The Phakama Women's Academy, an initiative founded by brand experience agency VWV Group two years ago to empower young women in the marketing, advertising and communications industry, has inducted its 2016 class.
Phakama Chairwoman, Koo Govender
Twenty-five second and third year students, from the University of Johannesburg, AAA School of Advertising and Vega School of Brand Leadership, were selected after a rigorous process that began at their institutions. They will be paired with 25 mentors and be enrolled into a five-week programme, where they will be taught life and practical business skills.
Koo Govender, chairperson of Phakama Women’s Academy and CEO of media and digital communications firm Densu Aegis Network SA, says this opportunity will equip the students with the necessary tools to enter the corporate world and inspire them to dream big. Govender started the academy after her appointment as the first female CEO of VWV Group.
Govender says the name ‘Phakama’, which means ‘Rise up’ in isiZulu and isiXhosa was chosen to inspire women to rise up and take their positions in the corporate world.
“The corporate world is still dominated by men. We need to empower, equip and enable women to grow and aspire to take up senior positions in companies,” says Govender. “The Phakama Women’s Academy does just that. We take young women who are passionate about marketing, advertising and communication and who excel academically. Seventy-five percent of them are from previously disadvantaged backgrounds.”
In its third year, the academy has been lauded as a great initiative in the sector. It has helped to narrow the gap between academic theory and what actually happens in the business world.
“There are many barriers to entry and progress for women in the workplace. Being a wife, a mother and a career woman is not easy. You are constantly juggling and you do not want to drop balls. Sometimes your career takes the back seat and you focus on your family. However, it doesn’t have to be like that. You can have it all with good support structures.”
Mentors in the academy include CEOs, marketing and communications directors, managers and entrepreneurs. One of them is Melissa Storey, executive head: strategy, development & marketing at First Car Rental. “I experienced how young women flourished during this special programme and that this is immeasurable. Some overcame their fear of speaking before an audience or learned to express themselves better in interviews. Others discovered newfound stamina to get through gruelling day-to-day routines.
“The defining factor in this programme is that all the young woman found confidence in herself and her abilities; a powerful and defining testimony. These skills will assist them throughout their lives and hopefully they will transfer them to their children as well.”
Role model inspires student
Esther Motlhabane, a third-year University of Johannesburg student with impaired vision and albinism, was inspired to apply for the programme upon learning that Refilwe Modiselle, South Africa’s first professional model with albinism, was one of the inspirational speakers in 2014.
“People with albinism face a lot of discrimination. You need to be confident, accept who you are and believe in yourself. You should never look at the colour of your skin and let that determine where you go in life,” says Motlhabane, who grew up in Mabopane in Pretoria. “Koo [Govender] often talks about the two Ps. She says ‘when you enter the boardroom, you must be prepared and be present’. I am applying that now as an intern at VWV.”
At the end of the programme, the academy graduates receive certificates of attendance. However, the relationship between the students and their mentors continues. Some, like Esther, have been able to find internships through the academy and their mentors.