Advice to girls: find your people, find your space


  by QW+ staff writer

Advice to girls: find your people, find your space

October 11 was International Day of the Girl Child.

Since Quote This Woman’s mission is to amplify women+ voices in the media, it follows that the voices of girls are important to us. Many girls are silenced, all around the world, all the time. But our aim is to #LeaveNoVoiceBehind.

How then could we say something useful to mark the occasion?

Our founder Kathy Magrobi pointed out that we have a teenage girl on our database of women+ experts – the 13-year-old Stacey Fru. It seemed a good idea to hear that voice – and the idea of a dialogue was born.

We approached Charleen Duncan, another member of our database, to be part of this mini-project. Charleen is passionate about entrepreneurship and how to foster those skills in young people, and she said yes with enthusiasm.

The topic was broad: talk about how to amplify the voices of girls, and let the dialogue flow.

The full transcript of the resulting dialogue is carried below.

First though, here are some of the insights shared.

From Stacey:

* Girls who want to speak about issues that trouble them need to create a platform for themselves.

* To do that, finding a support system is important.

* You are not alone in your struggles! “There is someone out there who’s willing to listen, to support you.”

* Be patient – take your time to find your people and find your space.

* Boys need to be uplifted as well. And they need to listen!

* For girls experiencing hardship: there is a lot of negativity, which we tend to think up on our own. Focus your energy on something positive.

* If you feel uncomfortable talking to other people, find a way of releasing your stress and emotions: draw, write poetry.

* Use modern technology to learn new skills.

From Charleen: 

Being entrepreneurial means learning how to take a risk, learning how to be confident, how to be creative. If you are opportunity driven, you should be able to see the gaps and the opportunities. 

Stacey Fru is a teenage South African international multiple award-winning author, philanthropist, activist and motivational speaker who was honoured by the Egyptian President at the World Youth Forum as one of five Most Promising African Youth. Stacey, who wrote her first book at age 7, is dedicated to inspiring and “edutaining” people of various ages.

Charleen Duncan is the director of the Centre of Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI) at the University of the Western Cape.


(the text has been edited for length and clarity)

Charleen: Stacey, thank you very much for agreeing to chat to us. I’m not sure if there’s anything that you’d like to say before I start?

Stacey: Hi to everyone. And I hope everyone’s having a good day. 

A screenshot from the October 12 Zoom dialogue. with Charleen top right and Stacey in the bottom row.

Charleen: We are!

Renee Moodie  (from Quote This Woman): I just wanted to say thank you to both of you for doing this. You’re both giving up very precious time. 

Charleen: Thanks. Stacey, I want you to be relaxed. I’m just going to have a conversation with you. And I read up quite a bit about you, so I’m completely blown, impressed, wowed, you’re pretty amazing. And I thought, let me just tell you a bit about me… I think the most important thing when I talk to people about who I am, I always say I am a mom first and foremost. So I have a daughter your age and she’s also just  started high school. And I have a son who is 21. And he’s studying at the University of Cape Town. Social Development. And I have a daughter, who’s 23, and she’s a fourth year med student also at UCT. I work at the University of the Western Cape. I am the director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. So I work with all students, irrespective of which faculty they’re in, and we teach entrepreneurial mindsets. So not always in an academic program, but through teaching them to be creative and innovative and coming up with ideas. And if you’re wanting to start a business, you know how to go about doing that. We also teach in a more formal way – we teach dentistry students, because many of them go on into private practice. We do teach in the pharmacy space as well. Yeah, so that’s me in a nutshell. I live in Cape Town. And I’m very, very excited to be having a conversation with you. I did a lot of Stacey digging. I listened to a recent interview – I know about your siblings, and I know about your travels. I know about your books, and I think you’ve done a pretty awesome job. And I had to prepare because I was quite nervous about having a conversation with you today. I was very intimidated by how wonderful you are. 

Stacey: I feel comfortable and I’m ready for anything.

Charleen: Okay, perfect. Thanks, Stacey. So, Stacey, I don’t know how much you know about what we’re going to be talking about today, I think we pretty much got the same kind of emails. But I know that Quote This Woman wanted to talk a bit about it being International Day of the Girl Child. And the theme around that basically is about my voice, our equal future, and the hashtag is leave no voice behind. And so I want to go dig a bit more about what this theme means. And there were three things that came up when I went digging, the one was around living free from gender-based violence. The second was learning new skills. And the third area was to be a generation of activists, and you tick all of those boxes … I think as an author, as somebody who’s actively involved in a foundation, and as a public speaker, you have the perfect opportunity to be able to impact other young women. And so, one of the things that I read about you, and if I’m wrong, please correct me, was the book that you wrote about Tim’s Answer. And Tim went to America and two different countries to try and find an answer, a role model. And the answer was right in his own South Africa, right where he found himself…  So the first thing I’d like to talk to you about is you as a role model. How do you see yourself as a role model for other young women and other adolescents? And what are the things that you think that you can use to be able to encourage young women to have a voice? And to have a say about things that matter to them?

Stacey: Yes. So how I see myself as a role model, I think I see myself as someone who can be looked up to. But when I think of a role model, I don’t think of someone who is perfect, who has perfect qualities. It’s just someone who is following or impacting the community using your different morals. So when I see someone who finds me as a role model, I think I would say, I feel very appreciated. And I feel very happy when I see those type of people coming into my life, because then the realization kicks in that, okay, I am actually creating an impact. And it inspires me to do more. And what I would say to the young women, the young ladies, young girls who want to speak up about issues which trouble them, who are too afraid, or who do not have the platform is to create one. And to create a space, create a support system in which you feel comfortable, would help you in the future, and would support you and your voice because you cannot go far without those few people who are always by your side supporting you.

Charleen: Okay, you go right into my next question. I think being a mom and having my own kids and listening to you tell about your support structure, in terms of your siblings, and your support structure in terms of a family. And, as a woman, I also have a really great support system. And that is why I’m able to do the things that I do, I wouldn’t be able to, I recently completed a master’s degree while working full time. And I would not have been able to do that if my husband didn’t cook every night so that I could, have time to sit and do my work. So those support systems become very important. But I think we also know, Stacey, that there are many young girls and women in South Africa, who don’t have a support system, who don’t have a mom or dad or sister or friend or an auntie who is there to support them? What would you say to young women who don’t always have the support that you and I have benefited from? And is there any advice that you can give them, any practical tips that you can think of when you see a young woman with very little support, and you’re wanting to build her to be able to have a voice.

Stacey: So what I would say to those women in particular who do not have a support system, and I always like to quote one of my favorite quotes by Jaguar D Saul, which says no one is born into this world to be alone. So you are obviously not alone in your struggles. You’re not alone in whatever challenges that you’re facing. There is someone out there who’s willing to listen, support you and be sort of your guide and your guidelines. So I think that it takes a lot of patience. Because time is very key when it comes to finding the right people, you don’t want to jump the gun and just share your problems with everyone, because there are some really bad people in this world. So take your time to find your people and find your space and just know that you aren’t alone in whatever struggle that you’re going through.

Charleen: That’s excellent advice. Stacey, do you want to tell us a bit more about the foundation, and in line with this theme, in line with what we’re talking about now? What are the things that the foundation is doing? Or do you maybe have a vision for the future? How can the foundation support young women in terms of creating the spaces, the safe spaces that we talked about, the tools and the skills that we’re talking about so that they can have a voice and can have a space where they are free to be able to talk about what they’re feeling.

Stacey: So in the foundation, our focus is not specifically women, we focus on both genders, because I think it’s really important that boys are uplifted as well. And I think that how the foundation supports and encourages this type of culture is going back and having these sessions with the children and speaking to them about the ups and downs of doing certain things, as well as contributing to them positively. We contribute a lot of educational things,  get them in this mindset in which education helps them a lot to do daily activities. So we focus primarily on education, and safety and security. And we encourage a lot of that in these schools and these homes and these underprivileged areas….

Charleen: Stacey, I love the idea that you say it’s equally important to have young boys and young men listen to the message, because we can’t change the world, we can’t impact the world if it’s only our voices. Can you give me a practical tip? And I’m thinking along with you… you are encouraging me to think alongside you. But if you were to give a young boy, adolescent boy a message today, in terms of why it’s important for a young woman to have a voice? What would Stacey say?

Stacey: I think I would tell a boy, probably around my age, since I am of that age, I would tell them that it is important for young women to have voices. Because there’s a lot that goes unsaid. And there’s a lot of misfortune when it comes to women in particular with gender-based violence. And that many women have been shut down or pressed for many years because they have not felt comfortable, or society hasn’t been accepting of their answers. So now that we’ve moved to a stable society in the states of mind where we can have open discussions about these topics, the boys should listen.

Charleen: Thanks for that, Stacey. I want to spend some time talking about the learning of new skills as well. And just before moving to that, there is this notion of hope that’s a big thing for us as South Africans. And alongside of hope there is also the idea that as a country,  we’ve learned – it’s almost innate, it’s part of our DNA – that we are able to persevere, that’s almost part of our genetic makeup in terms of the journey that we’ve been on. What would your message be to young women? If you think about hope, and you think about perseverance, especially where there are women who feel inadequate, or young girls, we’re really experiencing hardships, what would your message be to them?

Stacey: My message to these young girls who are experiencing hardship or to these women experiencing hardships is that there is a lot that can go through the human mind. There is a lot of negativity, which we tend to think up on our own by ourselves. No one is putting these ideas into our head. But we just sort of create this notion and create these ideals in our head that we are going down the wrong path, that we are bad people, that we are in a bad situation. But once we are able to change our mindset and focus our energy on something more positive, something more optimistic, you can focus on the people that you love, you can focus on things that you love. And I think that a lot of the hardship that you are going through becomes more easy to deal with. And I know this because a lot of bad thoughts can be running through your mind and it can slow you down. It can make you lazier, unmotivated, it can make you angry and stressed. And a lot of it affects your personal relationships, and it affects your activities, and your day to day life. So you just need to find the time to focus this energy on positivity, and try and stay more positive more often. And of course, talk to someone. As I said, building a support system is very important. So for you to have that one person or multiple people, which you can talk to, that can also be very, very stress-relieving.

Charleen: I mean, that’s amazing. I believe that mindset is everything. I spoke earlier on about how we teach an entrepreneurial mindset, and that is about competencies. And so, that is vital. A lot of the time it’s about the way we think and what we think and what we allow into our minds, I really like the idea of finding that one person, finding that safe space, what you put in is what you get out, I think that that’s a really powerful message. And thank you very much for that Stacey.

Stacey: A lot of the time, people are uncomfortable discussing emotions with other people, I’m the type of person that doesn’t like to talk, I feel like, if you ask me how I’m doing I’ll say, okay, regardless of how I actually feel, so, a lot of the time, you can pick up other hobbies, you can start drawing, you can write poems, you can write short stories. There’s a lot of other release methods, if you aren’t comfortable speaking to someone, or if you haven’t built that type of support system yet in your life. So, there are other ways to relieve stress other than talking to someone. I know that a lot of people are uncomfortable discussing how they feel either from getting hurt in the past, or, not growing up having that type of relationship within the home can affect how you feel in the future.

Charleen: I know that you play the guitar, and we know that you write. Are those some of your  mechanisms, tools that you use? And if so, can you just talk a bit more about that.

Stacey: So I think I write poems a lot… I would write about how I’m feeling but in a very non obvious way, because, um, it’s just not cool making it so obvious. It’s not airy. I think when I’m feeling down, I like to draw, I take time, I draw my favourite characters from my favourite TV show, I will look pictures up and just draw them or draw from my imagination, but I write poems more often than I draw when it comes to release. 

Charleen: Okay thank you. Thank you for sharing that, Stacey. I’m going to move on and please, if there’s anything that you want to say, add on, interrupt me stop me and say I’d like to add this to that because I think you have a sense of the broader theme that we’re talking about. Remember I said there were three elements to the theme for this year, and one of those elements speaks to learning new skills. And you’ve linked the skills a bit to the first section by saying that there are many ways you can deal with stress, and one of those ways is to draw, write, to dance, to play an instrument, and so developing new skills in terms of being able to relieve yourself from stress, or to find another channel, to be able to channel some of your frustrations is quite healthy. But for me, the idea of entrepreneurship, the idea of generating your own income, whether it be as an entrepreneur, whether you work in a more formal environment, I think, and I speak about this from my own personal experience, I’ll share a little bit of my own story with you… I got divorced at the age of 28. And at the time that I got divorced, I had two babies, my older two kids and one of the things that enabled me to get out of that bad marriage that I was in rather quickly was the fact that I was earning my own income and that I had a good education, I had a good job. And I believe that that was one of the reasons that I could get out of that quite quickly and move on with my life. And so for me, one of the things that I tell my own daughters, I tell my students as well. But more importantly, with my own daughters it is to encourage them to have financial independence and to encourage them to understand why that is important – for many reasons, but linked to gender based violence, linked to independence, etc, etc. So I just wanted to give you just a little bit of that. Just in terms of learning new skills, and particularly entrepreneurship, because I think many South Africans are able to become entrepreneurs, like I said, to be resilient, and we know how to persevere. And those are some of the things that you need to become a successful entrepreneur. Do you have any thoughts, any ideas, any insights around learning new skills on the one hand, and secondly, your thoughts around entrepreneurship.

Stacey: So, in terms of learning new skills, I think that in recent years, with the whole development of the Internet, and online accessibility, and these online platforms, learning new skills has become increasingly easy, you can find a tutorial online for almost everything these days, there are free courses on how to, you know, create your own website to create your own platform, and even school now, they encourage us to create our own mini apps, which we use within our classmates. So with the creation of social media, and these platforms on the internet, and how easily accessible it is, and how easy it is to find information, then learning new skills becomes extremely easy and extremely open to many people if you do have the access to these things. So especially during the lockdown, where many of us were stuck at home with our technology, it inspired us to go and look at new things, look for new things. And so new skills is something that can be easily done with the creation of technology. And I encourage much, people that I know, people in my home, I know a lot of my friends did pick up digital drawing over the lockdown, they started creating their own YouTube channels where they put out videos… So a lot of them have started these new skills which are impacting them in a good way as well. And my views on entrepreneurship, as you said, many South Africans are able to go into this space and thrive. But also to be an entrepreneur, it takes hard work. And you have to be very dedicated to what you were doing to actually make the business or make your startup work. But it’s also easier because now we have the Internet, we have all these platforms where you can sell yourself, you can go and sell yourself more easily than I would have been a few years ago… The internet has open platforms for many people.

Charleen: I like that you talk about technology, because I think that’s important. We have coined new terms. Recently I wrote an article on whether it is viable to become a techpreneur? And, it was interesting to see the response around technology and the fact that you talk about online tools, you can teach yourself almost anything. We’ve seen what COVID has done in terms of economy, in terms of education, and how important technology as a tool has become. So I really like the idea, I think that there’s a lot of talk around women and technology and how women respond to technology. Are you doing any work, Stacey, in your foundation, or have you done any talks  in particular to young women with reference to technology?

Stacey: Um, no, I haven’t done any talks on technology specifically.

Charleen: So that’s what I prepared. I think there’s a lot that Stacey shared. There are very nice themes. I like the fact that she spoke about why it’s important for women to have a voice. Stacey, you spoke about the mindset, you spoke about the different release channels, you spoke about the importance of the support system. You spoke about the message to young boys and you spoke about your foundation and how your foundation could support some of this and I really like the ideas that you spoke about – technology and how important it if for young women to see technology as something that is a resource and something that can assist them in learning, in education, in broadening their horizons and their perspectives. I think that those are really powerful things. When I talk about the entrepreneurial mindset, I talk about how do you learn to take a risk, how do you learn to be confident, how do you learn to be creative, how do you learn to see opportunities to be more opportunity driven. And those competencies you don’t only use when you become an entrepreneur. When you start a foundation, when you work in academia, if you’re working corporate, if you’re a journalist, those are the kinds of skills that you need, because they will set you aside. If you are opportunity driven, you should be able to see the gaps and the opportunities. And I’m sure you do that, Stacey, you’re able to see which communities do I need to work in. I know you’ve been to Ghana, it’s one of my favorite countries. I have a huge interest in the informal economy. And a lot of my work that I do, research that I’ve done, is around the informal economy. And so going to Ghana, for me as an example, I saw that as a as a perfect opportunity because 80% of Ghanaians work in the informal economy, and so I’m sure you’ve done some research when you’ve been to India, and you’ve been to Egypt – those are those are things and that’s a skill set that you need. And so if we are able to impart those skills, or we can share those skills, when you do your school visits and through the foundation, I think that that will be very powerful. That’s the kind of mindset that we need young women to have. 

Stacey: Thank you so much. 

Charleen: Thank you, Stacey. I really enjoyed chatting to you and meeting you. And I’d like to keep in touch with you. And when we can travel and things are normal… I do come to Johannesburg quite often. It would really be great to have a coffee with you sometime. Keep on doing awesome work, you’re really cool.