Getrude describes herself as a social serial entrepreneur.

Others have described her as ‘a vibrant bundle of African energy’

Getrude has a magnificent vision.. to empower, connect and create community for a million women. For this aim she founded HerStory, a social change project, aiming to host 1000 empowering conferences world-wide. After being introduced to Getrude and learning about HerStory, inviting her to participate in the Wellington Hustle project was a no-brainer. Originally from Zimbabwe, Getrude settled in Wellington, New Zealand, in 2001. Getrude has re-invented herself many times over. She been a Systems Analyst, Project Manager, Actress, Student, Fashion Designer and Seamstress, Property Mogul, Founder and CEO of a Medical Recruitment Agency, an African Extras Talent Agency owner, Inspirational Speaker, Author and more. It seems that sharing insights and inspiring entrepreneurs is what Getrude was born to do. As a previous TEDx speaker, it was inspiring listening to her passionately talk about her latest brainchild.

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What was your vision when you first started your venture?

My vision is to change the world one person at a time, one woman at a time, one child at a time. It feels easy, the path of least resistance. I’m learning that less is more. I just have to be the source of inspiration. When I started, I felt like I was holding a bunch of twigs, I lit a match, now I have a bonfire. HerStory is now much bigger than me, taking on a life of its own. All the participating women are now co-creating HerStory with me. It's not mine, it's ours. I have no control over it now, it's creating itself. Even if I was to die today I know that HerStory will continue without me.

The Ubuntu philosophy “We are one” is the ethos of the HerStory conference. We are cells of the same organism. There’s no you, there’s no me. The human race is like the human body. If you cut your finger, your white blood cells rush to heal it. In a week's time you can't see the scar. This is how we’re working together for HerStory. We’re creating a living legacy. Some create legacies, leaving a chunk of change when they're dead. I want to see it while I'm alive. I'm 52 today. Can you imagine what I can do in the next 40 years?

How did you deal with early setbacks?

When I have setbacks, I know that I'm going the wrong way. If something doesn't go according to my plan, I've learned not to resist or resent it. I just realise I’m going the wrong way. Whenever I hit rock bottom, I know that the only way from there is up. I get excited. It's happened so many times. Life is cyclical, it comes in waves. There’s ups and downs. When you learn to ride those waves, life becomes very easy. When you are down you have to decide how long you stay down? So either you dust yourself off and just keep going or you can stay down and wallow in it. That's not who I am. Magical things happen when you step in the direction of your dreams. You don't have to see the whole road to get there, you just have to feel that there is something there.

My biggest gift is, I'm a visionary. I’m shown the end picture of things very clearly. If there is something that I want, I don’t worry about the money to get it. I focus on the end picture. Then the money and the people show up. The people who’ve come into my life have helped me create everything. Most people struggle because they don’t have a clear vision. They get so caught up with “I don't have the money, skills or time”. On finishing film school I had to give a speech. Beforehand I’d had a premonition. I had died and my body was being lowered into the ground. My eulogy was being read, describing everything that I’d achieved in this life. One thing stood out - that I'm to be the first African woman to write, direct and produce an Oscar award-winning screenplay. I have seen it, I have felt it and I have held that Oscar. I need to catch up with my future self. I’ve started declaring it in all my speeches. “I am the first African woman to write, direct and produce an Oscar award winning screenplay”. The first time I declared this, I was shaking. Second time, by god it felt so real. The third time, I knew that having that level of clarity, faith and belief is what does it. Everything else is just detail. But people will start with the how and kill their dreams before they start.

When I have set backs I know that I’m going the wrong way
— Getrude Matshe
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Was there a time that you wanted to give up?

When I decided to leave my husband, I was severely depressed and suicidal. I was 17 when we met. I knew I was going to get married to this guy. I thought I would die with him. We grew apart. The last five years were just absolute hell. I started having a recurring dream. When I woke up in the morning, I would feel like I am digging myself out of the grave with a teaspoon. The dream was that I had hung myself on my balcony using my fluffy pink night robe cord. My kids come home from school and see me dangling on the driveway. I felt like I had actually done it. After dreaming this for the third time, I just my packed my bags. I did not want to be here anymore. But I couldn't do that to my kids. They’re the reason why I'm still here, the reason why I live.

Just before this happened, I had visited the States to speak at a conference. On the way home I stopped off in Sydney to meet my sister's new fianće, Don, for the first time. I arrived back in Wellington, I was still in the airport when my sister called to say “Get the next plane back, Don has had a heart attack!”. I remember sitting in ICU, next to this man I had met just met and thinking “life is just so short”. I called my husband to say “I can't do this anymore. I've got to leave. We’re not happy and I'm starting to hate you. I want to be able to come to our children's weddings and still be friends.”

And he said “Getrude, I agree with you”

Our divorce was so amicable. We went down to the Magistrate's Court, paid $200 and a month later it was done. And we're still good friends.

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Were there any traps that you fell into?

I'm a very trustworthy and trusting person, looking for the goodness in every one. In the creation of HerStory the biggest trap I fell into was getting so excited about all the woman wanting to participate as chairpersons. I wasn't screening them. I ended up giving one woman my New Mexico and Granada databases. We had recruited one hundred speakers when someone asked if I had protected the HerStory idea. I had started trademarking, but it was still a work in progress. She suggested that I get people to sign Non Disclosure and Non-Compete Agreements. So I sent it out the agreements and one woman refused to sign, saying that it would block her. The agreements just say not to use the HerStory conference brand elsewhere. Next thing I know she started a conference in New Mexico called HerStory. I thought, I either fight it and get sucked into negativity or let her go ahead. The people who know me in New Mexico will know it's not my conference. I sent an email to everybody in the database and now she's cancelled.

I had another woman, very excited, she took on Las Vegas, Miami and Manila and got everything fully sponsored. Something felt wrong when from the start. But I brushed away my intuition. Yesterday she sent me an email saying “You're welcome to come to the conference, but we've decided not to use your brand.” “I have heard certain things and I'm not sure I should be working with you.” We’re not charging for people to host a HerStory conference. But I think she's just seen how big this thing is and wants a piece of the pie. I replied to her email, “Thank you so much for letting me know. I'll make my community aware that we are no longer working together. Please honour the arrangement with the women who are already booked to speak.” She invited me to come along. So, I’ve already bought my tickets and I’m going to speak about the whole Ubunutu philosophy.

I was going to give that speech anyway. We can meet and she can look me in the eye and know what kind of a person I am.

I'm a very trusting person. And it's tripped me up a couple of times, you know.

Magical things happen when you take a little step in the direction of your dreams.
— Getrude Matshe
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What inspires and motivates you? 

My children. I'm motivated to leave this planet having created a better world for them and my grandchildren and great-grandchildren. In everything I do they are my driving force. These little beings who see the goodness in me no matter whether I succeed or fail. It's my kids and I keep imagining when my son is a hundred years old. And he has children and great-grandchildren. He shows a video of me speaking at a conference somewhere. They see this crazy little African great-great-grandmother, who packed a suitcase and travelled to the other side of the world with three kids on her own. That's my motivation.

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Can you describe a breakthrough that you're particularly proud of?

My biggest breakthrough in life is when I became a full expression of me. And it happened when I left my husband. There are no holes barred now. This is it and I want to show up in life that way. For 27 years I held back on a lot of things. We were very different people. I could see the house built. My husband had to see the bricks. We were just wired differently. I made some decisions based on his fears and missed opportunities because of it.

So, I am being a true expression of me. I think that is my biggest breakthrough. 

Has your vision always been clear and how is it evolved?

It's clearer, much clearer. It's more tangible, achievable and in the creation of it, less is more. I don't have to do anything. It’s not hard. It will unfold like a rose very gently and softly in its own time. And it may or may not happen in my lifetime, but it will happen. That's what I have certainty around.

My biggest breakthrough in life is when I become a full expression of me. There are no holds barred now
— Getrude Matshe
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What is brand to you and its importance?

Brand to me is my identity and point of difference. When I branded myself, I started with “what three words best describe me?” I received a testimonial from a client who said “Getrude is a vibrant bundle of African energy.” I pulled out the words Vibrant, African and Energy.

As a brand I show up as being African first. I can’t run away from the colour of my skin. I don't want to be mistaken for being African American or Caribbean. When people look at me, they'll say “this is African.” The vibrant part of my brand is reflected in my colours when I'm speaking on stage. It's my bright yellows and oranges. They not only uplift me, but I use colour to uplift my audience as well. And the energy part of my brand is reflected in my whole way of being. The way that I speak, the fonts that I use to write my marketing material. They are artistic and out of the box. So I think brand is everything.

My Africanness is the ethos of my brand. I branded myself as an Ubuntu expert when I wrote my first book, called “Born on the Continent Ubuntu” I wove into my life story the philosophy and my connection to every single person I've ever met. Ubuntu is part of everything that I do. It’s everything and it's fascinating.  

Do you have any tips for others striving to improve their brand?

Get clear who you are as a person. Because your brand is you. Get really clear on what you and your brand stands for. When you copy other people, all you're doing is copying and it's not yours. Who are you? How do you want to show up in the world? There's only one you. When you realise how unique you are, weave that into your brand and it will be just magical.

Connect with Getrude

If you have enjoyed this article and want to start a conversation become a part of the HerStory conference, you can reach out to Getrude on

Website: herstorycircle.com
Email: getrude@herstorycircle.com
LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/getrude-matshe-kanicki-1a65a614

Or check out Getrude’s books on Amazon.

Please don’t forget to tell Getrude that I sent you.

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P.S. On location

Getrude’s interview took place in Wellington’s National Museum, Te Papa. I figured it would have a quiet corner for us to chat and record. We found a quiet spot outside in lovely green garden area. With sunlight sparkling through the foliage, this spot also turned out to be great for an impromptu photoshoot.

With Wellington’s Water Front & the Sea to City Bridge near by we had soon created quite a few lovely portraits and headshots to accompany Getrude’s interview article. The weather really shined. Instead of photos showing a windy Wellington winter, we ended up with blue sky and full sun making it look like the interview had been conducted some where in the Mediterranean. Only just the day before had the wind been out in full force, gusting 100kph.

The Waterfront was quite busy. During the photo session we did spend a lot of time waiting for people to move out of our photo frame. But this is all part of shooting on the street. It was quite close to lunchtime, so many people were out enjoying the great weather. Something to keep in mind if ever you decide to hit the streets for some on location headshots or portraits in Wellington City centre. It is nice to show off the vibe of the town. But you are the star of your photos after all.


Interview and photography by Tim Morrison (all rights reserved)

 

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