Refilwe Matenche unpacks how a Whatsapp group grew her network in business


Tell us about yourself

I’m Refilwe Matenche, a chartered accountant by qualification. I’m from Evaton in the Vaal (Gauteng) and I studied at Wits University. I did my articles at Ernst & Young and ventured into academia post articles as a tax lecturer at UNISA.

I’m the founder and president of the African Women’s Movement. I’m also the Chairperson of the Health and Welfare Seta under the Department of Higher Education and Training.

What made you open the WhatsApp group? 

In 2016, I had a conversation with a few friends; you know, among ladies and we were wondering and asked ourselves that ‘why is it that every time men meet, they chat about everything else, including business and as women, we chat about everything else except business?’ That’s for the most part, bearing in mind that of course, not all women are like that. So we spoke and we agreed to start a WhatsApp group.

How quickly did it grow? 

Surprising enough, the group quickly spread by word of mouth and within a month, there were 200 women in that group all wanting to network. They were women from different professions including lawyers, doctors, CAs and engineers.They started telling their friends and there was a need to incorporate a formal structure. At this time, (you can imagine) I’m still being put in the fore front as the founder in inverted commas because I’m the one who came up with the WhatsApp idea, but in reality, we all made it work. We then registered a non-profit company and finalised the legal structure.

What’s the inspiration behind the name? 

The idea came in September 2016 and we launched in March 2017. Originally it was called the African Women’s Network because we were networking with each other in a deliberate manner. Then there was the thought to make it a movement, we initially thought it sounded political but we ended up going with African Women Movement.

How has the group changed the livelihoods of other women? 

We took about 27 women to the African Women’s Movement Learning Expedition in Kigali, Rwanda. One of them was the incoming CEO of the Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation. We empowered other women and exposed them to Africa. If they want to do business they know they have people they can contact. We showed them that there is nothing to fear because as South Africans, we tend to think it’s ‘us and them’.

Where do you plan on taking the group? 

We have taken it to Africa and but we plan to go even beyond. I believe we hold the key to assisting women at grass root level to reach their full potential. I mean, even we ourselves are not fully empowered, we have our own frustrations. This group exists to alleviate those frustrations that are there in professional women. We would like to have a culture where women in leadership, for example, would fill other women’s cups if theirs are full.

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