Tips about the value of un-learning: Award-winning futurist keynote speaker, Zanele Njapha, encourages you to self-disrupt

Tips about the value of un-learning: Award-winning futurist keynote speaker, Zanele Njapha, encourages you to self-disrupt

Written by Staff Writer


By Charndré Emma Kippie


UnLearning expert, facilitator and award-winning speaker, Zanele Njapha, began her career as a primary school educator, teaching three of South Africa’s official languages and Natural Sciences & Technology to bright young minds. This was when she came to the realisation that the future skills so highly sought-after, were skills that were easily exhibited by children in the forms of inquisitiveness, frankness, resilience etc. This indicated that a large chunk of the work to be done by society was less about learning, but more around unlearning limiting frameworks and relearning the capacity to think and act creatively.

As a Global Speaker, Zanele Njapha has captivated global audiences with her sensational keynotes and thought-provoking unlearning facilitations. She challenges long-standing company dogmas while developing her audiences with her unique, humorous stories and insightful views around the future of work and creating cultures of continuous self-disruption. Zanele Njapha completed her undergraduate studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and engaged in two study abroad opportunities in Canada and the USA.

Zanele Njapha now works with TomorrowToday Global and has since assisted clients such as Volkswagen, Vitality Global, ENS Africa, Marsh & McLennan Companies, First Rand, RMB and Discovery CRES to approach an uncertain future with confidence. As a Forbes contributor and a contributor to the Thought Leader section of the Mail & Guardian, Zanele Njapha shares insights on change, transitions and the future of work with global leaders. In 2019, she was recognised by Avance Media as the 45th Most Influential Young South African on the final list of 100 young South Africans. In the same year, Zanele became the winner of the Professional Speakers Association’s Speaker Factor Competition, making her the very first speaker to attain this award in Southern Africa.


What got you into the field you’re currently in?

I actually started out as a Primary School teacher – which was my dream career. I soon realised that the ‘future skills’ or ‘skills for the future of work’ that corporates were investing in equipping their staff with, were actually skills that my Grade 5s exhibited every single day – resilience, inquisitiveness, frankness, optimism and others. That’s when I knew something in between was going wrong; we were clearly losing these skills somewhere in between, and then looking to rebuild them when we became adults in the work environment. 


What excites you the most about your role?

Advancing humanity. When I facilitate a session for a client and we have ‘aha’ moments, those clients and that business will never be the same. The ripple effect that comes from that is immense. I love to know that I can be a catalyst for humanity’s move in the right direction. 


In what ways do you think your organisation is enhancing the South African economy?

Businesses have never existed in a more volatile environment – one that needs them to quickly decide whether they sink or swim. My work is that of a problem solver and someone who facilitates conversations that help organisations prepare and leap into an uncertain future. Through interventions that I assist businesses with (strategy session facilitation, building adaptive capacity and snippets on key strategies to be change ready and future fit), I’ve assisted teams retain some of their top talent, smartly allocate scarce company resources, build cultures that promote employee wellbeing and change readiness. South Africa needs businesses that can see the future coming and not run and hide, but run towards it.


Do you think your field is diverse in terms of gender equality? 

The speaking space is growing beautifully when it comes to gender diversity, as we are seeing women position themselves more and more as subject experts with immense value for clients. Being a young woman, I find more and more clients intentionally booking female speakers, having recognised the unique angle and style many women speakers bring. The issue, however, of industry specific biases still remains. Unfortunately (although fewer than before), we may find clients having needs and specific requirements that a female professional can meet and exceed, but select her male counterpart on the basis that the task appears to need ‘heavy lifting’ or require a ‘male presence’ or ‘male mind’. I do understand how certain contexts may be gender sensitive, but this may at times happen as a result of a female speaker being seen as less competent or less able to hold a crowd. 


What are your top 3 tips for ensuring the success of women in your field?

  • Network, network and network – you can never have too many people in your corner in this business. Make friends and stay connected, you never know where it’ll take you or the other person.
  • Be clear on the problem you solve. A dear colleague of mine, Graeme Codrington always says ‘nobody wants to book a speaker’. Clients are sitting with problems that need solutions – that’s the only reason they’ll book you. Even if they book you for an hour of humour – the problem is boredom. Be clear on the problem. 
  • Self-Disrupt – good speakers have a fantastic keynote that gets a standing ovation every time. Great speakers are always working at their craft and their material. Learn and change consistently, your clients are changing and if you are not, they will pick it up. 


What have been some major obstacles in your career and how did you overcome them?

I had just done a keynote for a regional forum for a client I hold quite dear and as I mingled with the crowd, one of the ladies said to me “You know, Zanele when you walked in, I asked myself ‘what is this young girl going to say to us that we don’t already know’?”. This statement probably had more to do with my youth, but it showed me that as women, we can sadly miss the opportunity to be each other’s cheerleaders and use criteria like age and race not promote ‘womanhood’. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that statement – have had a few since then.


What are your goals for the future?

I’d love to continue to work with clients who want to build future-fitness across the globe and expand the brand of ‘the unlearning lady’. I am working on building ‘unlearning’ as a recognisable, global brand through communities on social media, my writing and facilitation, so that people across the world, both corporates and individuals, understand that unlearning is part of learning and is not just exciting, but necessary. Sometimes we take on habits, behaviours, mentalities and people that don’t serve us – it is only right that we unlearn them if we are to face the future with confidence. 


What important/life-changing books have you read?

  • Denise Duffield-Thomans – Get Rich, You Luck Bitch (reading this one soon, heard it was amazing!!)
  • Hal Elrod – The Miracle Morning
  • Dan Millman – Way of The Peaceful Warrior
  • Cal Newport – A World Without Email


What advice do you have for women entrepreneurs who aspire to work in your field?

Firstly, the world needs your voice. The important thing about working in this space is personal intelligence. Be very clear about what you have to offer and your USP. Clients are experiencing immense shifts and if you carry the solution they require, know that and be very clear about what that looks like. The world opens up for young women who know what they bring to the table – trust me – I know.


Do you have a special message for women across SA as we celebrate Women’s Month?

You’re not every woman. You are only you. Find what it means to be ‘you’ and work it! Show up as yourself every time and weave your personal touch into every word, every meal, every presentation, every email – because that’s the only lane that isn’t crowded: Your lane.




*Check out the latest edition of the Public Sector Leaders publication here.

For enquiries, regarding being profiled or showcased in the next edition of the Public Sector Leaders publication, please contact National Project Manager, Emlyn Dunn: 

Telephone: 086 000 9590 |  Mobile: 072 126 3962 |  e-Mail: [email protected]



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