The Mandela Washington Fellowship Program at University of Iowa is implemented by the Institute for International Business, a partnership between the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center and the Tippie College of Business.

Omphile Matane, a young entrepreneur from Mahikeng, South Africa, wants to make a positive impact on her country. Participating in the 2019 Mandela Washington Fellowship program has been a big step in making that happen.

Providing Opportunities for Others

Omphile earned a degree in Hospitality Management from The International Hotel School in South Africa. After graduating, she went out to pursue a career in banqueting and events. Her attempts came out unsuccessful. After applying to various jobs and coming out empty handed, she decided to take matters into her own hands – and become an entrepreneur.

Omphile launched an event planning business that specialized in weddings and event decoration. Once her business was established, she began to save her profits and in 2015, she opened up a wedding and conference venue named Monakaladi Gardens. She sees this opportunity as an opportunity to help support her community.

“Monakaladi Gardens is located in a rural area with high unemployment rates. With the lack of jobs, we see a lot of teenage pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse, and young girls compromising themselves for financial stability. My business is a resource that can help grow these rural economies, create employment, and train employees so they are able to get a job in the future and be financially self-reliant.”

When Omphile isn’t working on her business, she gives her time to a Women in Tourism Empowerment Club called Mosadi Motlokolo. As the chairperson of the organization, she works to support women owned businesses in the tourism industry through networking, financial support, and resource sharing.

Her involvement doesn’t stop there. Omphile is hoping to grow her business to have a greater impact on her community. Due to the lack of employment and the knowledge that the tourism industry creates 20% of jobs in South Africa, she wants to alter her business to help create even more jobs and grow the local economy. “I want to convert my wedding venue into an African Lifestyle Farm that brings culture, agriculture, and tourism together. This will create opportunities for the community and create a sustainable livelihood in rural areas using tourism as the driving engine.”

Once she establishes the farm in South Africa, she is hoping to expand her business to other countries. Omphile hopes to increase tourism in Africa by sharing their rich culture and heritage with the rest of the world.

Iowa Nice

Being selected to be a part of the 2019 Mandela Washington Fellowship program was a big step in improving her business and community involvement. Her biggest takeaway from the program so far has been what she learned from Iowa JPEC’s Venture School program. “The approach of aligning my business and value proposition to my customers was very helpful. I’ve learned where to direct my efforts and which resources to use for my business.” She labels the program as “life-changing” and plans to encourage people in her community to apply and participate.

Her experience in Iowa did not disappoint on any level. With this being her first time in the United States, Omphile had no idea what to expect. She describes Iowa as a “very home like” place. “We have met so many people who have gone out of their way to help us and make us feel welcome. We’ve gone on a speedboat ride, attended a pool party, and have had dinner with Iowan families. The people of Iowa really are ‘Iowa nice’.”

When reflecting on her time in Iowa, one thing that stands out is the spirit of volunteerism. “It’s mind blowing how people here give their time to serve others. It reminds me of the philosophy of ‘Ubuntu’ that we have back home. We all need each other as human beings, because a person is only a person through other people.” She is hoping to continue this spirit of volunteerism when returning to her country and spreading it to others. “Often at times we want to wait until we are wealthy or have a surplus of money before we can give back, but time is a priceless commodity that we can give to help others.”

The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. Government and administered by IREX.  For more information about the Mandela Washington Fellowship, visit yali.state.gov/mwf and join the conversation at #YALI2019.