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Meet one of the country’s richest women – and winner of the 2021 Standard Bank Top Woman Lifetime Achiever Award – Irene Charnley

Written by Staff Writer

September 27, 2022

By Fiona Wakelin

It was on the evening of 04 November 2021 when the 18th annual Top Women Awards in partnership with Standard Bank took place virtually and was viewed across the globe. 

Amongst a host of accolades, the Lifetime Achievement Award is given to women who have been at the forefront of  the transformation journey in South Africa and who have had a profound impact on the way people think about, and perceive, the role of women in society. The prestigious award honours and celebrates women who have demonstrated tenacity, courage and excellence –  and it serves as an inspiration to all young women out there, to persevere and #RiseAboveTheNoise. 

Irene Charnley, businesswoman and social entrepreneur, is President of the International Women’s Forum South Africa (IWFSA), a global organisation of over 7 500 pre-eminent women of significant and diverse achievement across 36 nations and 6 continents. Through strategic initiatives, joint ventures and acquisitions she has grown her business network – and her latest venture, a low-cost telecommunications operator has been designed to ensure that low-income earners have access to telecoms. She has pioneered Africa’s first 4G LTE network infrastructure and is a true representative for powerful women succeeding in business. 

Irene also recently served on the Board of the Public Investment Corporation.

She is the Founder, former CEO and former deputy Chairman of Smile Telecoms, a Pan- African telecommunications group established in 2007, with broadband operations in Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda and a presence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The Standard Bank Top Women awards entries are open

 

She is the Founder, former CEO and former deputy Chairman of Smile Telecoms, a Pan- African telecommunications group established in 2007, with broadband operations in Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda and a presence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Prior to establishing Smile, Irene, as Executive Director, was instrumental in transforming MTN Group into one of the most pre-eminent Telecoms operators on the African continent and the Middle East region, through a number of licence company acquisitions. She also led the management and staff buy-in of 18.7% in MTN, which was an entrepreneurial initiative independent of MTN and which saw over 3000 of MTN employees benefit from the structure at the time.

As an Executive Director of MTN’s major shareholder, Johnnic Industrial Corporation, she was lead negotiator of a number of successful transactions, which led the transformation of the organisation from an industrial conglomerate into the focused media and telecoms Group. Irene also spearheaded one of the early broad-based black empowerment schemes in SA, called the Ikageng Scheme in which 32 000 ordinary South Africans participated and received 400% return on their initial deposit. During Irene’s tenure at Johnnic, she served as a director on a number of boards, including SAB, Premier Group, MNET, Multichoice, FNB. Irene’s successful business career was preceded as a trade unionist and key negotiator for the National Union of Mineworkers.

*For more, check out our bumper 17th edition of the Standard Bank Top Women Leaders publication on Issuu – Digital Publishing Platform – here

*Stay up to date with all the latest on Top Women in SA, by signing up to the Standard Bank Top Women newsletter – here

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