‘I feel good when I help others and see them prosper’

Thato Mokhothu named her company RTT Construction after her children, Refilwe, Tshiamo and Tshego. She is not only building a legacy in the business world but also in the lives of many women through her Phenomenal Women initiative.

Thato Mokhothu
Thato Mokhothu runs Phenomenal Women, her non-profit organisation, without remuneration and says she enjoys seeing it grow. “It has helped me to feel good about myself by helping others and seeing them prosper.” (Image supplied)

Melissa Javan
Bloemfontein businesswoman Thato Mokhothu believes that playing a part in the community helps to decrease stress and eases depression.

The eldest of her siblings, she saw her mother become depressed following her parents divorce in 2000. Mokhothu had to become the family breadwinner for her siblings, according to the Vie by Envie online magazine.

She dropped out of college and started waitressing. But Mokhothu was determined to improve her situation and went on to qualify for the National Home Builders Registration Council Women Empowerment Business Course offered through the Gordon Institute of Business Science.

In 2014 she completed a Seda Enterprise Development Programme. Mokhothu also became part of the Cherie Blair Mentorship Programme.

Working towards a bigger goal

Phenomenal Women focuses on female and youth empowerment, says the founder of RTT Construction, named for her children, Refilwe, Tshiamo and Tshego.

Mokhothu set up her non-profit organisation as a network that allowed women to share information and business opportunities. It has a Facebook group of more than 16,000 members.

One of the ways Phenomenal Women empowers women and youth is by helping to connect them with possible new clients in other provinces. This allows members of the network to do business with other women in other provinces.

“[Working towards making your community a better place] brings people from diverse backgrounds together to work towards a common goal,” says Mokhothu, a Play Your Part ambassador.

Other Phenomenal Women initiatives include hosting finance workshops, mentorship opportunities and training in payroll, compliance advice and supplier diversity programmes. Members of the network also do various charity events, such as working with an orphanage in Heidedal, in the Free State.

Mokhothu says: “I believe if the majority of people [are] involved in community work, we will be able to decrease poverty, the high rate of unemployment and assist with the economic challenges that affecting our country at the moment.

“We cannot rely on the government alone to take care of the community.”

Brand South Africa journalist Melissa Javan talked to Mokhothu.

MJ: Where did you get the idea for the NPO?
TM: I have always liked to help other people — when I was working for Absa I made sure that I shared available positions with friends and other people.

I would also share available tenders, knowing very well that I would be applying for the same tender. In 2013, I started Phenomenal Women, but it was not registered as yet.

I had a restaurant and allowed women to showcase their products at the restaurant at no cost. I started to host business workshops and invited key roleplayers such as the South African Revenue Services and the National Youth Development Agency to come to the event at the restaurant.

I saw how everyone was benefiting from the workshops. People would, for instance, come to buy shoes and bags, and would also buy a plate and cold drink from me.

There were other women’s associations before but they were not active in the Free State. I have been a member of some of them, but I never got to enjoy the benefits of joining.

In 2014, I decided to re-launch Phenomenal Woman and register it and run it differently from other existing women’s associations. I also believe in leading by example, which has pushed me to work very hard.

MJ: When did you become involved in community work and how have you made it part of your decision-making as a businesswoman?
TM: From a young age my father taught me that I needed to give and help other people in order for me to be blessed or to receive more. That’s how I have lived my life.

When I was in high school I was the chairperson of the TADA (Teenagers Against Drug Abuse), working together with the police. In my tertiary years, I took care of people with disabilities, visiting them and doing their hair.

When I worked at Absa Home Loans, I was the chairperson of the Home Loans corporate social investment [programme] for the Free State. Our project was to renovate a school and turn it into a house of safety for children. It is still going, run by Christian Revival Church.

I then adopted a children’s home in Heidedal, where I helped with things such as clothes and food. I celebrated my birthdays with the children and asked people to buy the children presents instead of buying me birthday gifts.

In my company I empower other women and youth by giving them construction sub-contracting work. This is to help increase their Construction Industry Development Board levels because I know how difficult it is out there to get someone who will give you a chance in business.

MJ: What are your Phenomenal Women highlights?
TM: My highlights are the testimonies of women who have achieved their dream. One woman in particular started off as a member of Phenomenal Women and was inspired to follow her dream.

She is currently demolishing 650 shacks used as day care centres in the Free State, and is offering them better structures with the help of Letsatsi Power Projects. These centres are also offered nutritious meals.

MJ: How important are relationships for an entrepreneur and for someone who wants to make an impact in society?
TM: I believe that every relationship is very important. If they know you and know your business ethics, they will listen to you and they will do business with you.

When you need help in any corporate social investment projects, they gratefully assist you.

MJ: Can you share tips on using social media to talk about what you are doing?
TM: I use my social media pages to inspire people to get involved in community life. You need to be consistent. For example, I use social media to promote community involvement campaigns and collaborations.

Branding is also very important and I have made sure that my page is full of positive quotes. I also share job opportunities and tenders.

I get messages every day from different people who are inspired by my work and who would like to join me or start similar projects that I do in the community.

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