By Fiona Wakelin
“Do not compare your chapter one to someone else’s chapter twenty.”
As an entrepreneur, leader, and tech enthusiast, Lianne has founded multiple start-ups throughout her career. Lianne’s expertise in business has led her to become the Business Network Director at YPO (formerly Young Presidents’ Organisation) – a global leadership community of chief executives. In this exclusive interview Lianne speaks about leadership, start-ups, pivoting during COVID, bee hives, caring and lifelong learning.
Please describe your role at YPO
I am a Network Director focussing on Leadership Development and Plastics (think circular economy) Networks. I work with CEOs from around the world, helping them become better leaders and better people. I assist with strategy and implementation of my network visions and feel incredibly privileged to work for impactful CEOs who are focusing on business beyond profit. I go to work daily with purpose and conviction and am surrounded by visionaries who are making the world a better place.
As an entrepreneur and tech enthusiast what are some of the start-ups you have founded?
I founded a Talent Agency called Talent Fusion when I relocated from Johannesburg to Cape Town in 2010 that focused on placements in the digital sector and later sold it in 2015. It was such a wonderful way to integrate into a new city and helped build my confidence in the start-up space. Cape Town was such a hub of activity with new ideas and many problems to solve. The community was so welcoming and I value the interactions I had with activists, government, start-ups, corporate and students.
One of my most passionate start-ups is HackOn, working with governments, creatives, corporates and communities who want to have deep discussions around real issues. My latest partnership is with the US Consulate and Silicon Cape, hosting Build Community Hackathons in JHB and CT, finding solutions to real world challenges that South African’s face i.e.: Gender Based Violence.
In 2020, I created The Future Map, a guide to help you address your wants and desires, helping you find flow through a curriculum blurring the boundaries of research, insights and inner wisdom, delivered in love with successful results. I created this to help people focus on one challenge at a time. We are living in a complex world and often get tangled in the thoughts and webs of complexity.
I am an angel investor and partner in Dazzle Angels. Their goal is to solve the radical gender inequality in early-stage investment management and deployment. They believe that 50% of early- stage funding should be managed by women, and invested into women owned or co-founded businesses.
My latest endeavour is called CareConduit. In our society we treat death as a taboo subject and I hope to create spaces for people to have conversations internally and with each other around the discussions and transitions of death. Everyone is going to die, yet it is so infrequently discussed. I believe a life lived well is a death to be celebrated. You will go anywhere if you don’t know where you are going. Helping us identify where we want to go can be the difference between just living and being truly alive.
What do you see as your major milestones?
Lots of synchronistic opportunities followed up by hard work. I had the opportunity to study at Harvard, travel to different destinations that helped me explore and understand different cultures. I love working with anyone who has a passion and drive to change the world. I think you can have milestones that are goals that society sets for you and then there are milestones that change the course of your life.
Moving to Cape Town was a milestone, I had no network, no support but this feeling that this was where I was supposed to be. I met so many wonderful people along the way who have been instrumental to my success and afforded me to work on local and international projects like becoming a certified LEGO® facilitator and working with companies like Google, Amazon, IBM and Intel.
One of my eye-opening milestones was traveling to the UK to raise funding for 11 start-ups in 2014. It felt easier to raise funding for local African start-ups overseas than to raise the same amount in our own backyard. This set me on a course to raise the profile of start-ups, connect them to funding mechanisms and ultimately start investing into founders. Very time consuming, sometimes soul destroying but equally rewarding.
A personal milestone was being a step-parent. I think children are the key to keeping us grounded and centred. Even though I do not plan to have any children of my own I do value the gift of little beings in our lives.
What have been some of your greatest challenges and how did you overcome them?
My most recent challenge has been how to manage COVID, personally and professionally. Many of the events that I assist in facilitating require a physical space, and creating virtual spaces was really a last resort. When COVID hit I had almost 10 events vanish overnight, one of them being the YPO A+ Accelerator due to be hosted in Cape Town. We went from a 1 week in-person event to a 1-month programme, ensuring we had enough time to work through the content in the new format. It was a great growth experience to be surrounded by leaders who drew upon their own resources and fortitude to make the new format work whilst making the best of the experience. The biggest take away was to not try and make in-person fit into virtual, but make virtual its own experience. This subtle shift has really changed the way I think about creating experiences.
I think in the times of COVID the greatest challenges are the smallest challenges that eat away at us every day. The lack of putting ourselves first, not creating good boundaries with our work life balance and mind set.
I am of the opinion that we should not celebrate failure but we should use it as a reflection tool to do better when we know better. Do not let failure define you but equally do not let it stop you from where you want to go.
As a Board member of Girls Do Good please give some background to this initiative
Girls Do Good is a 2018 Kinokuniya Best Book that tells the real stories of eleven superheroes changing the world. With forewords by Nobel Peace Prize Winner Weymah Gbowee and beauty mogul Huda Kattan, this book leverages AR to bring inspiration to readers around the world. My role at Girls Do Good was liaising with the author and publisher during strategy building sessions, distribution efforts and resource planning. It was a wonderful experience to work with the author Jos Dirkx, with her global vision and local execution.
What exciting plans do you have for 2021?
I cannot wait to travel again! During lockdown I retreated back with my extended family in Limpopo which has been a wonderful experience. I am not sure when in my life I would have been afforded this special bonding time with the people I love most.
I am also looking forward to going back to normal and surfing! I miss surfing and the ocean. My plans are simple. Help who I can, connect who I can’t to those that could – and focus on building things that matter.
I hope to finish my Harvard EdX course, continue to build out CareConduit and keep pioneering a path of authenticity whilst building new narratives and breaking stereotypes around what success looks like for young girls.
How do you relax?
I work hard on reminding myself about self-care and try to bring it into my daily routine, from reminding myself to eat well, get enough sleep and drink enough water. I feel most relaxed when I am at peace with my choices. So this year I have really tried to focus on making good choices for my mind, body and spirit and surround myself with people who have the same values.
Right now I am obsessed with headspace and positive Intelligence that help remind me to centre. I really enjoy spending time with people I care about and enjoy creating memorable experiences whether it is a weekend away, a hike, spending time with friends or even something as simple as watering our new found veggie patch.
In beautiful Limpopo there are hills to climb, dams to fish and hammocks to swing in. Relaxing looks different each day but ultimately it is finding daily calm in our own chaos.
If you had an extra hour in the day, how would you choose to spend it?
If I had an extra hour a day, I could fill it with so many things of joy. I would be trying to get my beehives pollinated. I am working towards getting 20 hives to make it commercially viable.
I have a new found respect for nature and completing my Nature Enthusiasts course so you would find me working through my course material and then playing field guide on hikes.
Through YPO we have been afforded the opportunity to study through Harvard EdX and I enrolled in a communication course. I do not think a month goes by where I am not enrolled in something new. I have a fever for learning and seem to be an eternal student and continually creating.
We have a new family puppy, forcing me to be more present and taking up space in my heart and unplanned hours in my day.
Who are your role models?
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who spent much of her legal career as an advocate for gender equality and women’s rights. She stood for what she believed and was a real pioneer.
Jennifer Garner, actress, producer, and entrepreneur, she is an activist for early childhood education and a board member of Save the Children. She is the co-founder and chief brand officer of the organic baby food company Once Upon a Farm. I admire her good nature even through adverse times.
Jacinda Ardern, 40th Prime Minister of New Zealand. She has made an impact around child poverty and social inequality. The way she has handled COVID has shown exemplary leadership.
Leonard Cohen, Canadian singer-songwriter, poet, and novelist. His work explored religion, politics, isolation, depression, sexuality, loss, death and romantic relationships. I loved that he was just who he was and able to so beautifully articulate his feelings.
Do you have a message for the entrepreneurs out there struggling to survive?
Keep it simple, try to solve one problem at a time. You cannot be everything to everyone. Do not compare your chapter one to someone else’s chapter twenty. Surround yourself with people you trust. If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room. The line between following your gut, data and ego can be thin and in the end do the right thing even if it is the hardest. Ask for help, don’t quit, just rest. Do things that bring you peace and set your soul on fire at the same time.
More about Lianne
Lianne du Toit is the Network Director for YPO, a non-profit organisation with its head office in Texas. YPO is the global leadership community of more than 28,000 chief executives in 142 countries who are driven by the belief that the world needs better leaders. Each of its members has achieved significant leadership success at a young age. Combined, they lead businesses and organisations contributing USD9-trillion in annual revenue. YPO members become better leaders and better people through peer learning and exceptional experiences in an inclusive community of open sharing and trust.
As an entrepreneur, leader, and tech enthusiast, Lianne has founded multiple start-ups throughout her career. Lianne’s expertise in business has led her to become the Business Network Director at YPO, a global leadership community of chief executives across the world.
A few examples of Lianne’s endeavours include: founding HackOn, creating The Future Map, recently nominated for South Africa Leadership Trailblazers award in 2020 and winner of Inspiring 50 in 2018. Lianne’s diverse experiences and education from Harvard Business School to providing support as a board member at Girls Do Good has allowed her to develop many skills. Lianne believes in the importance of working hard, dreaming big and actively making an impact. “Be the change you want to see in generations to come.”
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