The new Investment Director for CDC Investment Works Group, Nonhlanhla HappyGirl Buthelezi, still remembers how she sold her furniture and borrowed her mom’s pension payouts to be able to come to the GSB to study her MBA.
Not everyone enjoys looking back on the rocky road that paved the way for success, but Nonhlanhla HappyGirl Buthelezi, 43, is proud of the hard work and sacrifices she made in her personal life and career – including the fact that she arrived in 2000 in Cape Town to study for her MBA at the UCT Graduate School of Business with no car, no computer and no money to buy books.
She recalls how she had to sell her furniture and borrow her mother’s pension payouts to get enough money for tuition and accommodation. “But I never lost hope, I prayed a lot, cried a lot, and prayed some more,” Buthelezi remembers now. Fortunately, she secured loans from Standard Bank and Nedbank and received other bursaries as well.
She attained her MBA in 2001 and in 2004, was one of three women featured in a documentary made by the Carnegie Corporation and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) about successful women from around the globe who overcame considerable odds to achieve postgraduate education. Apart from an MBA, she also has a postgraduate diploma in Management Accounting and a Bachelor of Commerce.
"I have faced the challenges that many young, African woman faces,” recalls Buthelezi. “I have been to hell and back and had many disappointments. But after all those hardships and challenges, I never gave up on my career goals, my personal goals, or the broader goals of this lovely African continent.”
It has certainly paid off. Over the past 15 years, her career has taken her across Africa and living in cities like Addis Ababa, Lagos and Kinshasa while developing and executing large scale and complex projects. She was previously the Head of Business Development at PPC Cement Ltd and the head of the MTN office in the Ethiopian capital.
Her newest challenge has been to step into the role of Investment Director for the CDC Group this August. “What really excites me about the CDC is the opportunity to create jobs and effect meaningful change, which this institution is able to do,” says Buthelezi. “It also separates it from any other private equity firm.”
She is delighted to have become a key player in the organisation, which is the United Kingdom’s Development Finance Institution and wholly owned by the UK government. Its mission is to support the building of businesses in Africa and South Asia and its portfolio of investments is valued at £3bn with 1 293 investee businesses. In 2015, these helped to create 1.03 million new jobs. “Creating employment translates into tangible change that is measurable, quantifiable and sustainable in the long term.” These concepts are important to Buthelezi and frequently come up in conversation with her. She clearly likes to plan ahead and be prepared for obstacles.
“I have always been very focused,” says Buthelezi. She is one of five children and both her parents were schoolteachers. She was determined to make something of herself but it was not easy and she had setbacks along the way.
Buthelezi is a single parent to an 11-year-old daughter with whom she shares a home in Sandton, Johannesburg. She has a strong network of supporters in her family, who help to keep the ball rolling when she has to go abroad for work. She has worked hard in her life and her message is inspirational. "It is important for young African women to believe that they can have all they want. Not some of it - but all: a satisfying and meaningful career, professional goals, friends, family and a supportive relationship."