Mpho Lebethe has combined her passion for entrepreneurship with an equally fierce enthusiasm for upliftment, forging a career path that ensures others rise as she does.
‘My grandparents raised me with the belief that even if you only have R100, you can still share R50 with those who have less than you,’ says Mpho. It’s an ethos that, along with the intentionality that was present throughout her upbringing (her family’s deep involvement in her schooling, for example, along with their insistence that she be exposed to a variety of activities, from sports to cultural pursuits), meant that since her school days, Mpho has been involved with endeavours with a strong accent on helping others optimise their lives.
This tied in neatly with her aspiration to be a business owner. Combine the two, and the stage was set for an interest in the kind of entrepreneurship that seeks to solve social challenges.
Mpho was helped along her way when she was named a beneficiary of the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation (AGOF), a programme which seeks to develop an entrepreneurial mindset by equipping individuals to identify potential business opportunities and the resources to go after them. Mpho found this particularly useful as until now, her experience of entrepreneurship was as a means to survive rather than a vehicle for developing a mega-business. As an AGOF Fellow, she was able to see the other side of the coin: one where South Africans nurtured groundbreaking ideas that grew into entities capable of changing communities.
She got her first taste of what it felt like to impact someone else’s life when, fresh out of school, she established her first NPO, Miss Empowered. Mpho explained that the organisation has its roots in the admiration expressed by many of her classmates after she was accepted into AGOF’s Fellowship programme. ‘Many told me it would never occur to them to apply for such an opportunity – they felt it was too far out of reach,’ Mpho says. Miss Empowered was her answer to these feelings of self-doubt: it aims to bolster the confidence of participants while providing resources like information about bursaries – information which is crucial in a community where ‘we didn’t grow up around CEOs who could help us navigate this kind of context’.
How does completing a CA qualification fit in with this?
‘As a high school student, I was keenly aware of corporate crime. I was determined that I would not become a victim of such crime when I became a business owner – which was also one of my goals. That’s why I was eager to become familiar with the dynamics of financials.’
Mpho held on to this interest while completing her articles, working in as many industries as she could – from manufacturing to healthcare – to get a sense of different environments. She also spent time with business heads, quizzing them about their concerns so that she would gain insight into how to avoid repeating common business problems.
These conversations laid the foundations for Building Blocks Entrepreneurship Academy; a venture she established with her close friend Nozipho Mpanza, who brought her experience in operations to round out a consultancy intended to guide small, black-owned businesses through the complexities of strategy, finance, and other processes. This evolved to providing tools to improve employability, such as helping individuals hone their interview skills or tailor their CVs. Since then, Building Blocks has pivoted once more to reflect Mpho’s passion for entrepreneurship education, which she sees as a powerful weapon in our arsenal in the war against youth unemployment. She and Nozipho hosted a series of free boot camps intended to help participants change their mindsets, seeing themselves as potential job creators rather than job seekers and giving them the wherewithal to do just that. Mpho reveals that the project has received outstanding feedback, and Building Blocks has been called upon to institute initiatives in countries as far afield as Hong Kong, the UK and Kenya.
It was just before one of her trips to Kenya that she received a call from Darren Isaacs, founder of Makosi: an organisation which delivers a variable workforce of the future to audit firms globally, creating opportunities for exposure for South African CAs to gain international exposure while allowing clients to grow their companies and capacitating them to take on more work.
Mpho leapt at the chance to become part of this organisation, because the founder and leaders’ strong interest in making every company a force for good resonated with her desire to make a positive impact on the world. She joined Makosi as an engagement manager in 2021, effectively forming the liaison between clients and auditors. ‘It’s not simply about dumping a warm body on the client and expecting them to get on with it. My role is to support the team, effectively capacitating them, as well as the client, so we can be sure we are delivering up to their expectations.’
Mpho has since been named Vice President of the Delivery Team. Her excitement around the changes she has seen in the organisation since joining it is unmissable: ‘We’ve thought long and hard about what the client experience should feel like and how we can empower our team to innovate for our clients’ success.’
Mpho has played a role in turning Makosi into a vehicle for empowerment for individuals outside of the organisation, too, through her involvement in the company’s initiative that aims to put 10 000 children in developing countries through school. She points out that this isn’t merely about providing access to education; it’s the quality of that education that counts, which is why there is a strong emphasis on learning strengthened by soft skills. ‘Our key aim is to catapult people out of their circumstances so that we can break the cycle of poverty,’ she explains. The company recently launched a pilot project in the Eastern Cape and is now tweaking various areas to maximise efficiency.
This search for continual improvement is a theme in Mpho’s life – and so she is certain that when she launches her next business, she will combine her prior experience as an entrepreneur with the learnings she has gleaned through helping Makosi transition from a small business into a larger.
Although she is not quite sure which sphere she’ll play in next, she is certain about one thing: ‘I learnt early on that you need to back yourself, whatever you do. I used to wonder why Africa hasn’t been able to come up with ideas on the scale of, say, Silicon Valley. Was it because we lack the talent or knowledge? I realised that this wasn’t the case at all – we’re just as good as anyone else (if not better): we just need to offer our young leaders and entrepreneurs more support and resources earlier in their journey. Now, whatever I do, I have the confidence to know that my uniqueness and passion will take me where I need to go. Worst case scenario, I’ll learn more, gain clarity – and start again.’