The Association of African Exhibition Organisers (AAXO), in collaboration with its esteemed members, proudly illuminates the trailblazing women within the industry that are propelling the sector forward.
Across the African continent, women have taken the lead in organising and crafting unforgettable experiences, spanning corporate conferences, grand exhibitions, dazzling ceremonies, and transformative meetings. Their ingenuity drives trade and investment in the sectors they champion.
Breaking barriers and defying conventions, these extraordinary women showcase unwavering dedication in their pursuit of excellence within the events industry. Their expertise, creativity, and leadership have not only elevated the status of the African events industry but also significantly contributed to the region’s economic growth, attracting both local and international visitors, and fostering meaningful connections.
“In the vibrant tapestry of Africa’s events industry, women play a pivotal role, guiding its resurgence and igniting the recovery of events and tourism. With determination and creativity, these remarkable women are weaving together unforgettable experiences that not only rejuvenate the sector but also celebrate the rich diversity and cultural treasures of our continent. As they lead with passion and resilience, it is evident that women are the driving force behind Africa’s path to a brighter, more vibrant future for events and tourism,” says Devi Paulsen-Abbott, Chairperson of the Association of African Exhibition Organisers.
This Women’s Month, members of AAXO nominated the notable women trailblazers in their businesses and in the African MICE industry:
Gallagher Convention Centre
At the Gallagher Convention Centre, a remarkable group of women exemplifies the spirit of ambition, dedication, and empowerment. Sannikie Makgakga’s inspiring journey from the Banqueting department to her current role as Beverage and Procurement Manager showcases her unwavering belief in self-challenge and maintaining a positive attitude as the keys to success. Meanwhile, Leniese van der Merwe’s impressive career trajectory, from Sales Consultant to aspiring Marketing Manager, is fuelled by her strong work ethic, loyalty, and a passion for empowering women within the organization. Moreover, Cornelle Du Preez’s remarkable seventeen-year journey within the company, rising from Sales Consultant to GM: Sales & Coordination, is a testament to her management approach of nurturing her team, sharing knowledge, and fostering growth, all while embracing the philosophy of uplifting and supporting her fellow female colleagues. Together, these incredible women embody the spirit of progress and empowerment at the Gallagher Convention Centre.
Dogan Exhibitions and Events
Didi Okoro, the esteemed Head of Sales, has been instrumental in propelling the events industry to new heights. As a vital member of the core team responsible for the legendary Rand Show, Didi has played a pivotal role in reinstating the brand’s illustrious reputation. Known for her charismatic and communicative nature, she delights in engaging with people and embraces even the most challenging situations with unwavering enthusiasm. Didi’s unwavering focus and determination in overcoming obstacles have consistently yielded exceptional results, leaving an inspiring mark on all who work alongside her. Her optimistic outlook on life and ability to tackle challenges with a beaming smile make her a true beacon of motivation.
Shaimaine Naidu, as Director of Finance for RX Africa, proves to be an invaluable asset to the RX business. Sitting on the Board of Directors, she holds the vital responsibility of overseeing financial planning and executing the strategic direction of the company. With an impressive career spanning nearly two decades in the finance field, gained from diverse industries such as accounting services, private education, and the motor industry, Shamaine brings unparalleled expertise and support to management decision-making and strategic management. Throughout the challenging times of the COVID era, Shamaine, alongside RX Africa’s MD, played a critical role in guiding the business, and her continued efforts remain instrumental in the ongoing success of the company. Her contributions and leadership make her an indispensable force driving RX Africa forward.
The Exhibitionist and Yours Eventfully
Shanelle Gow – Senior Exhibition Designer & Event Manager – The Exhibitionist & Yours Eventfully is an instrumental force in the business, showcasing her meticulous design skills and project management expertise in various endeavours, ranging from exhibition stands and gala dinners to graphic design. As a woman of colour, she represents the transformative power the industry requires, being a natural talent and a remarkable leader. Her exceptional abilities make her a valuable asset not only to The Exhibitionist and Yours Eventfully business but also to the entire industry.
Immediate Past-Chair for AAXO and current board member, Projeni Pather is Managing Director at Exposure Marketing. A powerhouse in the exhibitions industry, with rare CEM qualifications and a recent scholarship for the CEM Advanced Qualification, Projeni stands out as a certified expert in the field. Her brainchild, the MamaMagic Baby Expo, has been running successfully for nearly two decades, leaving a positive impact on the parenting community in South Africa. Moreover, her company, Exposure Marketing, now extends its expertise to assist other exhibitions locally and internationally, using her vast experience and connections to create and execute strategic marketing plans for increased visibility and visitor engagement. Projeni also actively engages in youth development events, mentoring and supporting students to excel in the Exhibitions space. Her dedication, innovation, and leadership make her an invaluable figure in the industry.
Martina Komane, the Production Director at Scan Display, began her journey with the company through their learnership program in 2002, progressing through various roles and eventually joining the Executive Management Committee in 2013. In 2014, she became the Production Director and Chairperson of the Scan Display BEE Trust, empowering previously-disadvantaged staff members. Her outstanding leadership skills are evident in managing the predominantly-male production team in Johannesburg and overseeing production company-wide. Martina is known for her approachability, mentoring, and inspiring colleagues with her passion and determination, setting an example for young women in the industry. Boitumelo Pooe, an Account Executive at Scan Display, joined in 2013 and has since proven herself as an exceptional project manager for local and international projects. She is renowned for her composure under pressure and has successfully managed large pavilion projects overseas. Her commitment and hard work have earned her a position on the Brussels-based IFES Talent Team committee, representing global events suppliers under 40, where she contributes fresh ideas and best practices. Boitumelo’s dedication makes her a valuable asset to Scan Display and the MICE industry.
Tracy Gounden, Business Development and Portfolio Director, Messe Frankfurt South Africa and Judy Maharaj, Show Director: Festival of Motoring, Messe Frankfurt South Africa are exceptional women in our industry, both making remarkable contributions to trade shows and events. Tracy’s portfolio includes Automechanika Johannesburg, Futuroad, Solar Power Africa, Windaba, and the NAACAM Show. With over a decade of experience, she excels in driving sustainable sales and marketing growth, fostering profitable relationships nationally and internationally, and exhibiting strong strategic planning and leadership skills. Judy, with 28 years of experience in the automotive and motorsport sector, led an outstanding recovery of the Festival of Motoring and continues to elevate its success. Her unique blend of creative and critical thinking, coupled with strong business acumen, positions her as a formidable problem-solver and effective communicator. These exceptional women are instrumental in hosting impactful destination events that propel our industry forward.
These incredible women are just a few examples of the countless individuals making their mark in the African events/MICE industry. Their resilience, creativity, and commitment to excellence, inspire future generations to dream big and break barriers in the pursuit of their passions.
Of course, special mention needs to be given to the women that make AAXO possible: Devi Paulsen-Abbot, current Chairperson, Projeni Pather, Immediate Past-Chair and Board Member, Chanelle Hingston, Board Member and Anthea Buys, Office Manager.
As we celebrate the impact of women in the events/MICE sector, we also acknowledge the need for continued support and empowerment. Industry stakeholders, corporations, and governments are called upon to invest in initiatives that promote gender equality, diversity, and inclusion within the industry, creating an environment where everyone’s talents and skills can thrive.
Let us collectively celebrate the achievements of these outstanding women and foster an ecosystem where the events/MICE industry in Africa can flourish under the visionary leadership of both men and women.