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November : Celebrating Women Leaders in Forestry - Felleng Yende

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26 November, 2020

Celebrating Women Leaders in Forestry - Felleng Yende

 Celebrating Women Leaders in Forestry - Felleng Yende
Celebrating Women Leaders in Forestry - Felleng Yende


By Joy Crane

In honour of International Women's Month and South Africa's Women's Day in August, Wood SA & Timber Times is celebrating the achievements of women in the forestry and wood-based industries. 

Felleng Yende is at the helm of the Fibre Processing & Manufacturing Sector Education and Training Authority (FP&MSETA). Her dignified presence and strategic leadership approach caused waves of change in the organisation's Board and most definitely in its sub-sectors.

Felleng Yende currently serves as the

  • Chairperson of Ehlanzeni TVET Council
  • Chairperson of the Association of SETA Chief Executive Officers (ASEO)
  • Deputy President of TVETCGC
  • Board member of:
    • The South African Furniture Initiative (SAFI)
    • People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA)
    • The Printing Industries Federation of South Africa.


She has formerly served as a board member of various education, industry and community-based organisations including BHP Billington, and Fort Hare University amongst others

When Felleng arrived at her desk in May 2013, she was ready to roll out a new and innovative business model. In the briefest period, the SETA began transforming from a floundering entity to one where its overall performance increased progressively, from 49% in 2011 to 100% in 2018/19 (audited by AGSA)!

How did you turn the FP&MSETA around?

The FP&MSETA has an onerous business mandate to fulfil. As the CEO, my responsibility is to ensure that each of the 13 sub-sectors, and my team, deliver on their mandate to create an employable workforce in the context of the fourth industrial revolution.

I achieved this through my results-driven methodology, meticulous planning and the management of the execution of strategic projects, all in the context of risk mitigation strategies. It took dedication, determination and personal-sacrifice to ensure that the ship is sailing in calmer waters.

As a leader, I focus on strategy and delivery, and to do this; an organisation must work as a single unit with a common purpose. I made it my ambition to ensure that my team understands the vision and mission of the organisation and their role within the National Skills Development Plan (NSDP). I will not tolerate my staff and management team operating in a silo mentality. We work together and achieve together!

From a business perspective, turning around the challenges and performance of the FP&MSETA into a functional and high performing organisation is something that I reflect on with pride and passion. I love consulting with stakeholders. I am a perfectionist, and listening to ideas and feedback helps me to analyse and conceptualise transformative business models.

Why did you decide to be a public servant?

I am often asked why on earth, I sacrificed a successful and highly paid and incentivised private sector career to become a public servant. It was not an easy decision because I am the sole breadwinner of a young family with two children.

Early in my career, I completed a BA Honours degree in social work. It is my social work background that makes me passionate about helping people and their communities. It has developed into a principled yearning to make a difference in the lives of South Africa's youth and women, and thereby community development.

Despite my achievements in the corporate world, I believe that Development is my true calling. I am glad that I now have the opportunity to make a difference through education and skills development.

Please tell us more about yourself

I feel strongly about transforming the lives of our unemployed youth because they need opportunities to escape the shackles of poverty. I come from humble beginnings myself, and when I see poverty all around me, more especially in the rural areas, it urges me to want to do more.

The social work studies laid the foundation for my master's degree in public and management development. I am presently a PhD student in leadership and 4IR.  I also attained a diploma in integrated marketing communications from the AAA School of Advertising. This has greatly helped me with matters of reputation management, which I believe is something all leaders working in the public space should be conscious of.  I have recently completed a qualification in Business Digital Transformation from MIT to remain relevant.

At home, we are a close-knit family with strong Christian values. My family know I am high performing in everything I do, which means that we are busy even at home. We like to relax with a close circle of trusted friends who share our beliefs and passion for making a difference. We make the most of our time together and give each other space when we need it.

My family, studies, sports like golf and travelling take up my spare time. When I do take a break, I love to read books about leadership, management, cultural diversity across countries, successful people and the impact of the rapid development technologies on every aspect of our lives.

I reflect with pride on having my children and watching them grow up to be responsible adults. It is my best achievement to date.  I am also reading a book on strategy called Blue Ocean Strategy, by Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne.

Do you have any role models that you look up to, both inside and outside your field?

I will always look up to my Mum and Dad. I am humbled by the virtues and values that they left me with, which I have embraced and practice to this very day. When I reflect on the hardships my parents endured to raise me, and the meagre resources that they had at their disposal to ensure that I receive a good education, I must pay tribute to them for the accomplishments I have received throughout my career, including my current position as CEO of a public entity.

I can never discount the influence that President Nelson Mandela, Mamma Winnie Mandela and the likes of Mother Theresa had on my life. These leaders are excellent role models. They have achieved by being unselfish and making huge personal sacrifices. They have put the needs of the people first. They have made an enormous difference to the organisations they served, and have left behind a legacy.

I want the FP&MSETA to make a difference. Respect, responsibility, integrity, honesty and most of all, accountability are virtues and values that are the cornerstone of real success.

Why do you think women should be a part of the forest-based industries? How is being a woman an asset to the industry?

Women are the daughters of the soil, and play a different role in forestry. Women, more especially rural women, have toiled in our plantations for years. Women, by their very nature, have a strong understanding of nurturing and growing industries. Many women have highly specialised knowledge of trees and forests in terms of biological diversity, sustainable management and use for various purposes and conservation purposes. Women are aware of the food and medicinal values of forest products, which are particularly crucial during food crises.

Women make specific contributions to forestry and agroforestry value chains. Policies and practices that empower women in the forest sector yield significant benefits to food security and nutrition and sustainable management of forests.

Facilitating women's participation in forest user groups, improving their access to modern sources of energy and enhancing their access to processing techniques and markets have been found to make a significant difference in the livelihoods of forest-dependent people and their communities.

Are there areas in the wood-based industries that you think are not transforming fast enough?

Without touching a nerve, I really would like to see more women involved in the furniture, sawmilling and wood products industries, more especially at senior management level. I am aware that our women are now playing a significant role in the forestry sub-sector. Still, I do not see the same level of transformation at the top end of the value chain.

What more do you think can be done to assist young and older women living in rural forestry and wood processing plant communities?

I would like to see more subsidies and grants given to women to acquire land for forestry plantations and for more women to obtain land rights and water licences.

I think that more women should be enrolled on forestry learnerships, management and leadership programmes that would provide them with the requisite skills and knowledge.

Are leaders born or nurtured? What advice do you have for young women to overcome roadblocks in their career and to assume leadership positions?

Nature versus nurture is a difficult question. I believe we are all born with the capacity to develop, but not with specific attributes. You must know that being a leader is not the reserve of a few gifted people. Every one of us has the potential to become a great visionary leader.

The starting point is for young women to have a good and sound education foundation. It is also critical to have good role models. A qualification is not enough; it must be complemented by proper coaching and mentoring to ensure that you have the requisite skills and knowledge to grow in your career. Leadership skills are something that we nurture.

There are several hurdles and challenges for women because some of our sub-sectors are too male-dominated. It is up to you as an individual to empower yourself to break into male-dominated environments: it's about breaking the glass ceiling. Qualifications, knowledge and skills will give any woman a competitive edge in the labour market.

Ultimately, if you possess the requisite skills and education, and have confidence in yourself as both a leader and a woman, half your battles are won. We need to lift each other up as women because I believe that empowered women result in future empowered women leaders.

Source: FP&MSETA