Fatima Shabodien is the Country Director at ActionAid South Africa where they inspire through a movement of people who work together to be able to further human rights and to be able to defeat poverty and help those communities living in a struggle. 


I was inspired to do what I do based on being a part of the liberation struggle since I was young. I was always passionate about women’s rights, as it connected strongly with my personal value system – I knew that equality was important. My career in the development sector has allowed me to build on my activism and to contribute to realizing justice in the world.

My dream job, as a kid, was to be a truck driver because I can’t remember why, but I am glad that it didn’t come to fruition.

I define success as follows: To be able to make a meaningful contribution and to fulfill your life potential. I believe we all have gifts and we can use them to create a difference in the lives of those around us.

If I could go back in time, professionally-speaking, I would change the fact that I spend so much time on strategy and managing. I like being in the field where I can see the change our work is making in real terms.


The best decision I have ever made was to go back to school after failing grade 11. I had been very involved in political activism, so I didn’t prioritize my academics. My older sister, who is a huge inspiration to me, convinced me to go back and repeat the grade, which catapulted me through my tertiary studies and even in to post graduate qualifications. I believe that if I hadn’t gone that route, my life would be decidedly different to what it is today, and that the quality of life I have experienced would not have been as good. It’s one of the reasons why I am so passionate about education – I have personally experienced how life changing it can be. 

My parents only finished primary school but within one generation, my siblings and I have managed to obtain high levels of education, changing the trajectory of our family and our own lives.

The worst decision I have ever made was to spend time questioning myself. In my 20’s, I lacked confidence and I was always concerned about other’s opinion of me. If I could speak to my younger self now, I’d tell her to believe in herself and not to be preoccupied with the judgments of others, or what I thought they believed of me.

My best ‘switch off’ strategy is to cook up a storm and to fill my table with good friends, to eat and talk the night away.  I love cooking, as I grew up in a culture where food plays an important role on most occasions. It was how we celebrated. I also do road running and completed my first Comrades Half Marathon this year. When you’re pounding the pavement, it’s all you can think about. Your mind clears, you can hear your heart beating in your ears and nothing else matters.


The leadership qualities I most admire are…authenticity. Without a doubt, anyone who is authentic, a woman farmer or a political leader, gains my respect as they are true to who they are and what they stand for, regardless of their context.

The woman that inspires me is my mother because she was a trailblazer. She was a factory worker in the 1970s and when she was retrenched from her job, she took the opportunity and became the first female township  taxi driver in the Western Cape. She defied the gender stereotype and gave her children the courage to define all stereotypes in life.

My life’s motto is Be guided by your conscience.


I think the most significant barrier to female leadership is the lack of solidarity and support women have for each other.

The biggest challenge for the generation of women behind me will be the lack of tradition of activism as it was for us in the context of the anti-apartheid era.  My generation grew up in a society where activism was normal and we developed strong solidarity with each other. Young people today don’t have that experience and their struggles are singular, instead of communal.  Future generations will also grapple with a lack of understanding of structural causes of women’s oppression, which will limit their opportunities in life.

My top three tips for women in business are:

  1. Don’t doubt yourself.
  2. Build solidarity with other women.
  3. Become the expert at what you do.


My personal message to the world is don’t be a passenger in life: participate, get involved. Action is what makes the difference. We all have the power to create the world we dream of.

Mentorship is important to me because people who have gone before us have learnt hard lessons and in most instances, have experienced some pain and suffering along the way. The next woman to come along doesn’t have to repeat the same mistakes – yes, she has her own path to walk but she doesn’t have to endure all the agony and stress of her predecessors. She can stand on our shoulders.

I believe support/giving back to the community is important because we have a shared development destiny and we are all connected and linked in some way., even with people on the other side of the earth.



If you were to visit my city, I would personally recommend that you visit my home town is Cape Town, and I highly recommend that visitors enjoy the beauty of our mountains and oceans. Then venture on to the Cape Flats to experience the vibrancy, dynamism and resilience of the people.


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