Economic Activism

Wendy Luhabe
Wendy Luhabe
Good morning Ladies and Gentleman. I don’t often agree to early morning commitments because I find getting stuck in traffic unproductive unless you have a driver but once in a while, I break my own rules and say yes if I feel the occasion deserves it. Vuyo Ntloko was very persistent, she refused to take no for an answer and I admire that. I began my year on January 1st with a paragliding experience because I wanted to say yes to the things that I am afraid of doing, and to invite new challenges into my life as I approach my 60th birthday.

About 2 weeks ago I was approached to consider joining the Board of World Rugby which I am exploring but that’s not what I have been asked to share this morning. I have been asked to discuss Economic Activism.

How many people have come across the term Economic Activism? A few years ago I was looking for a title that better describes and reflects what I do, my work and my passion over the last 25 years. I decided, given that there are political activists, environmental activists, social activists etc, that I needed to pioneer the idea of an economic activist and therefore I declared myself one, and I use the title on my business cards. Pretty cool don’t you think? Well I think so!

What is my definition of Economic Activism?

Economic Activism involves using economic power for change, it focuses on the idea of using one’s wealth to represent one’s values and seeks to transform an exploitative economic structure. Economic activism is needed now more than ever given the current state of the economy, and the economic inequality that exists in the world. (What do I mean by wealth?) I am referring to financial resources of course but more importantly, I am referring to what most of us have – that is Knowledge, Experience, Wisdom, Time and Skills that we can use to enable others to improve their lives, change their circumstances, their prospects and progress in life.

I would like to advocate for two models.

Firstly, Economic activism through financial resources can be a contribution towards education, charities addressing various causes, socially responsible investing, or a collaborative sharing of resources. For example, participation of women through Wiphold more than 20 years ago.

Socially responsible investments involve investing to drive changes in the marketplace. For example, Wendy Appelbaum took on the Micro lending industry for exploiting poor people and charging them obscene interest rates. This kind of investing should not just be limited to the wealthy in society, it can be done by any concerned citizen who considers themselves a champion for economic justice. We have a responsibility to influence relevant social issues in society e.g, the crisis in education. For example, in 2015 I became a business partner in an initiative pioneered by Partners for Possibility to share my leadership experience with a school in Daveyton.

Secondly, Economic Activism through mentorship of younger generations, giving away clothes through charity in order to help new graduates who cannot afford work-clothes, giving away toys that our children have outgrown, or serving leftover food to the hungry / less fortunate.

The principle behind economic activism is that of sharing, collaboration, giving, empowerment and helping each other to create the kind of communities we want to live in, where everyone thrives and enjoys a decent quality of living.
Ultimately, we need to use our influence to build responsible economies, to reinforce good behaviour and remove economic exploitation from society. This can only be achieved if you and I become Champions of positive change wherever we witness an injustice. Too many businesses are built by exploiting ignorant, uneducated and unsuspecting consumers. When I grew up it was higher purchase, in the last 30 years it has been Micro lending for example.

To conclude, allow me to borrow from Charlene Fadirepo who proposes 4 strategies for everyday economic activism.


Economic activism begins with you and I taking responsibility about how we spend our most important resources – time, money and knowledge / vision / experience. It does not matter if we have a little or a lot, those three resources are the tools we have to shape our lives.
Charlene’s 4 Strategies are the following:

1. Live within our means – this is something my mother taught me at a young age. Financial management and financial intelligence are critical tools in life.

2. Support businesses that are responsible – In Africa we consume things that we do not make and we make things we do not consume. We need to change this equation. We must support businesses which reflect our values and principles. Businesses that do not respect our patronage do not deserve our time or money. (Let me unpack what I mean). $1 circulates in Asian Communities for a month, in Jewish Communities about 20 days, in White Communities about 17 days and guess how long in Black Communities? 6 hours.

3. Invest to career advancement and personal development. We all have gifts but they need to be developed.

4. Build wealth for our family.
We should take responsibility to learn about managing money effectively, controlling debt, save from our earnings and acquire assets that grow over time.
In closing, let me remind you that South Africa’s Apartheid system was brought to its knees by economic boycotts of the 70’s and 80’s. Economic activism therefore is a powerful tool for change.
I would welcome your thoughts and reflections. Thank you ladies and gentleman for lending me your ears.

Wendy Luhabe
March 2016


  1. Mantoa says

    Dear Sisi Wendy.

    What a great inspiring article! I agree, you’re indeed economic activist. I have learned a lot from your mentorship programme and for that I am truly grateful.
    I agree with your 4 financial strategies. People need to be taught to live within their means. This thing of ” middle Class” persons who try to please their peers by buying almost everything on debt is very worrysome. Social networks has made things worse for them ( middle class) because they compete by splashing their 6liabilities opulance! In the process they drown in debt that leads to depression when they lose their jobs. I always tell my friends that “if you’re buying expensive car while you are employed; then you’ll always be ones slave for the rest of your lives” I further tell them that if they could invest what they earn, in few years time they could stop working for bosses. However, it becomes difficult to those who are economically disadvantaged ( those who rely on government grant) . My question here is that; how can we help them? Since the economic situation is not on their side. For instance, things such as food inflation…as the results they ended up borrowing from these unscrupulous loan sharks who charge exorbitant skyrocket interest rates! Because their social grant income is not sustaining them throughout the month.

    I partly agree on how much blacks are enriching the capitalist! How much are these capitalist taking from our black people? These stokvels and burial societies are enriching the banks! Women can save these cash into buying investments that will enrich themselves. Another aspects, mostly blacks do not own businesses and they are barries to capital. Unlike whites; it’s easy for them to access capital from the banks to nourish their ideas. Our Government only funds those who are political connected OR when a person peach the idea, those government people steal it and pass it to theirs in connection. So my point here is that we black people will always enrich capitalist because there’s lack of support on small businesses. Another fact is that; we tend to undermine our own black businesses. We tend to overlook them as inferior to that of white hence most of our rand is spent towards whiteman business.

    On investment on our careers

    Most people feel that process as futility! Because people who lack qualifications tend to be awarded echelon jobs than those who are qualified! During my research, I have found that most of these candre deployes are financial illiterate! How do they read & analys balance sheet? The reasons why we witness the failures of these parastatals ( SOC) . Most of my buddies have MBAs but they are still sitting at managerial levels…How do we motivate people to develop & invest on themselves if they won’t taste the fruits of their labours?

  2. says

    Thanks for the article Wendy. You certainly have captured some key thoughts.

    I like the fact that economic activism as you call is is quite widely defined which really opens up the door for many people to play a role in that space.

    All of us need to use out speakers of influence to bring about positive change and contributor the to the lives of many people.

  3. Bathandwa says

    Very powerful insight on financial intelligence. We need to create platforms for such wealth of knowledge and experience to be shared.

    Thank you Mama Wendy.

  4. Mcebo Vilakati says

    Dear Wendy,

    I have been following your posts for the past 4 weeks and while I was feeling a bit weird about reading what primarily looks like predominantly women material, I am glad to see that you address us as” ladies and gentleman.” I did however scroll back to see whether “gentlemen” was plural for many of us or just “gentleman” for one because I still suspected I may be the only man on this forum.

    Firstly I would like to say thank you for your unparalleled commitment towards social change in days when people are concerned about their own material gains and care less about the enrichment of lives for those around them.

    Just a quick introduction of myself. I am a mid-career professional currently studying a full-time MBA at the University of Leeds Business School in the UK. I spent about 10 years of my life working in the financial services sector, both retail business and corporate banking and insurance as well as other the institute of chartered accountants (SAICA). My compelling reason to work for the institute was driven by a desire to be an agent for social change and it was my way out of the financial services industry which every day was in disagreement with my values and ethics. A new dawn came upon me while I was at SAICA and I realised that, while my role as a social agent for change was beginning to take shape it still had confines and I wanted to do a little more.

    I then decided to leave the employ and I started focussing on public private partnerships with projects aimed at improving the quality of life for people in less privileged communities. I engaged myself in projects such as access to electricity (alternative energy), water and sanitation. I ended up spending 5 years in the rural Eastern Cape and working with impoverished communities whose local governments cared less about development. A lot of my friends and family considered me to have lost my mind as none of these things were going to improve my financial wellbeing or enrich me if at all those of the people I was trying to help.

    Being away from the psychological noise of the big city I began to see things from a different perspective. Indeed when you are in the rural Eastern Cape and you stay in a community where you have to drive 10km to get water from a small murky river which you wouldn’t even wash white clothes in because all the public water taps are dry and have been for months. Where the people rely on rain to fill up their JOJO tanks and they only have God to look up to in the summer months. Nothing had changed, I was still a professional with a University degree and I had to boil water before bathing with it much less cooking with it because of the health hazards associated to it. A lack of proper sanitary facilities and multiple threats to sickness and disease for all these outcast communities while clinics (the few that be) are kilometres away. There were areas where public transport was not available because the road access was not developed.

    While all this is happening the government officials are driving flashy cars and municipal funds are abused for their own benefit at the detriment of thousands of citizens. Having to see this from a different lens changed my life.

    The very same wealthy people were opening rural pubs and flooding the communities with alcohol, which increased irresponsible behaviour, conduct and crime. People live to drink alcohol and that’s all there is to do. Fortunately they still have some natural resources to depend on, such as subsistence fishing for those along the coastal villages. They would fish and feed their families. This also financed the drinking habits, as they would catch a fish a day and sell to the few regular tourists, however this is not a stable income enough to improve their standard of life.

    I have worked with local fishermen to build informal cooperatives where we kept the fish and crayfish in depots and shipped it out once a month to the cities and they could get lump sum payments, which at least helped them contribute to more significant improvements in their homes and kept them away from the local pubs during the day. Was this ever my idea of life? No I was being responsive to the circumstances and making myself a conduit for God’s grace at no profit. I engaged the marine conservation authorities and we educated the locals on marine protected areas and conservation of the ocean. We observed crayfish breeding season and fishing bag limits and release of undersized catches. We raised an awareness that we need to ourselves look after the environment that feeds us as that is all we have.

    Was this good enough? Maybe yes and no. Maybe if a few more people who were involved and a united committed bunch to help alleviate poverty.

    I felt there was a greater need for intervention and probably a more knowledgeable approach. It was then that I decided to go and study abroad. The entire academic year required at least R750k with tuition fees at R500k alone and looking at the past five years this is not money that I had. Nevertheless I wanted to equip myself with the world’s quality education to be able to provide quality solutions.

    Now this brings me to “economic activism,” yes I believe in it and we need more activists who are going to focus on creating value while engaged in the development of firstly their quality of life, the economy and the less privileged.

    Sis Wendy I would like to give you a big thank you and applaud you for developing this platform, which while many will stumble into by sharing these values will one day see through the same lenses and together we learn from each other and make a difference.

    Why am I on this seemingly “women’s” forum? I grew around women with my only two siblings being women, and born by a strong woman who has passed on. Every day I watch the struggles of women, from how much they are expected to do and yet they become victims in society. Victims from abusive men and selfish filthy rich men who see them as sexual objects and mostly victims to crime due to their being defenceless beings.

    As a result of my research study, my one and only objective driven by a desire to contribute towards social change and among other things reducing victimization of women; is to become an economic activist by establishing a ballistics and digital security company. This company in one part will provide bulletproof armour for vehicles owned by the average citizen, with an intention to paralyse the reign of terror towards women on smash and grab and car hijacking instances. This is a product aimed at giving women and those with children the peace of mind and also buy them time while they navigate out of life threatening situations. This is my activism role in helping contribute to a better world and curb crime and make the world the peaceful place that God has given to us as an inheritance.

    Once again thank you Sis Wendy for the platform and I hope next time it will be “greetings ladies and GENTLEMEN”
    By the way a little reminder, we have not met but we did have a short conversation via LinkedIn on the 1st January 2016.

  5. Frank says

    Dear Wendy, thank you for sharing your invaluable insights as we continue to walk amoung the crowd listening, learning and serving in faith, hope and love as servant leaders to be a salt and light.

    “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care” John C Maxwell

    Thank for caring!

    Kindest Regards,

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