The oxford dictionary describes inspiration as “the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.” As human beings, we collectively use inspiration as a fuel to help us achieve our goals. We’re all inspired by someone or something in some way, shape or form. We’ve discovered that more often than not, we draw the most inspiration from the underdogs. The people that weather the storm and make it to the top of the mountain against all the odds.

In the business and tech world, it’s clear to see that women are the underdogs. In the year 2020, the number of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies who are women reached an all-time high. A new record of 41 CEO’s, which equates to only 8% of the Fortune 500. We’re starting to see a shift in leadership representation as more women take the business and tech worlds by storm.

The 10 women we’ve highlighted below are not only succeeding in business and tech, they’re also inspiring people both young and old to fly beyond the sky. Read on to be inspired.

Ariela Safira

For some of us, the year 2020 was cycle of heartbreak, confusion and fear. A traumatic experience we had to endure in isolation. It shed light on the true condition of our mental health. We routinely examine our physical, spiritual and even dental health. What about the vessel that governs it all? What about our minds? We all need to be able to regularly care for our mental health and that’s where Ariela Safira comes in.

Ariela Safira is a Stanford graduate as well as the CEO and Founder of Real, a mental healthcare company that empowers you to take proactive care of your mental health. In just over a year of operating, she’s already managed to disrupt the mental health care space with Real. Occupying both a digital and IRL (in real life) presence, she has been able to create a new mental healthcare system based on a monthly subscription model. Her choice to celebrate mental healthcare instead of normalizing it has produced fruitful results and she was even awarded with the 2019 American Psychiatric Association’s Innovation Award.

Today, Ariela is on a mission to improve mental healthcare. Her journey along this path began when one of her close friends attempted to commit suicide during her time at Stanford University. This was her first experience with how therapy and rehab work. She realized how fractured the system is and began working on ways to improve it. Ariela wants people to meet the mental health care system before crisis, on a regular basis. Although she didn’t set out to start a company, her curiosity evolved and led her to where she is today.

Ariela Safira inspires us to be the change we want to see.

Denica Flesch

What if your clothes could change lives? What if the clothes you wore could save the environment? What if the clothes you wore weren’t just a fashion statement? What if the clothes you wore meant something? Thanks to Denica Flesch, these hypotheticals have become reality.

Denica Flesch is a self-proclaimed nerd who cares. She’s a development economist turned founder and CEO of SukkhaCitta, an award-winning social enterprise changing the lives of rural Indonesia. SukkhaCitta (pronounced sukachika) Slow fashion, most meaningful clothes. Not a designer. The price of 1 = 5-10 fast fashion pieces, a viable investment for those who care about quality, durability and impact of the things they wear. Villages, not factories

She didn’t feel like she was making a difference as a development economist. Her career afforded her the opportunity to see the cracks in the system for herself. She travelled to many Indonesian villages and saw first-hand the negative effects fast fashion can have on environments and the people who inhabit them.
[WORK IN PROGRESS…]

Denica Flesch inspires us to be nerds who care for others and the environment.

Gciniwe Fakudze

Gcinizwi Fakudze is a government practitioner by study, an award-winning business executive by trade and a fashion icon by day. Most prominently, Gciniwe Fakudze is a brand. She’s been able to turn herself into a recognizable brand that turns heads while retaining her humanity and relatability factor.

Gciniwe is the personification of the phrase, “you can take a girl out of the hood but you can’t take the hood out of the girl. Born and raised under the roof and guidance of her Christian parents, she spent most of her early life in the Manzini region of Eswatini. A region synonymous with hustle culture. Clearly, her humble upbringing in this environment has positively impacted her outlook on life.

She graduated with a degree in Town and Regional Planning from the university of Wits (South Africa) in 2001. Ironically, her life after graduation didn’t go according to plan. She spent her first year post-graduation unemployed. The first job she was able to get wasn’t even in her field of study, it was instead as a reporter for Channel Swazi.

After a brief stint as a reporter, she seized an opportunity to put her skills to use as the CEO of the Siteki Town Council. At the time, female leadership at an executive level was bordering on complete obscurity. When you also take into consideration that Gciniwe was only 23 when she took on the role, you can imagine the amount of pressure she was under. She managed to weather the storm and inspire an entire generation of female leaders in the process.

She spent 3 years in Siteki before transferring to the manufacturing capital of Eswatini, Matsapha where she spent 14 years, culminating in 17 years of service. After achieving the highest level of success possible town planning, she avoided the trap of complacency and immediately had her sights set on something bigger. She hit the reset button and started her new journey in an unfamiliar industry.

After earning her MBA, she began her tenure in the telecommunications industry as an expert in all things customer related. She was inspired to change her career path by the hunger within her for more.

Gciniwe Fakudze inspires us to stay hungry and to keep climbing if you’ve got air in your lungs.

Mmabatho Morudi

Every business leader and entrepreneur is well aware of the risks that come with doing business. This is why courage and bravery are a requirement for being successful in business. When thinking of the most fearless people in the business world, people like Donald Trump, Julius Malema, or even Kanye West may come to mind. A completely different name and character comes to our mind. Mmabatho Morudi.

Mmabatho Morudi is the proud owner of a beekeeping and agricultural produce business. She was inspired to start her business after learning about the declining bee population and increase in global shortage of good quality honey. She knew that bees populate 80% of our crops and that a decline in their population would be a threat to food security. She has created a model that protects the bees and ensures they have a conducive environment they can thrive in. Bee farming is her contribution towards preserving the earth for future generations.

Thanks to her grandfather, she developed a deep adoration for farming so strong, that it led her to quit her day job in 2012 so that she could focus on farming full time. Since then, she’s gone from strength to strength. Choosing a rural community as a base of operations, she’s been able to create a sense of pride in rural and impoverished areas. Through recruitment at her business, she’s able to teach people about business and finance management. The rural communities also benefit from honey sales.

The sweet science behind Mmabatho’s hustle can be summed up in one word, delegation. She’s managed to figure out what she does best and is now in a position where she can bring people on board to do the rest. I’m thankful that we have people like Mmabatho doing work like this. I’ve been stung by more than enough bees in my lifetime to know that beekeeping isn’t for me.

Mmabatho Morudi inspires us to get our hands dirty.

Palesa Moloi

Palesa Moloi is a Chartered Accountant and co-founder of two proptech (property technology) startups based in South Africa. What makes Palesa so inspiring is her humanity. She isn’t an alien from Mars like Elon Musk or a lizard like Mark Zuckerburg, she’s a person. She’s one of us. The inspiration for starting her first proptech start up (Parkupp) came from searching for safe parking for her VW Polo in South Africa. An experience just as scary as trying to clear your throat in public nowadays.

Initially the idea for Parkupp was to improve the parking experiences for shopping centers. This idea evolved into a virtual marketplace for car owners to rent parking spaces across 5500 listed locations (Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg and Los Angeles to name a few). You can look at Parkupp as the AirBnb equivalent for renting parking spaces instead of accommodation. The genius of Parkupp also alleviates traffic that stems from people driving in circles searching for parking. The parking listed on Parkupp is more affordable than parking you would normally pay in high end areas.

Most people would settle down after this but not Palesa. She went on to develop another proptech start up called Troob Space. Troop Space functions as a sister company to Parkupp. You can look at Troob Space as the Parkupp equivalent for renting work spaces instead of parking spaces.

Palesa inspires us to create effective solutions to human problems.

Siba Mtongana

Siba Mtongana is an award-winning celebrity TV Chef and super mom. Did we mention that she’s also the author of “My Table”? The best-selling cookbook in its class? Surely she can’t have more achievements under her belt, there’s only 24 hours in a day! But wait, there’s more… She’s also the Founder and owner of her own restaurant, Siba’s Table. Her accomplishments are so ground breaking that her life has been turned into a case study at Harvard University. You know you’re doing something right when some of the most brilliant minds in the world are learning from you!

Believe it or not, Siba was inspired to be the person she is today by watching cooking shows on television at a young age. I want you to think about that the next time you tell your kids not to watch TV! Born and raised in the rural Mdantsane Township outside East London, she grew up in a deeply rooted Christian household with 5 older siblings. To her family, her dream of becoming a professional chef was about as far-fetched as my childhood dream of being the first person to moonwalk on the sun. In her family’s defense, they lived in a time where celebrity chefs didn’t exist in South Africa.

Most people would settle down after this but not Palesa. She went on to develop another proptech start up called Troob Space. Troop Space functions as a sister company to Parkupp. You can look at Troob Space as the Parkupp equivalent for renting work spaces instead of parking spaces.

Palesa inspires us to create effective solutions to human problems.

Tongtong Bee & Alyssa Tsai

Over the past 12 months or so, we’ve started to see top performing companies in every industry warm up to innovative blockchain technology. Due to the novelty of blockchain, many business leaders have dozens of questions about what it is, how it works and why it matters. If you happen to be one of them then you’re in luck! We know exactly who you should talk to. Meet Alyssa Tsai and Tongtong Bee.

Alyssa Tsai & Tongtong Bee are the co-founders of one of Asia’s earliest Blockchain consulting firms, Panony. Panony is a consulting, research and media company that provides industry insights and communication strategies to business leaders across the globe. In 2020, the pair were featured as selected honorees on the annual Forbes 30 under 30 list for Asia and were acknowledged for their work in media, marketing and advertising.

The dynamic duo has been able to combine their individual skillsets to lead Panony to success. Alyssa studied law in Taiwan and has an extensive background in PR, marketing, and consultancy. Tongtong studied journalism and communication in China and has a decorated background as a journalist. As CEO, Alyssa advises companies on their market and growth strategies through consultancy. Tongtong serves as the Editor In Chief of Panonys’ research and media arm, PA News.

Since starting Panony in 2018, Alyssa and Tongtong have been able to consult over 100 companies around the world and amass over 2000 original articles under PA News. Headquartered in Hong Kong, Seoul (Korea) and Shanghai (China), they’ve been able to expand operations into New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Taiwan. From what we can tell, the pair were inspired to start Panony by the slow and sluggish mass adoption of emerging technologies in the world.

Tongtong and Alyssa inspire us to work smarter as a team.