What the Laidlaw Scholarship means to me

4 minute read

Paseka Khosa is joining the Oxford MBA in September 2021 as an inaugural Laidlaw Scholar. In her first blog post, she shares her journey to the Oxford MBA and what receiving this scholarship means to her.

August is Women’s Month in South Africa, with the 9th being a public holiday in celebration of Women’s Day. This holiday was declared in honour and commemoration of the 20,000 women who, in 1956, marched to the union building in Pretoria in protest against amendments to the Apartheid laws. 

The new law demanded that women of colour always carry ‘pass books’ or identification documents on them at all times. This was meant to control and restrict their freedom of movement under the Apartheid regime and, if unable to present a pass on request, they were refused access to what was known as ‘whites-only’ areas. This new law represented a system intended to control women even more and reduce them to passive beings, at the mercy of men.

It is therefore fitting that I reflect on what Women’s Day in South Africa means to me personally as I prepare to join the Oxford 2021-2022 MBA cohort in September. 

I am reminded of one of my role models, Lillian Ngoyi, who led the women’s march in 1956. Holding thousands of petitions in one hand, Lillian Ngoyi was the one who knocked on Prime Minister Strijdom’s door to hand over the petitions. She is renowned for her excellent leadership, boldness, energy and superb gift as a public speaker. Lillian was elected president of the ANC Women’s League within a year of becoming a member. Her resilience, fighting spirit and determination to stand up for what she believed in resonates so much with my own convictions. 

I am a firm believer that women make great leaders in society, just as men do, and that we also deserve equal opportunities to participate in society and the economy. This is why I feel so honoured to have been awarded the Laidlaw Foundation Scholarship.

I remember that, shortly after filling in my application to Saïd Business School’s MBA, an overwhelming feeling of discouragement overcame me as I realised that there is no way on Earth I would be able to fund this. It was like I had just experienced an adrenaline high that subsided when reality kicked in. So, I jokingly shared with one of my friends how my highly ambitious self tricked me into believing that this was possible, and we both laughed about it. 

When I saw that the Laidlaw Foundation was launching a scholarship aimed at building a pipeline of future women leaders through access to best-in-class education, resources, and global networks, my hope was restored. I knew that this was the sign I needed to see this through. I read the description of the type of person the foundation was looking for and I saw myself: 'an extraordinary woman with clear leadership potential.' Being one of the first recipients of this scholarship is such a great honour and a huge endorsement of my potential as a future leader; a reminder that I am capable of everything I wish to become. To me, the Laidlaw Scholarship is a reminder that miracles do happen for those who believe and put action into their dreams.

I am a proud Mutsonga, born and bred in the small, red-soiled town of Giyani in Limpopo, South Africa. My academic background is in mining engineering and business administration. When I decided to study mining engineering at undergraduate level, many people said that this career isn’t for women, especially women of my stature (short, thin and ‘tiny’). My response was: 'If people like me never get into these spaces, then they will remain spaces not meant for us; it is up to us to change this narrative.' I believe representation is the most effective driver of any revolution. As such I am devoted to 'being the change I want to see in the world.'

This experience taught me that circumstances do not have to limit my dreams, no matter how ‘improbable’ they may seem. So, I made it my life’s mission to be an advocate for unwavering belief in oneself. I want young girls to look at me and my life and be affirmed that their dreams are valid and possible, despite any limiting labels (Black, female, underprivileged, disabled etc.) society might place on them. 

My hope is that this opportunity will open doors for me to gain global professional experience to continue challenging the status quo. I want women of all ages and backgrounds to look at my life and see possibilities for what they thought they could never dare to try.

So, as I prepare to put the life I know on hold to pursue my wildest dreams in Oxford, amidst all the anxiety that may come with this and a pandemic, I am reminded of the relentless Lillian Ngoyi and her peers. They defied the odds and boldly challenged the status quo. I am reminded that being in this position as one of the first women ever to receive the Laidlaw Scholarship and a place at one of the most prestigious business school's MBA programmes in the world, I owe it to those women of 1956 and many others across the globe. So, I plan to seize this opportunity, give it my all and to one day pay it forward.