“It is our firm belief that wealth creation can enter the homes through women and communities.” - Luz Helena Hanauer, Executive Director of the WDB Trust

14/03/2022 | Santander Universidades

Lifting communities out of poverty is a crucial and urgent project. However, to achieve this, we need to better understand the conditions that create poverty. From here, we can seek to re-configure the structures that sustain inequality. Luz Helena Hanauer, Executive Director of the WDB Trust, believes that feminist values are fundamental to this cause.

The WDB Trust is a public benefit organisation that creates platforms for microfinance, training, social development, and advocacy for women living in rural poverty in South Africa. Luz runs the organisation based on feminist principles, encouraging collaboration, co-creation and shared benefits.

Luz participated in the Santander Course | SW50 Leadership Programme - LSE to further cultivate her skills as a feminist leader and work with an inspiring group of like-minded women in leadership. This is an intensive, leadership development programme delivered at The London School of Economics and Political Science for 50 women leaders in top management positions who are seeking to progress and further develop their own leadership style. Here, she talks more about her career and principles and gives some advice for aspiring female leaders

One of your life goals is to eradicate poverty and empower women. How has studying law helped you in this respect?

The ability to pursue justice can be a big obstacle to gender equality and poverty eradication. Being aware of how social norms are created and implemented via the legal system allows me to better understand the systemic conditions that perpetuate patriarchy. I think it’s these structures that create the primordial broth of poverty as we experience it in the Global South. 

Could you tell us one life-changing experience that left you more aware of the need for a more equal world?

While working as International Trade Project Manager at Mohlaleng Health Pty, I saw the abundance of resources, the resilience and the richness of humanity in the most impoverished areas of South Africa. However, within a corporate environment, this observation created a striking dissonance for me. 

I could not continue to work within the field without considering the underlying reasons why the living conditions of my fellow citizens were so unrelentingly hostile. I started questioning leadership, corruption, the government, the private sector, and the individuals who, despite having the intelligence to do it, could not acquire more resources and improve their lives.

It has been a humbling journey where I have had to unlearn many preconceptions and embrace the fact that there is depth to these circumstances. I have had to acquaint myself with the deprivations that are a part of our history and the severe fragmentation of our society, which seem a deliberate attempt to maintain a status quo, favourable for a few and detrimental to most.

Luz Helena Hanauer

What is your position now? Could you explain to us the main goals of WDB Trust? 

To paraphrase Professor Bernadette Athuaene, I believe that dignity restorations are required to weave a healthy social fabric. This means that we would need to assume, embrace and actively engage with how people have been deprived of their dignity in the past. This shouldn't be from a victim/perpetrator approach, but with a healing intention and an open mind. 

This requires that we embrace vulnerability and create a trusting culture that understands the multifaceted nature of poverty, not only as a lack of material resources, but as a vision of society that has materialised and that we are in the position to deconstruct

The WDB Trust is an institution that seeks to address the multiple faces of poverty and takes action distinct from the traditional approaches to development. By distancing ourselves from the “rescuer” and “messiah” approach,  our organisation is a platform that enables agency and dialogue, from which new ideas slowly but surely take root. 

It is our firm belief that wealth creation can enter the homes through women and communities. In a way, we are attempting to undo an intellectual heritage that doesn’t belong to us, doesn’t serve us, but that is deeply entrenched in many of our regular interactions. 

We could say that the WDB group could be an example of what a world that runs on feminist values could look like, but how would you describe this world?

All systems have values. Patriarchy has values that underpin our society, our economic systems and our innermost structures, such as families. Identifying the key values of patriarchy is critical because we operate in a patriarchal world. Only when we know how and why the world is like it is, can we present an alternative proposal

We have identified competition, lack and dominance as some of the fundamental notions that grease the cogs of a patriarchal system. We propose collaboration, abundance and service to co-create. Co-creation is another critical notion for us as it moves away from the strength of an individual and distributes gains. 

Luz Helena Hanauer

What advice would you give to a talented woman aspiring to leadership positions?

I would advise her to envision her career beyond a job and consider her contribution to her family, community and world in the greater scheme of things. She should remember to remain curious and to dedicate her life to something that kindles her emotions as well as her intellect. Growth is incremental, so I would also tell her to cultivate her network and grow step by step. Unlearning a little bit of what she has been socialised to believe as success will liberate her and enable her to plant seeds of cooperation to harvest authentic and lasting results.

She should also remember that balance is the key to many achievements, that one can hunt more flies with honey than with vinegar, that exhaustion should not be worn as a badge of honour. A team will always be more capable than her alone, so she should make efforts to grow a team by seeing (and mining) the gold in every collaborator and colleague. 

As one of the 50 women that participated in the last edition of the SW50 Leadership programme and that was accessed in a community of women leaders, what has it meant for you this networking opportunity?

Firstly, it has been an honour to be part of this sisterhood where outstanding women share my worldview. The sessions, exercises and readings were thought-provoking and nourishing for my role as a leader at the WDB Group. 

Secondly, interacting with the teachers and other scholars was profoundly energising; I am not alone, we are on the same wavelength across disciplines and all over the world. The change I so fervently desire is being gestated in our collective womb, just as envisaged. I was filled with hope, with admiration, with joy. I was refreshed, reinforced, replenished and revitalised

“[The W50 Santander Programme] re-engineered my approach to my strengths, re-calibrated my priorities, and enabled a deep introspection into my personal and professional life. ”

Luz Helena Hanauer

If, like Luz Helena, you want to become a member of a diverse group of women leaders from across the globe in order to encourage, empower and promote female leadership with the aim of achieving effective equality, Banco Santander is launching a new edition of the Santander Course | SW50 Leadership Programme 2024 - LSE, aimed at 50 women in senior management positions. 

The course, taught at the prestigious London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), will provide you with the necessary tools, strategies and skills to work on and polish your own leadership style. 

Everything is completed through interactive lectures, individual tutorials and discussions with top-tier experts from LSE as well as the rest of your colleagues. Additionally, you will receive individual and group coaching sessions, enjoy a unique networking experience and, above all, become part of an exceptional community of female leaders from all over the world.

The course covers 100% of the training programme fees, as well as the stay in London. You don't need to have a degree or be a Banco Santander customer.


Do you hold a senior management position and want to be part of an international community of women leaders? If the answer is yes, sign up now for the Santander Course | SW50 Leadership Programme 2024 - LSE.

Carmen Stephanie Nuesi

Luz Helena Hanauer, Executive Director of the WDB Trust

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