Winning Women: Revving Africa’s engine

Johannesburg - If an award had been created specifically to honour medical doctor Precious Moloi-Motsepe, the Fashion 4 Development Franca Sozzani Award would be it.

It brings together Moloi-Motsepe’s lifelong passions of helping disadvantaged women, developing and promoting entrepreneurs and putting African fashion on global catwalks as well as in international stores.


Business Tip: Whether you’re in fashion, medicine or business, your personal basic values need to shine through.

Mentor: My mother, a nurse, who brought me up in a safe space in Soweto.

Favourite book: The Lorax by Dr Seuss with its strong messages about caring for our world.

Inspiration: My remarkably hard-working parents who were determined to provide us with the gift of education.

Wow! moment: Seeing young children smile when our foundation distributes toys.

Life lesson: Don’t be defined by your circumstances. Change what you can and be wise enough to accept what you cannot.

This has been an auspicious year for the doctor.

In March the Motsepe Foundation, of which she is CEO, launched The Precious Little Black Book, a remarkable resource guide for women across South Africa.

It took the Motsepe Foundation’s women’s unit two years to research, and covers topics ranging from breast cancer to education, finance, banking and legal rights.

Moloi-Motsepe is slim, elegant but not the fashion plate I had expected as she welcomes me cordially into her stylish, almost minimalistic office a five-minute drive from Sandton City.

It is here that the woman who grew up in Soweto, one of five siblings born to a mother who was a nurse and a father who was a teacher, has located her fashion and philanthropic nerve centre.

From the start, a decade ago, this chief executive of African Fashion International (AFI) focused on building a world-class platform for fashion designers from Africa.

Their creations shimmer and show successfully with the best on catwalks in London, New York, Paris and Moscow.

“Africa is in vogue, Africa is in fashion, with designers from the rest of the world borrowing from our culture and ethnicity. It’s an honour that Louis Vuitton has been inspired by Basotho blankets, but Africa needs acknowledgement too.”

Moloi-Motsepe points out that so many designers have used Kenya’s Maasai culture “that they are now looking at trademarking it. This is their intellectual property and somehow they need to benefit
from it.”

It was AFI that first showcased local designers such as David Tlale, Craig Jacobs and Thula Sindi in Paris. Tlale has also made a name for himself in New York.

Moloi-Motsepe and her team are currently working on their AFI Privé label, using in-house designers, “who have been trained through our fast-track projects”.

“These include teaching them about marketing as well as the business side of fashion.”

She emphasises that there is nothing frivolous about the fashion industry as “it contributes about $2 trillion to the global economy”.

“If fashion was a country, it would be about the sixth largest in the world in terms of its economy,”

she said. It was the Motsepes’ concern about global health issues that led to the creation of the family’s foundation of which she became CEO in 2002.

Patrice and Precious were the first couple on the African continent to join the Giving Pledge, started by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.

The Motsepe’s have pledged at least half of the funds generated by their family assets to the poor.

Since 2013 more than $50 million has been allocated to the foundation’s projects and initiatives, a fact that makes Moloi-Motsepe proudly happy.

“We offer a Harvard executive course for social entrepreneurs from across Africa and have partnered with organisations such as the California Milken Institute – an independent economic think tank – on cancer research.”

Anything to do with health, especially that of women and children, makes the doctor’s eyes sparkle.

She was seven years old when her beloved grandmother died from renal failure due to high blood pressure.

When Moloi-Motsepe heard the doctor tell her mother that it was preventable, she clasped Martha Rose Moloi’s hand and said: “I’m going to help sick people when I grow up.”

She studied medicine at Wits University before practising in state hospitals and then privately as a GP.

In 1993 she opened one of Johannesburg’s first women’s clinics.

In 2011 she was appointed Champion for Africa by Gift from Africa for her work in helping to mobilise private sector support in the fight against HIV/Aids, TB and malaria.

Her awards, titles and achievements are too numerous to list here. But, on meeting her for the first time, you would never guess that this humble, innately generous personality has garnered the praise and appreciation she so deserves.

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