Executive Director, Zimele Community
Posted on: June 3, 2012 | Go to profile
Rosetta Stander is the Founder & Executive Director of Zimele. As a fifth generation South African, Rosetta witnessed the many inequalities that pervaded her country after the end of the Apartheid. She soon left the private sector to aid her countrymen by working with non-profit organizations. These organizations became pervasive throughout South Africa; and while the groups had good intentions, Rosetta realized that they created a shortsighted welfare environment in which people depend upon charities for their everyday needs. Rosetta’s prior experience training people in life, vocational, and business skills led her to recognize that the key to developing South Africa lay in the education of its people. Rosetta formed Zimele in 2006 with the vision of developing a community of self-reliance in South Africa, an organization that helps transform the lives and communities of the poor and hurting through education and the development of community self-reliance.
Q: Please share with us the story of how your professional journey began and has brought you to where you are today.
A: Discovering the truth about the reconciliation commission and the injustices done to black people in South Africa during the years of racial segregation was shocking. Call it destiny or what you will, but I found myself working closely with the black people of South Africa in a redemptive effort to rebuild their lives. This formed the beginning of my wonderful journey towards a life dedicated to recovery efforts. Realizing the hurt that was caused in my country, I wanted to do something significant to alleviate the pain that was caused.
Q: Who is a leader that you have great respect for and why?
A: In general, I am inspired by leaders who dare to follow their dream. I appreciate those who keep high values and integrity in the midst of success.
Q: What are 3 characteristics that you believe define great leadership?
A: I see leadership as a process. On this journey, one must be open to embrace the lows and the highs. Leadership is about integrity; your staff and peers must trust you at all times. Leadership is about passion; you must live, breath, eat and sleep your mission. Leadership is also about focus; know where you are going and stay the course.
Q: If a business has several, viable ways to grow and innovate, how do you pick the best road to take?
A: I study the different options; I pray about it and then follow my gut feeling.
Q: It’s hard to focus on the “big picture” sometimes because we can get caught in the weeds of work and life. When does visioning come clearest or easiest for you? Or what inspires your vision?
A: When I see a change in the lives of the women of the Zimele program, when crafters become independent because of a Government Social Grant, earning enough through their new business or when I see women who have enough to send their children to University, I am inspired.
On another level, challenges inspire my creative mind to find solutions. Finding that solution, putting it in action and seeing the results is most inspiring to me. It is also important to sometimes stop and enjoy our success by telling others about it.
Q: Can you share a story of how networking led to a great success?
A: I am a great believer in networking. When I started Zimele seven years ago, I had startup capital for only 6 months. It was through two dear friends, who identified with my vision and trusted me, that I was able to build the organization. By networking, I was able to build a strong organization in South Africa and three International support chapters in the US, England and Canada. This exposed the organization to an audience much larger than what I would have ever hoped for, enabling me to realize my vision and bring skills and resources to over 1000 women today.
Q: Do you (formally or informally) mentor anyone? If so, who and why is it rewarding?
A: Somehow, mentoring has always been part of my adult life. I find it most rewarding to see how someone stands up from despair and grows wings. Eight years ago, my path crossed with an orphaned Zulu teenager’s who had to take care of his sister while still going to school. Today, he lives in Germany and is mastering the German language while studying agriculture. I am also in the process of mentoring someone to start-up a non-profit organization that provides coaching in sports to children from poor families.
Q: Is there an example in your life of a time when others were against you or your dream, yet you persevered?
A: Being a child of the racial segregation era of South Africa, my family and friends did not understand my passion to work with the black people of South Africa. They also did not understand the need for my non-profit efforts. But I knew that my responsibility to live out my destiny came with the great cost of keeping a healthy distance from people who were negative. I learned to find like-minded friends that were aligned with my destiny. This is how Zimele came about.
Q: What are you most passionate about, and how do you incorporate it into your career or everyday life?
A: I am most passionate about seeing women rise up from despair. I am passionate about women and their undiscovered potential. I am passionate about breaking the boundaries of stereotypes regarding gender and the global economy.
Every day, I am looking for new opportunities to bring to the women of my program. I am always searching for new material to build their identity as women.
Q: Life is full of setbacks. Can you share an experience of one, and how you were able to bounce back?
A: In January 2011, two of my main donors postponed their donations because of the global economic crisis, and one new donor decided not to fund us at all. I first called for a meeting with my staff and explained the situation. I earned their support and, thereafter, made an appointment with the potential new donor. I flew to Johannesburg to discuss the matter in person. It turned out to be a misunderstanding that was resolved and a new contract was signed. Near that time, I negotiated payment dates that suited the other two donors. It took nearly a year, but we are now out of our financial crises due to our persistence and the ongoing effort in finding that connection to maintain our donor’s confidence.
ON Letting go
Q: What do you do to unwind or disconnect?
A: I love spending time outdoors, gardening and entertaining my friends. I love experimenting new recipes and inviting friends over to enjoy the tastings.
ON Taking Risk
Q: How do you overcome feelings of insecurity, fear or discomfort when deciding to take a risk?
A: I am a risk taker by nature. However, I learned to keep my focus and surround myself with positive people who believe in the bigger causes and in me.
ON Giving Back
Q: What cause(s) have you chosen to support and why does it resonate with you?
A: I choose to support causes that assist in the empowerment of women. Many years ago, I did not have the finances to fight for a fair settlement during my divorce. My children and I were plunged to near-poverty. Knowing what it feels like to lose “everything” and survive on a small budget gave me a passion to assist other women who were in a similar situation.
ON Giving Back
Q: Can you share with us an experience of giving that was extremely rewarding or transformational?
A: There was a time in my life when I lost everything that was dear to me except my children. My divorce became inevitable; and through that suffering, I lost my identity, my self-esteem and my hero. During this time, I discovered a career in community development, giving my time and energy to the empowerment of black people in South Africa. I discovered myself within them. I changed and was never the same after.
Q: Oprah has that great section in her magazine “What I know for sure”. What do you know for sure?
A: I know for sure that I don’t know everything. Therefore, I have to be humble and respect others opinions and embrace the journey of lifelong learning.