Back when Melene Rossouw was still what is called, a ‘backyard dweller’, the determined 8 year old had already planned on becoming a success.
Not only did the now 35 year old achieve her goals, but on Thursday, it was announced that she was named as one of the JCI’s 2020 ‘Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World’.
The law graduate and women’s rights activist was one of 20 young persons from across the world that was short listed from thousands of nominations.
The award itself aims to identify ten of the world’s most outstanding young people under the age of 40, who have created opportunities both locally and internationally through their extraordinary service to their communities.
The award forms part of the ‘Junior Chamber International’ (JCI, an organisation that aims to “provide development opportunities that empower young people to create positive change”.
The ten young persons, which include Melene, will be recognized at the 2020 JCI World Congress in November which will be held in Tokyo, Japan.
The main reason for Melene’s nomination stems from her work fighting for women’s rights.
In 2017, at the age of 32, she created the ‘Women Lead Movement’, an organisation that empowers women and girls through mentorships and human rights programmes.
It also runs projects to teach boys and young men about the rights of women so that they can become better adults.
She started the organisation with her own money and despite the limited resources, the movement has already empowered more than 2000 women and young people.
The organisation is recognized by local and international human rights agencies; and has expanded internationally starting with Madagascar.
Melene hopes to expand into Namibia soon.
The JCI award is part of her growing list of honours celebrating her work empowering women.
Melene has already been selected as an Inaugural Obama Leader Africa, a Future Africa Forum Leader and a Mandela Washington Fellow.
She was also selected by the International Advocacy Organisation ONE Global Campaign to feature in three of their global campaigns: “Progress not Promises” “ Yours in Power” and “Pass the Mic”.
In addition to her nomination for the ‘World’ award, she was also recently notified that was nominated for the JCI’s 2020 ‘Ten Outstanding Young Persons of South Africa’.
She was shortlisted as one of the top 21 nominees and specifically nominated for her ‘Contribution to Children, World Peace and Human Rights’.
She has also had the honour of meeting former President Barrack Obama, has written and spoken extensively on Democracy and Governance in Africa and she was recently asked to be the moderator at the Global Gender Summit in Rwanda.
Apart from her work to empower women and young people, she has also built an impressive resume.
After completing her law degree from the University of the Western Cape in 2006, she worked for a law firm as a Candidate Attorney.
It was at this law firm that she realised that she did not want to become a lawyer for profit, instead opting to follow a path where she could help create positive change.
The following year, she became a legal researcher at the Constitutional Court, where she worked for the Constitutional Court Justices; Judge Albie Sachs and Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo.
Her reputation for being a hardworking and competent young person propelled her into the Office of the Presidency in 2010 where she was appointed as a National Cabinet Committee Secretary.
She also worked as a Special Advisor to the Minister of Sports and Recreation and then in 2011, she became the Media Liaison for the Minister of Tourism.
Despite traveling all over the world and earning a huge salary, Melene had a burning desire to help others, a quality that she got from her mother, Deserie.
Deserie was generally known for taking in anyone that needed help, even when they were living in a zink house (which is essentially a tin shed with no plumbing).
These days, Melene makes a fraction of what she did three years ago handing out free legal advice to those that cannot afford it.
It won’t make her rich, but for some, wealth has nothing to do with what you have, but rather, what you can give.