Winning Women – Lindiwe Shibambo: Looking out for the help

2014-02-02 14:00

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Lindiwe Shibambo took one of the most miserable experiences one could have and turned it to her advantage.

She has not had an easy life. When her close friends went to university, she had to work as a maid. Using her struggles as a springboard, she has since started a small business that is growing bigger by the day.

She launched Maid4U in 2007. Since then, she has placed 1?000 women in jobs and has another 5?000 on her books waiting for positions.

She has a strict screening process and runs security checks on all her domestic workers, which include investigating for possible criminal records, taking fingerprints, and checking IDs and passports.

“I want to empower women who have very little direction in their own lives and who are often abused,” says Shibambo, who concentrates on employing women from rural areas, enabling them to move out of poverty by equipping them with skills and training.

She recently graduated from the Goldman Sachs 10?000 Women Programme at the Gordon Institute of Business Science, her latest achievement in an interesting life filled with daunting hurdles.

Shibambo was one of seven children born to an assistant book-keeper mother in Soshanguve township near Pretoria.

Her mother functioned as a single parent, “because my father, although he had a brilliant mind, never had a job in his life”, says Shibambo, her bright, lively face bearing not a shred of resentment. “But as young girls, we were traumatised by his inability to get up in the morning and seek work. We sometimes failed at school because we were so hungry that we couldn’t concentrate.”

In spite of this, she got a good matric, but there was no money for tertiary education and she became a domestic worker in Sunnyside, Pretoria, washing dishes while her friends were at university.

She saved enough money to pay for registration for a degree in internal auditing at the Tshwane University of Technology and successfully applied for a bursary that included residential fees.

When she was shown her “own room with my own bed that I did not have to share with five others”, she cried with joy.

The following year, she ensured that she was elected to the Students’ Representative Council with its attendant perks of free housing, meal vouchers, transport and tuition fees. Her lively mind soon identified the need for a ATM on campus “to save students from being preyed on by criminals”, so she approached First National Bank.

The bank was so thrilled by her initiative that it promised her a job once she’d qualified. Sitting in the bank’s canteen during her breaks, she was soon pestered with requests from colleagues who needed domestic workers.

They assumed that the former township dweller would know lots of women who would be willing. She began to connect her past and current worlds by placing domestic workers as a sideline business.

She worked as a corporate-actions specialist at the JSE for HSBC from 2008 to 2012, earning good money.

She was happily married with a baby when she realised how hard it was to find a good domestic worker. “I hired and fired 12 in three years. I suddenly realised what a need there was for appropriately trained women.”

Shibambo approached the department of labour to help her with employment guidelines for domestic workers and for information about their legal rights as well as those of their employers.

She has three offices – in Rivonia, Pretoria North and Centurion. What makes her good at running Maid4U is having experienced first-hand what it is like to clean floors and toilets.

She also knows all about the frustrations involved in hiring someone who is well trained and responsible enough to care for her family when she’s at work.

Her future plans include providing her employees with training in CPR and first aid by paramedics. She wants to ensure that all baby and toddler nannies have training in medical care and can administer medication to their young charges.

Basic literacy will be taught so that the women she places can read clothing-care labels. The new domestic workers will learn how to clean and handle household electronic devices such as irons and vacuum cleaners.

Her workers will be taught about time management and will be given information about personal hygiene.

Shibambo registers her workers with the Unemployment Insurance Fund, and has organised for Standard Bank to teach them basic financial literacy so they understand the intricacies of a provident fund, funeral cover and saving for their children’s education.

In time, Shibambo envisages a large training centre, fully equipped with all the domestic appliances that are found in an average home.

With the help of a Gordon Institute of Business Science mentor, she is already in the process of leasing an appropriate property in Pretoria. “The 10?000 Women course has been hugely helpful in enabling me to restructure my business. Now I hope that the government will play a role in assisting me to equip my centre and in training my applicants.”

Further down the track, she wants to set up a medical aid scheme and a provident fund for domestic workers. “I know I’d have made a lot of money if I had stayed in the banking field, but it’s not as satisfying as this is. “I’m making a difference, I am helping people while running my own business.

“That gives me huge peace of mind.”

»?The next Winning Women dialogue will take place on February 16

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