Guided by purpose

Thabang Mashigo’s talents and achievements surpass the average individual

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A renowned International Speaker, Activist, Speechwriter and Think Tank, Thabang Mashigo’s talents and achievements surpass the average individual

Above all, being in the audience at an event where she takes to the podium is nothing short of life-changing. “I commit my life purpose to thinking; for thinking is an entry point to creation. I speak and choose to reason as a think tank. As an International Speaker, Entrepreneur, Author and Africanist, there is nothing more I seek than to produce substance, developing character and living a truth that is unconventional and uncompromised. For that will always equate to relevance. Steve Biko said: ‘I would rather die for ideas that will live than live for ideas that will die’.”

Mashigo holds a BA degree in Political Science and International Relations, Honours in International Relations and a Master’s in Public Policy and Project Management degree. She has authored a book and several academic papers in food security, Africa’s Agenda 2030 and Islamic banking and finance in Africa. She was awarded as one of the top 10 Speakers in South Africa by the city of the Western Cape and has represented Africa in Germany, Paris, Malaysia, Bangkok and Dubai, to name a few. Mashigo has sat as a Content Advisor for the BRICS Council in China Xiamen, WTO MC11 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and the African Caribbean Pacific (ACP) group in Brussels, Belgium.

Vibrant and original, Mashingo sat with Black Business Quarterly magazine to explain more about her journey and principles.

Please could you provide us with a brief history of yourself?

My gifts and experiences have always navigated me towards what and where I need to be at a particular time. My passion for entrepreneurship began in school, at the age of 16. Being part of the debating and public speaking union, I decided to convert the skills acquired into a viable business model. With the help of my father, Mr Abel Mashigo, I packaged my gifts into services that could be traded to our clients. Three companies (Agriculture, a research Think Tank and solar energy firm) and three degrees later, I wouldn’t have chosen any other path.

I was trained at the age of six years old by my father to be a Public Speaker because he saw the talent in me. Usually, adults just dismiss children as being talkative little chatterboxes, but here was a parent who didn’t dismiss who I was. Rather, he saw it as an opportunity to train me. He couldn’t know what the future would hold but he knew that his child had too many words in her mouth so he thought, “Let me give her structure, let me polish it and let me aid in her grammar.”

He fed me with sophisticated books and, from the age of six, I was reading a variety of adult authors. On the one hand, that was really intense but, for me, what is so important is that, upon the realisation of our gifts and talents, it takes somebody greater than you to affirm you, especially at that age. My speaking is not a technique. Rather, it’s a gift, so that is why it hurts or it is very disappointing to hear people claiming to be speakers when they don’t really know the art behind it.

Is there any ideal preparation or focused learning an aspirant leader should focus on?

Absolutely. Our talents, gifts and experiences direct us to what we love and what we should focus on. Once you find that, surround yourself with knowledge and acquire skills that can make you an expert in that field.

Focused learning truly is an enabler. If it’s cooking you love, focus on the top chefs in the industry and how they have structured their talent—it might be in the form of a recipe book, establishing an academy or being a food taste expert through a media platform. Form is a structured methodology that you choose. I have a love and weakness for Africa, entrepreneurship and people. I use public speaking, trainings, workshops and writing as a tool and method of strategically expressing and empowering this love.

What advice do you have for young, aspirant leaders when it comes to coping with the immense pressure and expectations that will be placed on them?

Words are the purveyor of truth! Listen to your experiences, for there dwells that which awakens your spirit. Living your truth is the only way to set boundaries in your life and to silence dictators. Opinions are not facts—they are just uneducated judgements. Therefore, choose carefully who you seek counsel or advice from. Use the mistakes of others as lessons and expertise for yourself.

What have been the biggest challenges you have faced in your career?

Organisations and people wanting to dominate and own my expertise/skill instead of opting for reciprocity.

Clients who appreciate what I can offer but are willing to negotiate my value. (i.e. A celebrity would be paid his/her rate because they are popular, even if they do not feed into the demand; yet I, with content, experience and proven results will be undermined and not paid my rate.

Being headhunted as a Speech Writer for select Ministers in Parliament was a priceless experience. However, when overburdened with incompetence, intimidation and destructive behaviour, it became too bitter to swallow.

What was your secret to overcoming (or surviving) those challenges?

Recognising that the chapter I’m in is only but a few pages. This is not my destination, it’s only an important stop on the journey. If this stop is because of a tire puncture or low petrol, it’s definitely important for the road ahead. Refuel and get a move on. If it doesn’t hurt, you are not growing.

What do you believe is the secret to success in industry?

  • Self-knowledge.
  • Moving at your own pace.
  • Avoiding people and things that do not serve you

What do you believe is a solution to the crucial issue of youth unemployment?

Creating an eco-system of entrepreneurship amongst the youth, where they can actually produce what they consume with the assistance of corporate support through CSI and government initiatives such as industrialisation and building manufacturing hubs. It would be great to have a special economic zone, dedicated to youth enterprises.

Identifying their talents, training and structuring them will assist greatly in directing their efforts. As a youth myself, this is what has worked for me and many others I know, like Mr Theo Baloyi, the founder of Bathu Sa, Ms Ayanda Nkosi, the founder of Monate Ka Ganong Cakes, Maphefo Mashigo, the founder of Maps Traditional Dishes, etc.

What message do you have for young people who want to succeed?

  • “One day is Monday.” Start as soon as you can. If you need funding, do things that can bring in the money that you need. Do not wait for a donor to approve your dreams.

If you could take all the insight, intelligence and experience that you have gained up until today, and go back to the start of your career as a young person (either high school, postgraduate studies or the start of your working life), what would you do differently?

I would believe in myself more and listen to more of what my father advised me to do at the time; which was:

  • The corporate/government environments are hostile, do not expect your skills, talents and experiences to be appreciated because that won’t happen.
  • Package all your content into training manuals and learning material, as this is another stream of growth and opportunity. I only started doing that two years ago.

Where do you believe the keys to solving the challenges of education lie, from primary school through to tertiary education?

In the quality of our calibres. Who is drafting the curriculum? Where are they receiving their advice from? We need strategic sectors of our economy incorporated in the system of education—such as agriculture/farming, entrepreneurship studies, commerce, industry and trade.

Tell me how you identify a future winner in business and, especially today, a winner in terms of disruption?

One who is not ashamed to live to tell their truth. One who has a story and narrative that drives the company’s profitability.

Why is connecting with people so important and what are some of the secrets to your success as a connector?

Human beings are the centricity of any governance, organisation and form of trade in business. Without humans, creation would not be glorified. Producers would not rely on consumers and vice versa. Companies would not survive. Problem solvers would not have problems to solve. Social stratas would cease to exist. People are important—and once a connection between the right people is aligned, magic happens... I love being part of the magic, for the betterment of society.

What are your thoughts on collaboration as one of the new ways of doing business?

Collaboration is great if it is done right, with the right people. It can be an asset to the business or a huge liability. Misalignment and people who are incorrectly placed can cost you everything that you have worked hard for.

Please share with us some insight into what having a mentor is like and how you have benefitted from having a mentor?

I’ve never had a mentor. My mentorship is the wilderness—my challenges and what I’ve conquered and survived.

Have you been able to offer mentorship guidance to other people, and what have you learned from the experience?

Yes, I have. Not in telling mentees what to do, but in enabling them to seek the answers for themselves. Not enslaving them to what is wrong or right, but guiding them to their own truth. Hence, I always ask before we proceed, what their expectations of a mentor are.

How important is guidance and mentorship to the development of everyone’s career and in terms of offering them that special ingredient that will help them to succeed?

Important indeed. Only when self-interest is eliminated does it becomes guidance. Helping someone cross over is very rewarding—it’s a reflection on you. We all need that person to either believe in us, reprimand us or walk us through something. I have offered to my mentees that which I wished I had.

What does the future hold for you? What can we expect in the next few months/years?

Watch the space—it’s going to be explosive!

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