On first impressions, one would never guess that WDB Investment Holding’s dynamic Business Manager, Rose Mamabolo, was once painfully shy and a below-average student. Her journey is one of honesty, growth and inspiration.
The Rose Mamabolo Ripple Effect
Young Rose Mamabolo was not one to wear skirts and dresses. “I always thought I was too thin, which contributed to my low self-esteem,” says Rose.
Low self-esteem is certainly not a word one would associate with WDB’s stylish and spirited Business Manager. Rose is a force of nature; a qualified chartered accountant who drives WDB’s various women and youth empowerment initiatives.
She was born to Shirley and Simon Mabusela, in a village in Mokopane, Limpopo, before her family moved to Tembisa, a township on Johannesburg’s East Rand. She admits that getting good marks at school were not a priority.
“All of my friends and the people around me were not what you would call high achievers. And we were fine with that. It was never a big deal if you didn’t pass well. It just became the norm. We didn’t have half the teachers pitching up at school, and nobody seemed to care.”
But life took a different turn during her high-school days. Rose’s parents moved the family to a well-developed part of the township when she was in Grade 10. In her new environment, she met a group of friends with different interests and ambitions – they helped her feel comfortable with her body image and her general sense of self – and as a result, her confidence soared. They also had an impact on her school performance.
“Those girls were doing well, and for the first time, I was surrounded by people who were top of their class. So it was only from that point in my life that I started working harder and seeing results,” says Rose. “I believe that environment is everything. My vision changed when I was in a different environment; I was able to see another future for myself.”
“I believe that environment is everything. My vision changed when I was in a different environment; I was able to see another future for myself.”
Around the same time as the move, a good friend of her Dad’s, Malome (Uncle) Dan, started taking an interest in her school marks and was concerned when he discovered her low marks for accounting.
“He was working on the mines and studying accountancy with UNISA, and he was passionate about the subject. He would give me accounting homework and come back to check that I had done it! He was the first person to plant the seed of loving accounting as a subject.”
After passing matric, Rose did her undergrad in accountancy at Vaal Triangle Technikon (as it was called then), followed by a few months in Australia on a scholarship. When she was back home, her favourite Uncle didn’t let up on steering her towards being a chartered accountant, and after a bridging course at UJ (then RAU) she achieved her Honours at UKZN.
The next step was doing her auditing articles at a small firm in Johannesburg. During this time, she needed to prepare and sit for her chartered accountant board exams.
Rose says, “If anyone asked me today, what is the hardest thing you’ve ever done in your life? It would be writing that first board exam multiple times. I had invested many years in being a CA and gave myself so much pressure. I had anxiety attacks. I got sick. I was on medication. It was such an awful time!”
But in true Rose style, she got through both board exams and landed on the other side with her CA qualification and some hard-earned wisdom.
“My CA qualification tested my levels of perseverance and my character to the core. From then on, I knew that I would persevere in chasing anything that I wanted for my life.”
She started her working career at Regiments and stayed for four years before moving on to Momentum, but the large corporate space wasn’t a good fit for Rose. Then, in 2014, a friend told her about a job in the finance department of WDB. Her first meeting with then – CFO Tandi Nzimande was the fork in the road of Rose’s career. Tandi’s warmth and enthusiasm and the values of WDB made Rose realise she had landed in the right space.
“From the very start, Tandi made me understand that WDB is a place to call home. I also immediately fell in love with what WDB stands for – this entity stands for something solid. There’s a purpose to being here. I felt that from the very beginning. Rose worked with Tandi on building up the finance team and with CEO Faith Khanyile on various initiatives. After going on maternity leave in 2016, another shift was waiting for her…
I also immediately fell in love with what WDB stands for – this entity stands for something solid. There’s a purpose to being here. I felt that from the very beginning.
“So, Faith calls me. She says, ‘Rose, I am looking for a Business Manager. I need someone to help me drive all our other mandates and someone who will use our track record to make an impact in society.’ She mentions women advocacy, youth empowerment, stakeholder engagement, branding, PR, etc. And I’m thinking: Faith, I’m an accountant. Why are you busy telling me about these things? She says she thinks I would be perfect for the job!” says Rose. “My response was, “Hell no, I’m an accountant. I’m happy with my numbers. I’m happy in my corner!’”
After a chat with her husband, she took on the position and has never looked back.
“I felt the shift within me when I started with this role. I became a different person. Faith allowed me to drive things that I’m passionate about and drive them through WDB. That whole idea of purpose – she made it come alive for me, and I was able to unleash my potential.”
Her role embraces WDBIH’s youth empowerment initiatives, including mentorship and internship programmes, working with youth learners in underprivileged areas through Primestars, and supporting Makola School in Soweto and the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls (OWLAG).
Rose says, “I’ve seen young people literally moving out of poverty. I’ve been able to see that journey from where they started to where they are now because they remain in our lives, in our space. This is the impact that Faith was always talking about in the early days, and it’s a privilege to be involved in these programmes and to witness it. This inspires me to do more.”
“I’ve seen young people literally moving out of poverty. I’ve been able to see that journey from where they started to where they are now because they remain in our lives, in our space.
One moment that really touched her was when a young woman from the WDB Leaders of Tomorrow mentorship programme approached her.
“I’ll never forget those words,” says Rose. “She told me that whenever she comes to WDB or engages with any of us, for the first time in her life she sees a successful financial services business created by women who look like her and speak like her. She said it makes her see different possibilities. She highlighted that we at WDB are real-life role models for young women, and we give young people the possibility to dream and build a picture to that dream.”
When looking at poverty and unemployment, Rose says she sometimes feels overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs to be done to fix our country.
“I would say to Faith. This is too much. It’s overwhelming. Faith would always say to me, ‘Rose, don’t zoom in or focus on the lot that needs to be done. Focus on what you can do. Focus on the one child, the two or three, because that has a ripple effect. By impacting one child, you are influencing every single person that is looking at this child.’” She’s always drilled this idea that impact does not have to be in huge numbers. Do the little that you can, and the numbers will come. It’s the ripple effect.”
Rose also sits on a number of boards and over the years has embraced a new kind of feminine leadership. “I have to be at the boardroom table. How else are we going to make real change?” she asks.
Rose Mamabolo has come a long way from a village in Mokopane, so what would she say to her nine-year-old self? “I would give her a hug. I would say to her that I am sorry for all the things she went through and that it will all be okay, and I hope that she is proud of me.”