Rethabile is an Alumni of Women in Clean Energy, a mentorship programme by GWNET, CCA and SEforALL.
“When you get that one opportunity, you grab to it”, says Rethabile Mafura, Country Director Lesotho of African Clean Energy (ACE), when asked about her career start. In Lesotho the unemployment rate is over 50% among newly graduated so even with an education, you cannot count on a job opportunity. This goes especially for women, as Lesotho has a deeply patriarchal society.
Rethabile’s drive comes from her personal experience of energy poverty. “As a child, I remember walking long distances to school and collecting firewood both for school and home, to keep them warm but also to be able to prepare meals. These were all done by burning wood. You could see clouds of smoke coming out of the small house’s doors and windows. The indoor air was unbearable. Many got tuberculosis.” Even today, according to the World Bank, only 40% of the population in Lesotho has access to clean energy.
She lost both her parents at a very young age and was raised by a foster family. She was encouraged to go to school, as the alternatives for future looked quite meagre if she stayed in the village.
When I went to high school, I realised how much I had been deprived of growing up in the rural areas. I had to work extra hard to catch up with my peers from urban areas who had been exposed to new technologies from an early age. That is when I knew I wanted to make a difference.
After working for a mobile phone company for years, she felt she had more to give. “I felt I had hit a ceiling and could not grow in my position any further. I had this inner voice that told me I can do more. I wanted to make a difference and help the people of my country.” Rethabile applied for the HR position at ACE, after seeing the job announcement and reading that the company was providing clean energy to the primitive rural underserved communities. “The company had not only provided a solution to the indoor pollution, but it also provided energy access. Moreover, I noticed that they also employed disabled people. It resonated so well with me as a person and my values. I thought, this is huge, and I want to be a part of this change.”
She got the job. And very soon thereafter she was promoted to HR Manager. “I felt so empowered for being able to recruit highly motivated and educated people for this company. When you find a person, who feels passionately for the company’s mission and values, and the person is ready to work hard, then you just need to empower them and give them a position that aligns with what they do best.” ACE provides jobs for youth, women, and people with disabilities.
Previously, a disabled person was pushed out of the society and there are still situations that we as a country are not doing enough for marginalised people. These are people who want to prove themselves and are ready to work hard. My experience is that they also influence other employees to work harder. I wish other companies also could see that marginalised persons are valuable employees.
In November 2021, Rethabile was promoted as Country Director of ACE Lesotho. She has been the driving force for positive change within the company. She restructured the sales department and put the customers at the core of their service delivery. She has demonstrated leadership skills in steering and growing the company in a small nascent clean energy market. Her charismatic personality and unwavering moral and ethical standards have inspired everyone who know her.
I believe in personal and professional growth. I want to help employees to find their inner strength, develop their skills and grow to the person they want to be. I really don’t think there can be a ceiling to what a human mind can achieve once they have been exposed to people that encourage it.
Rethabile was one of the panelists in a side event co-hosted by UNIDO, SEforALL, ENERGIA and GWNET at the SEforAll 2022 Global Forum.
Rethabile was awarded the EEP Africa Rising Energy Leader during Knowledge Week in March 2023. She was praised for her leadership skills, provision of inclusive employment opportunities and very strong sense of teamwork. For how to be an appreciated leader that motivates staff, she gives the following guidance.
Give clear expectations so that every staff member knows their role in achieving the company’s targets and mission. Give training and evaluate the achievements from time to time. Trust your staff members. Let them make decisions, learn from their mistakes, and let them be accountable for their decisions. In this way you give them a sense of ownership and a sense of being important,” she explains and continues “It’s also important to take feedback from the staff, if they see that something could be done better or differently.
Rethabile is a true advocate of gender equality and has promoted many qualified women to senior management positions in the company. Several have continued their career path to other companies in Director positions, which makes Rethabile very proud. “When you give people the opportunity to grow, they learn that anything is possible, and they can become whatever they want. They will flourish.” She is a role model for young women, inspiring them to achieve success through hard work, a positive attitude and perseverance. She herself has her own role model, her foster mum. “She had such an influence on me and who I became. My life changed so drastically after my mum died, I would not have had the same opportunities that I had now. I see this as the silver line, the luck, of my loss. My foster mum is so powerful, so loving, so giving, and so understanding. I want to be like her. She is so proud of me, and that makes me want to do even more.”
ACE Lesotho is advocating clean cooking and energy access and has continued to grow and succeed under Rethabile’s leadership. Where does she see herself in five years?
I’m committed to work hard so that households and communities in the rural areas will get access to clean energy, and to foster a diverse and inclusive work environment in the clean energy sector. This is a personal mission. I want to see a change and I want to be part of this change.