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Boosting employee wellbeing growth and engagement

PPECB Women Leaders "Shine Bright"

It’s a common belief that women hit a ‘glass ceiling’ that prevents them from climbing the leadership ladder. Yet, the real challenge often lies at the beginning of their journey - the ‘broken rung’. This initial stumbling block keeps many women at entry-level positions and significantly reduces the number of women who advance to higher levels.



In response to this challenge, the PPECB (Perishable Products Export Control Board) has launched a comprehensive Women in Leadership (WIL) Programme. This initiative aims to nurture a pool of talented women equipped with critical skills for leadership and future roles within PPECB and the Agricultural Industry.


In 2023, Free To Grow’s EmpowHER programme was selected to form the core of this initiative. Comprising a blended learning journey, EmpowHER is an accelerated development programme that equips women to successfully transition from leading self to leading others. Customised for PPECB and delivered virtually over eight months, this programme has made a significant impact, as highlighted by PPECB HR Executive, Pinki Luwaca:

Pinki Luwaca, HR Executive

"The EmpowHER programme created a supportive community where women learned, grew, and thrived as leaders, while also advocating for broader societal change promoting gender equality in leadership roles.”

  A blend of complementary learning modules, activities and tools


The 2023 WIL Programme welcomed six delegates and three mentors. For the delegates, a streamlined version of EmpowHER focused on five modules to develop the personal and leadership competencies crucial to the PPECB.

To reinforce the learning between modules, delegates engaged in growth projects that allowed them to apply new concepts and tools directly to their work and lives, bridging the gap between theory and practice. Nontabiso Mthembu, Free To Grow facilitator, observed:

Nontabiso Mthembu, Free To Grow Facilitator

“The transformation in the participants has been remarkable. Through introspection and application of their learnings, they have not only identified personal and professional growth areas but are also actively working to develop them.

Self-awareness is a journey, and these women embraced the opportunity to realise their full potential.”

The WIL programme emphasised the importance of mentors by enrolling the three internal sponsors in EmpowHER’s mentorship track. Recognising the profound impact female role models can have, this component aimed to encourage and guide the delegates by showing what’s possible and equipping the mentors to support their growth. Running parallel to EmpowHER, the mentorship programme consisted of six sessions, focusing on fostering an inclusive environment and building coaching skills.

"I have been so impressed by their authenticity, dedication and leadership," shared Elzaan Bergh, Free To Grow Facilitator. "These mentors have not only championed the growth of the delegates but have also developed themselves, enhancing the collective strength of the leadership at PPECB."

Elzaan Bergh, Free To Grow Facilitator (far left), joins in celebrating the graduation of the mentors at the Closing Ceremony (pictured right).

Free To Grow’s inspirational female facilitators quickly established a strong connection with the participants. By blending engaging activities with meaningful reflection and sharing, they ensured a memorable and impactful learning experience.


Coaching for success


A central pillar of the programme was individual coaching. Both the delegates and mentors had monthly one-hour sessions with one of Free To Grow’s qualified coaches. These touch points, spread over eight months, were key in helping participants address personal challenges and seize growth opportunities.


The participants highly valued this aspect of the programme:


“This coaching was the first time in my life where I could say anything, not be judged and be helped. It made me realise that I have more potential than I thought I had.”


“I find it challenging to ‘unlearn’ things like not taking something personally. The coaching is opening my eyes and helping me become a better person.”

Free To Grow Coach, Senomi de Villiers, reflected on the participants’ progress:

“The growth I’ve seen is truly inspiring. The fact that two participants are now stepping up to be mentors and another two are applying for Chief Inspector positions is a testament to their newfound confidence and the practical skills they've gained to navigate challenges and drive their careers forward.”




To support the programme’s implementation, Free To Grow used Pulse, a reporting tool designed to track the progress and engagement of the delegates. This enabled real-time monitoring of the programme’s application, offering insights into its impact and identifying development areas. Throughout the journey, delegates were asked to assess the different modules and their impact. Here is a snapshot of some of their responses:

Roshon Omar, PPECB Head of Organisational Development and Transformation, is delighted at the contribution of the WIL programme to PPECB’s talent retention strategy.

Roshon Omar, Head of OD & Transformation

“This year’s Women in Leadership programme has been a powerful one, with our future women leaders gaining critical skills for their professional and personal growth. Each delegate, including the mentors, has benefited tremendously from this customized EmpowHer programme with impacts seen on a personal level, within the PPECB and their respective communities.

We have created a powerful group of women leaders who will continue to shine bright as catalysts for change.”

Examples of growth shared by the delegates:


  • “I’ve learned to let go of the past. I’m more confident and will use the tools in my work and life.”

  • "I've embraced a new, positive outlook and am actively seeking feedback for my growth and opportunities to put into practice the knowledge and tools I’ve gained.”

  • It's been a lesson in recognising that every action counts and that I should take every chance to stand out, with humility and respect. Learning to be my own brand ambassador, I understand the importance of presenting my best self."

  • It’s taught me to navigate conflict with assertiveness and helped me understand my role in communication. It's given me the tools to identify different types of aggression, ensuring I can stand firm and express my views clearly in any situation.

  • "In high-stress situations, I've managed to stay level-headed and empathetic, providing support where needed. Open, assertive communication has become my tool for fostering teamwork and seizing every leadership opportunity with both hands."

  • "The programme has been a mirror, helping me get to know myself better and understand my strengths and capabilities. I've gained confidence both as an individual and a team member and understand where I need to improve. This experience has helped me develop as a leader and become more effective in my role.”

In closing


The journey culminated in a graduation ceremony where participants showcased their learnings through short, powerful presentations. In recognition of their dedication and growth, special awards and gifts were presented by PPECB’s CEO, Lucien Jansen, and the HR Team. The celebration was further enriched by an inspirational talk from Rhomona Gounden, CEO of the South African Abalone Export Council, who shared this wisdom:

“One of the most significant lessons I learned is the importance of adaptability and resilience. In an ever-changing industry like agriculture, the ability to pivot and embrace new challenges is paramount. But adaptability alone is not enough, to truly succeed, you must cultivate a mindset of Radical Gratitude, a perspective about finding joy and purpose in your journey, celebrating every small victory and recognising the opportunities that arise from challenges/difficulties.”

Elbie Nieuwoudt, PPECB Organisational Development Specialist and Coordinator of the programme,

expressed immense satisfaction with the rollout, noting:

“The roll-out and content of the Women in Leadership Programme was exemplary, setting a new standard for empowerment and inclusivity in organisational development. The programme not only provided invaluable opportunities to the delegates to enhance their leadership skills but also fostered a culture of support and collaboration.”


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