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The authority on gender empowerment in business for nearly 20 years.

Raising hope, breaking ground – Lesego Serolong Founder and CEO – Bokamoso Impact Investments

Written by Staff Writer

September 7, 2020

Standard Bank Top Woman of the Year Lesego Serolong Holzapfel is a 2019 Tutu Fellow. She was listed as one of Mail & Guardian’s 200 South Africans and received the Trail Blazer Presidential Award.

By Fiona Wakelin

She is CEO and founder of Bokamoso Impact Investments. Lesego completed a Master of Science (MSc) in Social Policy and Development at The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). Together with her husband Neil, she founded Raise the Children in 2008. Lesego, being a South African orphan herself, has always had a deep desire to give back to the community that raised her and to mentor and empower the many that share her story. Lesego is passionate about agriculture and African leadership as part of core entrepreneurial drivers. 

In 2017 you won the Standard Bank Top Woman in Agriculture Award. How has this impacted on the work you do?

It has given me a broader platform to share my story and entrepreneurial journey with ordinary South Africans and young entrepreneurs. The recognition has certainly challenged me to think deeply and meaningfully about ways we could use business as a catalyst for sustainable social and economic impact. i.e. how we care for those who work for us and help support our vision.

It has also challenged me to hone my skills set and be more open minded – focusing on what I do well and learning to delegate, something we sometimes struggle with as entrepreneurs. I have learned to be more adaptable as things can change pretty quickly across all industries globally – COVID19 is a perfect example. Business requires authenticity, resilience, grit and commitment to a vision.

It’s often easy to share about the positive side of entrepreneurship/business, when in fact, we don’t often hear about the hardships we go through to get to where we are today. Being in the spotlight has afforded me an opportunity share about Bokamoso’s successes, at the same time being more vulnerable about our setbacks and failures.

What have been some of your major strides as a businesswoman – and how has SimplyBlu affected your journey?

–           SimplyBlu is hosting our e-commerce platform.

–           The establishment of a food manufacturing and packaging company. The thought that adding value to your product through packaging and processing could earn you extra money, really excites me.

Which key partnerships have led to your success?

Partnership with the Mine Workers Development Agency, UNISA and support from Standard Bank through the Standard Bank Africa Derek Cooper Scholarship programme.

How has COVID-19 impacted Bokamoso Impact Investments?

As a result of companies closing and people working from home, our sales drastically came down. However, our honey business did far better than we had imagined, I think partly because people are trying their best to boost their immune system and stay healthy. Consumers are becoming more interested in locally produced honey with traceability.

Is impact investment the way forward for Africa’s agricultural sector?

I see Africa as the bread basket of the future. In order to fully unlock this potential, we need to find capital that will invest in rural farmers, manufactures and food entrepreneurs at the bottom of the pyramid.

How do we empower rural women to ensure Africa becomes the breadbasket of the world?

We will empower women through capital investment, access to information/ opportunities, mentorship and skills development to empower them to thrive in their farming enterprises. Often rural women are overlooked and rarely are afforded development opportunities due to communication barriers and access. Rural women need to be prioritised – they play an important role in creating job opportunities in far flung areas and contributing to the economy.

You are the co-founder and chairwoman of Raise the Children International. Please describe the work done by the NPO.

I co-founded Raise the Children International, an NPO which identifies orphans from impoverished and rural communities of the North West Province and mobilises resources for these children to gain access to higher education that leads to employment and public service with a high return on social investment.

Raise the Children identifies high potential orphans from the rural parts of South Africa and sends them to private, secondary boarding school. It currently supports over 40 of these “diamonds in the dust” with 14 of our graduates currently enrolled in tertiary institutions. We have a 100% tertiary exemption rate for our matrics for the last 2 years. Our scholarship programme offers not only quality education but integrated personal and career development through mentorship and exposure to unique people and places. Raise the Children unleashes these servant-leaders to transform the trajectory of their lives, their families, and their communities. Here are a few examples:

Thato is a young man from Manyeledi village where our agri-incubator was started -he’s a recent Honours graduate in Applied Mathematics and Information Systems at Rhodes University South Africa and currently works for KPMG.  Sharon, a University of Pretoria graduate with a diploma in Social Work, works for a non-profit organisation serving a disadvantaged township in Pretoria. And Kholiswa is a student at the University of Mafikeng who just won a Golden Key award for academic achievement and final year political science student at NWU- Mafikeng.

There is plenty of talent hidden within remote, rural areas of South Africa. I wanted to create a scholarship that focuses on identifying diamonds in the rough, who will make an impact in their community and thereby create a ripple effect. As an orphan myself, I could relate to understanding their position of vulnerability. The best gift you can give to an orphan is that of education.

How important is servant-leadership in the world today?

I believe we each have a role to play in advancing the world. Active citizenship and servant-leadership are an integral part of building our societies and making the world a better place.

I’m inspired by the JF Kennedy quote “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”

Through the work I am doing tin agriculture, business and education, I am playing my part in positively shaping the future of our country.

Do you have a message for young women out there struggling to survive as entrepreneurs, especially during these difficult times?

Entrepreneurship is not easy and often a lonely journey. Don’t be afraid of failure, there is a lot of wisdom we can draw from our failures, which will often prepare you for your next steps. I know a lot of businesses are hurting right now, however take time to rest and surround yourself with mentors and positive people you can talk to.

Be flexible and willing to explore new opportunities, even in a crisis. This will require you to recalibrate your business model, throw away what is not working and re-invent. Do what you love and is life giving to you. Have faith, stay strong and focus on the goal – you can do this!

Bokamoso is a social enterprise dedicated to connecting the impoverished rural populations of South Africa to economic opportunities using diverse agricultural and entrepreneurial platforms as change catalysts. Bokamoso seeks to contribute to the attainment of the following:

  • Food security in rural South Africa and SADC by increasing commercial food production.
  • Increasing agricultural (arable) land productivity, enhancing sector competitiveness and business eco-system,
  • Investment in sustainable value chains through access and opportunities locally and export markets,
  • Poverty alleviation and economic development.

Bokamoso offers consulting services to clients in the Agriculture, Public Policy, Social facilitation and Entrepreneurship areas. One of our exciting project to work on is the Sernick- Jobs fund black emerging farmers project. Bokamoso is a social facilitator for the project, aimed at increasing cattle productivity and increasing household incomes of participating smallholder farmers in South Africa.

Bokamoso Foods, a subsidiary of Bokamoso Impact Investments, is a 100% black women owned food and beverage company. The mission of Bokamoso Foods is to bring the delights and health-benefits of high-quality beverage products to the world. The company offers a bespoke blending service dedicated to creating beverage blends that are unique to our establishment. In addition to its own packaging specifications, Bokamoso also does contract packaging for small and major clients. Bokamoso’s main business line is the in-house manufacture, custom packaging and distribution of quality beverage solutions to its customers within the catering, mining, and corporate industries.

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