I was inspired to do what I do based on…

My personal experience. The idea to start 18twenty8 came to me in October 2008. I was 28 years old at the time and I reflected upon the previous ten years of my life, what I had achieved professionally, academically and emotionally since completing high school at the age of 18. I felt that I would have gone much further if I had had someone mentoring and supporting me. So, at 28, I decided to provide the support that I didn’t have when I was 18, to other young women. That is what inspired the name 18twenty8.

Tertiary education is prohibitively expensive and young women who are academically-competent are forced to stay at home while they apply for funding or jobs in order to earn an income to pay for their education. This is demoralizing, makes them more susceptible to social ills, causes frustration and unnecessary delays for their personal development. The 2011 census showed that only 12% of South Africans have completed higher education and 28% have completed Grade 12. Women account for 27 million of the total population of 51 million and 35% of them are unemployed versus 26% of men.

Most of our beneficiaries are the first in their families to complete Grade 12 (let alone enroll at university). In addition to financial constraints, the lack of positive role models and academic mentors is another reason for university drop-outs as the girls lack someone familiar who can relate to their tertiary challenges. As we celebrate our 5th birthday in 2014, 18twenty8 aims to grow and continue inspiring more girls by exposing them to empathetic mentors and helping them make uninterrupted transitions from high school, to university and ultimately the world of work.

My dream job, as a kid, was … because …

I had all sorts of dreams as a child! At one point I wanted to be a music producer, a figure skating champion or a show girl at Sun City Casino – I used to love the girls in the Sun City Extravaganza show! They were so glamorous and elegant and their glittery outfits were beautiful. Then I wanted to be a judge.

I define success as follows…

Success is the ability to go from one failure to the next with no loss of enthusiasm.

If I could go back in time, professionally-speaking, I would change…

Nothing. Each experience has been a unique lesson on its own.


The best decision I have ever made was…

Starting 18twenty8. Coming from an Economics and TV acting background, it was daunting to make the transition to a new sector as there was a lot to learn and relationships to foster. I was nervous and excited but understood that there was a need for a 100% women-led organization for young women coming from disadvantaged communities that focused on improving their access to higher education and boosting their personal development.

The worst decision I have ever made was…

Dyeing my hair a light brown / orange colour after Matric. It dried out like hay and fell out!

My best ‘switch off’ strategy is…

Yogalates and listening to jazz


The leadership qualities I most admire are…

Consistency, professionalism and hard work

The woman that inspires me is … because …

My mother Dr Tuleka Mkula for the crucial and positive role she has played in my life.

My life’s motto is…

Don’t expect anyone to do anything that you cannot do, have not done and will not do.


I think the most significant barrier to female leadership is…

Calling it “female leadership”. Removing “female” implies that leadership, unqualified, is the birthright of all genders except the feminine. I don’t think that leadership can or should be defined by gender.

The biggest challenge for the generation of women behind me will be…


My top three tips for women in business are…

  • Invest in yourself – your business needs you at your physical, emotional, intellectual, mental and spiritual peak
  • Network and align yourself with positive business leaders for referrals and opportunities
  • Leave the door open for the next business leader

My personal message to the world is…

In two songs by the O Jay’s (which is my all-time favourite group) “Love train” and “We’re all in this thing together”

Mentorship is important to me because…

The guidance and advice I’ve received from my mentors across the education, business and social development sectors has given me the confidence I needed to challenge myself (without being overly self-critical) and to make better, more calculated decisions

I believe support/giving back to the community is important because…

I had the honour of attending a talk by Mr Allan Gray himself when I started my career at Allan Gray in Cape Town in 2007. When asked about his philanthropic endeavours and why giving back is important to him, he said that he disliked the phrase “giving back” because it implied that he had taken something away. Mr Gray preferred being called a “continuous contributor” and I’ve since borrowed the expression from him.

I think that all of us are continuous contributors no matter how insignificant we think our contributions are. This is important because it reinforces the fact that we each have the capacity to make the world a better place.


  • If you were to visit my city, I would personally recommend that you visit/see/do …
  • The Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens in Roodepoort  – perfect for spring and summer picnics especially if there is a live musical concert www.sanbi.org/gardens/walter-sisulu
  • Table Mountain in Cape Town – 8th natural wonder of the world www.tablemountain.net
  • Newtown Cultural Precinct in Johannesburg – for the art galleries, the music, the theatrical productions and African cuisine www.southafrica.com/gauteng/johannesburg/newtown

Board Memberships:

Independent Schools’ Association of Southern Africa (ISASA) Mathematics and English Board
African Leadership Academy – Student Enterprise Program
Brightest Young Minds

Business Network Profiles:

U.S. President Barack Obama’s 2012 Young African Leaders’ Initiative

U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama’s 2011 Young African Women Leaders’ Forum
Spark Changemakers – an Australian initiative for Social Entrepreneurs


Refiloe was also the Grand Prize winner of the Elizabeth Arden “Make A Visible Difference” Campaign.

Photo credit: Elizabeth Arden


The best way for readers to connect with me is:

Through the 18twenty8 facebook page: www.facebook.com/18twenty8

Twitter:  @18twenty8

Website: www.18twenty8.org

Email:     info@18twenty8.org

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