should stay in the country and stimulate the economy here. However, we also realised that we didn’t have to manufacture ourselves in order to accomplish this. There are plenty of South African businesses with the necessary capacity, just hoping for the business. So, we focus on the development and branding, which is where our strengths lie and contract the rest out. Trying to manufacture on a large scale when you are a small start-up is just too costly.”

2. Don’t give your company away

“Bootstrapping a business isn’t easy, so saying no to funding can be hard. However, you have to be very careful when it comes to taking outside funding. Although people were offering us money for something that didn’t truly exist yet, we decided to rather fund the business ourselves. Equity is cheap when a start-up is young, and a founder can end up regretting giving a big chunk of the business away. Also, you can quickly find yourself in a situation where you are no longer your own boss. If at all possible, fund the business yourself,” says Anastasia.

3. Know your market and customer

“Although we only launched late in 2016, we had spent a lot of time researching and preparing before this. We analysed the market carefully and really looked at our competitors. We tried their products and took photos of shelves in stores. We knew exactly what the market looked like, and we knew how we wanted to position ourselves by the time we officially started doing business,” says Michelle.

4. Build intellectual property

At the end of the day, all you really have is your brand and your IP, so you need to focus on those when launching your business. You need to know exactly what you want your brand to be. You need to sweat the details. Logos, packaging and marketing materials are important.

You need to stand out and you need to be able to compete with large multinationals. We spent time and money on good packaging, for instance, even creating boxes that are printed on the inside. This adds to cost, but helps build the brand,” says Michelle.

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

5. Have a clear marketing strategy

“A start-up doesn’t have the marketing budget of a large business, so you need to be strategic and targeted in your marketing. We decided to recruit a sales force to target the doctors who would prescribe our products, instead of spending money on traditional marketing campaigns. This was a strategy that really worked for us. You need to look at what the most cost-effective marketing solution is for your business. A young business needs to see a great ROI when it comes to marketing, otherwise it isn’t worth it,” says Michelle.

6. Protect your IP

“A good lawyer can be expensive, but it is absolutely worth the investment. You need a lawyer to look at any contracts you sign, and you need someone who can help you to protect your IP. Too many start-ups launch without worrying about IP. By the time they come round to it, it’s often too late. Get a good IP lawyer and protect your brand from day one,” says Anastasia.

7. Hire carefully

“As a start-up, we hire a lot of young and inexperienced sales people who we train and help grow,” says Anastasia. “The problem with this, however, is that you can spend a lot of time and money training someone, and then quickly lose them to a bigger company once they have gained some experience. Make sure that you aren’t simply training someone for the competition. Hire employees who are committed for the long term. It’s even worth including a clause in employee contracts that state that employees need to repay the cost of training if they leave the business within a certain period.”

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Women Entrepreneur Successes

VP Of SAB and AB InBev Doreen Kosi Explains What Drives Success

When SABMiller and AB InBev merged in 2016, two organisations known for exceptional systems, processes and a winning attitude became one. Incredible growth and an enduring long-term vision are proof that the right culture can go a long way. Doreen Kosi unpacks the personal success mindset that drew her to SAB, and reveals what it means to be a part of a winning team.

Nadine Todd




Vital Stats

  • Player: Doreen Kosi
  • Company: SAB and AB InBev
  • Position: Vice President: Legal & Corporate Affairs — SAB and AB InBev, Africa Zone
  • Visit:;

Anything is possible

If you put your mind to it and ask for help when in doubt, you can achieve any goal you set for yourself. As a leader, you don’t need to always have all the answers. That’s why we build strong teams made up of specialists in their fields; we all need to learn from each other. I’ve found it’s important to steer your team, but also to be led when necessary. Ultimately, real success is achieved when we work collaboratively.

Quick collaborations build solutions-orientated teams

doreen-kosiSAB/AB InBev has an open plan office culture. As an exco member, I don’t have an office, I have a desk. In my previous positions, I’d arrive at my office, close the door and start working. Since joining this organisation, I’ve realised how collaborative it is to work in an open plan environment. Instead of sending emails to discuss setting up meetings, you can address an issue then and there, in five minutes, and find a solution. It encourages team members to reach out, share thoughts and ideas, find solutions, make immediate decisions and move on to the next challenge or task.

Related: 15 Wise Insights From 15 Entrepreneurial Icons

Partnerships drive success

Beyond your own organisation, when you work with the collective you stand a better chance of succeeding. More minds are better than one because they bring about diversity of ideas and ways of doing things. Surround yourself with positive people and support them as well.

When you build partnerships between corporates and SMEs, you increase the chances of leveraging off one another, learning lessons, sharing risks and driving shared success and growth. When you all grow together, your impact on job creation and improving lives increases. But, it’s important to take ownership and be accountable for your own actions and results. When you do this, you have a collective commitment to improve the lives of more people in more communities, and also to build communities by developing people and creating authentic and sustainable jobs that can be measured.

Top players encourage best-of-breed behaviour

When everyone is working side by side, and you have an office full of top performers, the bar is constantly being raised. You’re exposed to best practice and you start shaping your own behaviour accordingly. Don’t hide your stars. Expose their way of thinking and doing things to everyone around them. Pay attention to what top performers are doing around you as well — what can you learn from them, and how can you adjust your own style to get more done?

Top performers are drawn to winners

Long ago SAB and AB InBev made the decision to focus on cultivating a winning culture, and it’s worked. This is a company of winners and owners. It’s a place where results and personal goals are aligned. There’s an overriding culture that if you’re focused on results and have personal accountability, you cannot fail. There’s a huge amount of focused energy when you walk through the doors of any SAB/AB InBev office around the world, and it’s because of this. When you create an organisation of winners, other winners want to join you.

The result is a team of high performers drawn to each other, all pushing each other to greater heights. If you don’t accept mediocrity, if you’re driven by the exceptional, and you build your teams with people who hold the same values, eventually, you’ll attract more of the same individuals.

Related: A Great Time To Be A Woman In Business

Understand your personal philosophy and live by it

ab-inbevIf you want to build a team of winners, or join one, you need to be disciplined in your goals. You need to strive to manage yourself well in all aspects of your life, and to be emotionally intelligent. I have a dual philosophy I live by. Make decisions, stick by them and live with the consequences; and ‘lift others as you climb’. This isn’t my original quote, but I believe in it strongly.

Hand-in-hand with self-discipline is resilience

One fundamental truth that experience has taught me is that successful professionals and entrepreneurs are resilient and not shy to get up when they fall. They pull themselves together and start over again, no matter how many times they fail. Never give up. The less successful are those who give up when things get tough.

Believe in yourself

There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance. The one pulls people towards you, the other is a turn-off, so be careful how you build and embrace your confidence, but whatever you do, believe in yourself. To the point above, it’s how those who fail get back up and try again. Understand your worth. Never sell yourself short. Self-motivation is key. I think it’s clear that I believe in the value of teams and partnerships, but you can’t add value to a team if you aren’t confident in your worth and what you bring to the table. Confidence also opens up many possibilities.

When you’re confident, the possibility of people warming up to you and being open to supporting you are very high. And don’t forget: Success is hard work. Work hard, be authentic, persist and develop a thick skin. Things won’t always go your way.

Personal growth is key if you want to be successful

Never stop learning. If you can, learn something new every day. Concern yourself with what is going on in your surroundings and recognise the phenomenon of global citizenship. SAB/AB InBev has such an incredible growth and innovation culture that we drive within the organistion, but ultimately it starts with the individual. For example, we have a global Best Practice Programme.

Any team can submit a ‘best practice’ solution, and if it’s tested and is better than the current solution, it will be rolled out across the organisation. It means we are all constantly looking for ways to improve our systems and processes, we focus on innovations, and we’re competitive. But most importantly, you can’t develop best practice solutions if you aren’t personally focused on growth. The two go hand-in-hand. We learn all the time.

Knowledge evolves and we cannot stop the hands of time. Networking opens new possibilities and ideas and builds contacts from which you could benefit. When your networks expand, you have a bigger pool of resources and support. This works for both individuals and entrepreneurs.

Related: Before Time In Soweto – The Décor Hire And Catering Entrepreneurs That Are Growing Their Business Annually

Simple steps to successful entrepreneurship

Doreen offers her top tips for building a successful career and business:

  • Define your own success and become a champion of your own dreams.
  • Clarity breeds action. Identify what you want to do. Do a proper due diligence of the market and identify gaps carefully before you start up. Have a clear idea of how you want to close those gaps and convert your idea into a bankable business idea.
  • Keep your idea simple and do not shy away from repeating the same actions until success is imminent.
  • Have the courage to get started. You might not get everything right but do start anyway because unsuccessful aspirant entrepreneurs fail, along with their ideas, for fear of acting on their dreams.
  • Have a game plan: Be realistic about your idea and craft a solid strategy around it before execution.
  • Map out a measurable execution roadmap and keep it in constant check.
  • Focus: Do not become distracted at all costs.
  • Always go back to basics and ensure constant relevance of your plan. Use the time to ensure that you are ready to adapt when the need arises.
  • Recognise stumbling blocks and understand them for what they really are.
  • Use your fear to your advantage: Embrace your fear because it will take you out of your comfort zone.
  • Find positives in negatives and work on them to reach your success.
  • Be ethical and fair in your dealings with others.

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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Relax Spas Founder Noli Mini Shares Her Insights On Building A Business Of Value

While Relax Spas is all about rest and relaxation, the business itself is the product of hard work. Founder Noli Mini explains how she got her unique business idea off the ground.

GG van Rooyen




Vital Stats

  • Player: Noli Mini
  • Company: Relax Spas
  • Founded: 2010
  • About: Noli Mini started in 2010 as a ‘mobile spa therapist’, going to different hotels and offering mobile spa treatments. The concept has evolved and Noli has set up bases, including two spa suites, at various hotels and guest houses.  An additional aspect of Relax Spas’ offering is to provide spa treatments at corporate offices and on corporate wellness days. She also has her own range of massage oils and is introducing her own brand of beauty and skincare products. To complete the circle, Noli will soon be launching her beauty and spa training institute.
  • Visit:

Previous experience in an industry is key

Working in an industry before launching your own operation is crucial, since it provides you with the understanding and expertise needed to successfully launch your own business. By working in other businesses first, you gain a realistic idea of what the industry is like. You also experience different environments.

You see what works, and what doesn’t. You can cherry pick from different companies and create an organisation and culture that will work for you.

Related: Noli Mini – The Full Beauty, Wellness And Entrepreneurship Package To Keep An Eye On

Know what you’re getting yourself into

Passion and a fun business idea are important, but you also need to understand the basics of launching a company.

  • How easy will it be to develop your product or idea?
  • How will you market it?
  • What sort of financial controls will you put in place?
  • What regulations must you comply with in your industry?
  • Are any licences required? What are the labour laws?

These are all questions you need to be able to answer before launching.

Build a good team around you

The combined effort of a team is almost always greater than the sum of individual contributions. Find people that can complement your skillset and bring tools to the table that you don’t have. Improving your business acumen and knowledge is important, for instance, but you don’t necessarily need to go to university to do it.

You can also increase your knowledge by surrounding yourself with the right people, particularly mentors who can guide you in both a personal and business capacity.

Create a buzz around your business by sharing your story

People love hearing stories, and I believe that just about every start-up has a great story to tell. Offering to write free editorial content for magazines is a great way to do it. Another is to speak at conferences. These strategies require effort, but they can greatly increase your reach and position you as a thought leader in your industry.

Use every single opportunity you get to market your business

You need to live and breathe your brand. Marketing is about more than spending money. You can market your business by sponsoring charity walks, wellness events and golf days in your community. Collaboration is another good strategy. There’s no better way of building a business than to get out there and shake some hands. You need to get to know people. Also, be authentic in your networking so that people get to see and know the real you.

Related: Before Time In Soweto – The Décor Hire And Catering Entrepreneurs That Are Growing Their Business Annually

Build relationships

Establishing strong relationships with your clients and business partners is of paramount importance. One way you can do this is by face to face weekly or monthly visits, depending on the demographics of your business. Another way is by keeping in touch using email or telephonically. Remember, human interaction is key. People love feeling appreciated. Also, remember that customer service is important, as a person will usually base his or her entire opinion of a business on a handful of personal interactions. So, you need to make sure that those interactions are positive. It’s all too easy to lose a customer forever.

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