Colleen Larsen F. Inst. D

Business Engage Association NPC

What does your company do?

Business Engage is an exciting and inventive organisation at the forefront of strategic thinking on gender mainstreaming in the private sector. The vision is to ensure that Africa becomes the hub for gender mainstreaming whereby good news stories are shared with the rest of the world rather than relying on international data to benchmark our success. Currently participation recorded in South Africa, Botswana, Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda and now expanding into UAE. Business Engage is non-profit company with a group of currently 115 large and listed companies collaborating on issues of gender mainstreaming across Africa. The model is a contribution model to the overall initiatives that Business Engage undertakes rather than a membership model. The company has its level 4 BBBEE rating and has a valid tax clearance certificate. The Chief Executive and founder of Business Engage is Colleen Larsen. The two non-executive directors are Dr Shirley Zinn ( and Mamokete Ramathe ( In addition to that, every participating corporate appoints a steercom member. When we all get together, there are 140 ladies driving the initiative. The Business Engage offering is split into 3 groups : • Engage Stakeholders • Build • Connect ENGAGE STAKEHOLDERS : - Connected Workplace – a corporate spends time during an allocated session sharing their best practice with other corporates in terms of diversity, disability, etc. Recording on - UN Women 7 Women Empowerment Principles – This is different from the He for She initiative and provides corporates with practical tools to facilitate diversity and inclusion initiatives and to collaborate with other companies in this regard through a community of Best Practice which meets monthly. Business Engage works closely with UN Women in South Africa in this regard and manages the Community of Best Practice that has been established locally to drive more signatories and sharing of best practice. A toolkit is in the process of being developed incorporating this, the International Labour Organisation Participatory Gender Audits and various other available tools corporates may adopt to drive more impactful gender mainstreaming. - Gender Mainstreaming Awards Africa – hosted annually to reward corporates for the work they do in gender mainstreaming, to inspire other corporates to do the same and then to break down the silos between corporates to enhance the work that is done in gender mainstreaming. Individual categories reward individuals supporting the agenda in Africa. In 2023, we hosted 5800 people across Africa online, and then at physical events : 600 in South Africa, 250 in Kenya and 100 in Ghana and 50 in Nigeria. There are 8 categories for corporates and 3 individual categories. Recording of the 11th event on k2GhS5mdRVc?feature=share - Research – All of the JSE-listed companies have to have a board gender strategy. Annually Business Engage does research into these companies – what are they saying and are they producing results in terms of their strategies. As a result of this, the Board Masterclass Series was developed. See more details on this below. It is our intention to explore research opportunities in East and West Africa to ensure opportunities for more female participation in the entire talent pipeline. Business Engage is developing compute capacity to upscale research on the African continent. - Corporate Gender Intelligence Event for International Women’s Day. High level speakers from across Africa, both men and women addressing the topic. “Corporate Gender Intelligence”. The aptitude of an organisation to acknowledge the business case for gender mainstreaming and the ability to acquire and apply the necessary knowledge, skills and processes to harness such qualities.” In other words, Corporate Gender Intelligence is a company’s acknowledgement of the blended synergistic solution that is achieved through an appreciative balance of masculine and feminine perspectives in doing business, and the ability to apply this. It is what brings about the “aha!” moment in problem-solving and often amazing turnarounds in business thinking that enables long-term progressive growth and favourable bottomline. This is a mixture of motivation, panels, keynotes and workshops. Recording of the last event on BUILD - Board Masterclass Series - It is important to have a focused development agenda for future board members who will take on these and other board roles. The development agenda is to have a deliberate focus on accelerating readiness for candidates (men as well as women) to compete when the roles become available. Hence the BMS which incorporates practical Masterclasses on particular topics to develop rounded board members providing the talent pipeline of the future. These 3 hour Masterclasses are spread throughout the year from 16h00-19h00 in the evenings. See for more information. We aim to secure facilitators from East Africa to replicate this programme. We are also developing an initiative where candidates who complete the programme are given opportunities on boards as observers, groomed by existing board members. We have had success in these candidates securing additional opportunities to be on boards as fully registered directors. - A book of 28 of the 30 Masterclass Sessions has been published. See Each attendee of the Board Masterclass Series receives a copy of the book. - Gender Matters : A practical guide to the slippery ladder – a book with leadership lessons for leaders growing their careers – launched May 2023. See - LeanIn Circles – cross corporate group mentorship, as well as in-house programmes are being run. This is part of the international LeanIn programme which incorporates 140 topics on growing a career and showing up. - A cross corporate mentorship programme is also being developed. CONNECT It must be noted that Business Engage does not reinvent the wheel. As such, if a similar programme is being run in the region, we would rather support the existing programme rather than compete eg the Women on Boards Network webinars in East africa, so programmes such as the BoardWalk may not be rolled out in the region. Cross regions ; we may collaborate on events across the continent. - A calendar of events which are scheduled almost monthly or twice a month (see recordings on; Calendar of events on o BoardWalk – A guest speaker on a board topic and then facilitated conversations with seasoned board members o LeadersWalk – Similar format, however conversation is more around broader leadership. - Voices of Change - Voices of Change seeks to encourage both men and women to be at the forefront of gender equality and play a leading role. It also aims to demonstrate how global organisations, irrespective of their business purpose, can come together to work towards common goals. Currently 15 companies collaborate in creating this one day event which is a mixture of motivation, panels, keynotes and workshops. Recordings on eXBA6ESMHqU;; nRfSqh9QNSE and Participation also includes monthly growth sessions. See - Many opportunities are available for leaders within the organisations to host groups, speak and/or to participate at these various events.

What is your biggest success?

Our greatest achievement has been significantly advancing gender mainstreaming across Africa through Business Engage. We have expanded our influence across multiple African countries and into the UAE. By engaging stakeholders, building capacity through our various initiatives which are deliberate and consistent, connecting leaders across the continent, and sharing best practice, we have fostered a collaborative environment for over 115 large companies. This achievement is a testament to our vision of making Africa the hub for gender mainstreaming, sharing success stories globally.

What has been your biggest hurdle?

The biggest hurdle we faced in advancing gender mainstreaming through Business Engage has been the capacity to handle all of the expansion which over the last two years has been exponential. The model of contributions was innovative to get the organisation to the level we are now, however as a number of the contributions are in kind, the current team is stretched to handle the fast expansion. Expanding our influence across Africa and into the UAE required persistent efforts to engage stakeholders and build trust which at some times was difficult to fit everything in. Our collaborative approach with 115 large companies and the support of leaders across the continent has been crucial and we had to engage with these virtually to ensure compatability. More time to connect in person would have been preferable.