Malehlohonolo is a baker, small-business owner, mentor, and mother. Last week, she boarded an airplane for the first time in her life to travel over 18 hours to Washington D.C. to share her personal story at Paley Center’s TEDxWomen about the challenges she has encountered making her bakery a successful, profitable business. She shared her story of frustration, hope, collaboration and determination with hundreds in the live audience and thousands joining online from around the world.
Mahlehlohonolo’s story centers on the realization that no matter how many hours she spent working, she could not be successful without fundamental business skills. In the midst of struggling with the business side of running her bakery, she was accepted in a workshop offered by The Coca-Cola Company’s 5by20 initiative – an effort to enable the economic empowerment of 5 million women entrepreneurs across the company’s global value chain by 2020.
The workshop taught her basic entrepreneurial lessons about book keeping, inventory management and employee management. Learning these skills resulted in a turning point for her business, enabling her to make a profit she is using to pay for her son’s schooling.
When we asked Malehlohonolo if she would consider traveling to the United States to speak publicly for the first time, she did not hesitate to accept. A different person might have been fearful, but I’ve only seen her excitement. Working with Malehlohonolo to help her share her journey has been one of the most inspirational highlights of my career. There are few women in this world that I have encountered that can match her determination, passion, confidence and ambition.
Throughout her life, Malehlohonolo has overcome numerous challenges She now is “paying it forward” by sharing with other business owners and young women in her community what she has learned so they can fulfill their dreams.
Although I am not a young girl in South Africa and my life experiences growing up in the United States are different, I too am inspired by Malehlohonolo. She is proof that if you believe in yourself and are willing to work hard, your dreams are within arms reach. Her message also contains an inspirational call to action for all of us: if we – as individuals – work together to share knowledge and resources, the result is a ripple effect throughout communities around the world. If we each help someone else who then helps another, before you know it, the impact of that first person is multiplied exponentially and the world is a better place.
I hope you are as inspired by Malehlohonolo as I am. You can view her TEDxWomen appearance here.
Or, you can read her story in her own words in the form of her TEDxWomen speech (below).
Also, visit 5by20.com to view short videos capturing the stories of other women impacted by 5by20 in Kenya, India, Brazil, Philippines and Indonesia.
Mahlehonolo does not have internet access. If you would like to leave a message on this page for her, we will ensure she receives it.
My name is Malehlohonolo Moleko.
I come today with a message
A message of determination …
A message of cooperation …
A message of opportunity.
When determination and cooperation come together, incredible things do indeed happen.
Let me share with you my story.
I live in Boipatong Vanderbijlpark, South Africa, where I own a small business and am the mother of a wonderful young man – Mpho — who turns 20 this December. At the age of 18, I gave birth to Mpho and spent a large amount of time caring for him.
In 2006, I opened my first business at the age of 32. It initially started as a bakery, but I now also sell full meals to my customers, who are often the workers at a nearby industrial site.
My second business is a small shop nearby where I sell many things like beverages, snacks and mobile phone airtime.
I love to cook and try new recipes to please my customers. It’s my passion! I’ve always dreamed of owning a restaurant and I work very hard to be successful.
It was not very easy for me to start my bakery. Although I am a very good chef and I love to work hard, I learned when starting my business there are a lot of business skills I did not have. I completed 12 years of schooling and received my matric certificate, but I did not have the finances to further my education.
When I started my bakery business, I borrowed money from the bank to rent a space, purchase ovens, cooking supplies and other items I needed.
However, I found myself having trouble balancing my accounts. I often did not have the money I needed to buy flour and baking supplies to make the food to sell the next day. Several times I had to turn to my brother and ask him to lend me money so I could get by. This was embarrassing and frustrating because I could not figure out how to make ends meet, no matter how many hours I worked each day.
Then I learned about a training workshop for women who are in business. I was accepted into the workshop with 40 other women and spent several months taking classes to learn about time management, finance management, how to interact with customers and how to manage employees.
Taking these classes — while running the business and raising my son — was hard work in itself. This meant more than 15-hour days of work and study.
Before I took these classes, I was clueless about what it took to run a business. But after the class I knew how to budget properly and that I needed to separate my personal finances from the business finances.
I now know that the money is not mine, it is the business’s. I now pay myself a salary from that money.
Once I learned these skills from the workshops, my long hours and hard work began to pay off. I am now making triple the money I made before I took the workshops. This money I use to pay for my son’s schooling at Vanderbijlpark Further Education and Training College, and one day I hope to buy a house for us. His future is the most important thing to me. He’s so proud of me and he is thankful that I am working hard so that he can find an easier path to success.
There are also many younger ladies in my community who want to start businesses, and they look up to me. I’ve started mentoring them and teaching them what I have learned about owning a business.
I want young girls and women in South Africa to feel they can be independent and financially stable.
I’m very concerned about the rising teen pregnancy rates in South Africa. Not enough girls see the other possibilities for their futures…
So, when I can talk to young women in my community, I tell them that when you are determined to work hard … and wise enough to seek help from others who have been in business or been in their shoes – that anything is possible. It certainly has been for me.
Look at where I am today.
Earlier this week I boarded an airplane for the first time in my life. I, Malehlohonolo Moleko of Boipatong Vanderbijlpark, was asked to travel to the United States and share my story with you.
This week I have had many new experiences, and I am excited about going home to share these experiences to share with my friends and family.
I still have a long way to go to achieve all my dreams — but I love knowing that everything I have, I accomplished on my own. I never thought I could be this financially stable and it feels great!
My story is one of hard work and passion, but I learned hard work and passion was not enough. I needed the right education to run a successful business, and I had nobody to teach this to me. Finding the business skills workshops I took two years ago changed my entire life. I did not need someone to give me money or a hand-out… What I needed was a “hand-up.”
And I am not alone. I know there are hundreds of millions of women like me throughout the developing world who can achieve what I have achieved. We have the passion. We have the determination. Bring forth more partners and mentors like I received and you’ll see a world where that gap between poverty and plenty closes more and more each day.
Education and training. These are the best gifts we can give girls and women entrepreneurs the world over.
Thank you for letting me share my story with you.
You can read more on Coca-Cola Journey: Malehlonoholo Moleko: The Making of an Entrepreneur
April Jordin is Director of Corporate External Affairs at The Coca-Cola Company.