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This vision started for me on an early Spring day in 1999 at a conference aiming to empower women in business. I heard such powerful and moving stories from South African women - women sharing their life stories with confidence, and by doing so, inspiring all those who had the privilege of listening to them.

I realised that these stories belonged to all the women of South Africa and so the idea of a book was born. Storytelling is after all an African tradition, and one of the most effective ways of passing the message on.

Inspirational Women at Work was inspired by women in our country and across the world who touched my heart and my mind; women whom I had the privilege of working with, sharing time and space with, and whose stories, thoughts and actions enriched my life.

I became aware of the importance of telling the stories of women: extraordinary women, women like you and me, women who make a difference, women who persevere, women who get things done, women who are influential, women who are strong, women who care, women who hurt, women who suffer, women who live a life worth living - for themselves and others - and above all women who have made it on this planet despite the shadows in their own lives.

The reason I think it is important to tell the stories of these women is to inspire, empower and inform everybody who reads this book, to help make a positive difference to the lives of women in our world, to give a voice to the role models of our country, to celebrate achievement and to inspire others to act. The importance of sharing your story is emphasised by Mrs Albertina Sisulu, who said, "We are required to walk our own road - and then stop, assess what we have learnt and share it with others. It is only in this way that the next generation can learn from those who have walked before them... We can do no more than tell our story. They must do with it what they will."

Inspirational Women at Work offers background information on how many ordinary and prominent South African women got to be where they are today. It highlights their determination, perseverance and uniquely individual characters that helped them to achieve in whatever field they chose. The women featured in this publication are all South African achievers in their own right, with whom I think readers will be able to identify, and who are making a difference in the lives of other women and to South Africa as a whole. All of them have in common the tenacity, caring and optimism that have enabled them to succeed in raising families, delivering in their professions and being committed to success. It is these qualities that build this country and make the world a better place.

They represent a cross section of South African women in geography, age, cultural background, business experience and lifestyle. All of these women have had to make sacrifices to meet the challenges along their diverse paths to making a difference and being successful. Each has invented her own path to success by drawing on the unique resources available to her, including natural talents, passions, values, cultural heritage and individual approaches to business and life. They share information about overcoming challenges in business and in life as well as their soaring accomplishments, openly crediting those who helped them make it to the top. Insight is provided into why they have been successful, along with personal and professional strategies that are generously shared with the reader.

In the selection process it was important to me to include not only immediately recognisable, high profile women, but also women unassumingly making a difference in their communities. My original proposal consisting of thirty women quickly grew to over fifty and it was only through a firm promise from the publishers that we could start working on Inspirational Women at Work II, that I stopped feeling that we are doing an injustice to the readers by not including many more women who have a story to tell.

Finally I would like to conclude with the following words, taken from Mamphela Ramphele's A Life: "If this story helps to make women feel good about who they are, and turns what is seen to be abnormal for women into everyday practice, then I would have been able to intimate another female destiny - a destiny worth living and dying for. But greater will be my joy when the sons and daughters of South Africa see this alternative female destiny as mainstream and desirable. Only then shall we be truly free to reach for the sky."

I firmly believe all women can make a difference - in their own way, using their own resources. In this way a profound difference can be made - to our country, our continent and the world.

Making this book work / or you - contributions / workbook / resumes:

It is important to take note that a deliberate decision was taken by the compiler and publisher to allow the authentic voices of the individual contributors, the women who used this opportunity to share their personal and life experiences with you and not to rewrite or edit the text submitted to us into one general piece of writing. The result is a creative and interesting piece of work that includes the authentic voices of more than fifty women who share as much as they wish to, in the way they want to and using the words they choose to.

We challenge you to enjoy reading the shared experiences, to use the opportunity to learn from the information offered, be inspired by the creative ideas and to try and make some of them your own by practical application in your own life. We also strongly recommend that you use the opportunity created by the workbook pages in each chapter to develop life and professional skills, by thinking about the questions and setting specific goals. Finally we invite you to make use of the resources added at the end of each chapter if you are interested in reading more about the general theme chosen for that chapter or contributor featured in that section. Feel free to contact Knowledge Resources who have committed themselves to making available and distributing these publications to you wherever you are in this country or across the world.

I sincerely hope you enjoy reading this book as much as I enjoyed compiling it.

Lisel Erasmus-Kritzinger

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