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Irene Charnley receives a prestigious Pioneer Award from Forbes Women Africa

 Ms Irene Charnley, Founder of Smile Telecoms, last night received the Forbes Woman Africa Pioneer Award during the Forbes Women Africa Awards function hosted in Durban International Convention Centre.

The Board of the International Women’s Forum South Africa (IWFSA) extends its warmest congratulations to its President, Ms Irene Charnley for receiving the prestigious Forbes Woman Africa Pioneer Award.

The IWFSA Board said the Award was a fitting tribute to the lifelong achievements of Ms Charnley in the telecommunications sphere in Africa, as well as to the socio-economic transformation and empowerment of women on the continent.

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The Award is made to recognise “the trailblazers and role models who have created a new narrative within their industries. By challenging authority and ‘old school’ traditions, they are enabling future generations to live in a better and more equal world,” according to Forbes Africa.

Ms Charnley, who took office as President of the IWFSA in October last year, has guided the organisation in a renewed vision and strategy to be a powerful voice for issues that affect women across the board. This has involved building strategic alliances with government and other institutions of society, such as business, academia and civil society, to benefit women.

As the Founder and Deputy Chairman of Smile Telecoms, a Pan-African telecommunications group established in 2007, Ms Charnley’s pioneering influence extends to several countries in Africa, including Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Prior to establishing Smile, she was instrumental in transforming the South African based MTN Group into one of the most pre-eminent telecoms operators in the Middle East and Africa region, through a number of licence company acquisitions.

She also led the management and staff buy-in of an 18.7% stake in MTN, which benefitted thousands of MTN employees at the time.

As an Executive Director at Johnnic Industrial Corporation and the lead negotiator of several successful transactions, Ms Charnley led the transformation of the organisation from an industrial conglomerate into a focused media and telecoms group.

Another of Ms Charnley’s achievements was to spearhead an early broad-based black empowerment deal in South Africa, the Ikageng Scheme, in which 32 000 ordinary South Africans participated and received 400% return on their initial deposit.


The International Women’s Forum advances leadership across careers, cultures and continents by connecting the world’s most preeminent women of significant and diverse achievement and brings together an unprecedented global membership to exchange ideas, to learn and inspire and to promote better leadership for a changing world.

International Women’s Forum, on the recommendation of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) on the UN, has been granted Special Consultative Status to the United Nations on the issue of the protection and growth of women’s leadership.  

The International Women’s Forum of South Africa (IWFSA) was established in 2000 when its patron, Mrs Zanele Mbeki, together with a group of woman leaders, set up a South African chapter of the IWF. IWFSA currently has some 100 members drawn from government, business, the sciences, the arts and numerous other areas. 

The IWFSA members, who are at the top of their fields of endeavour and who have nationally and internationally identifiable track records, enjoy unique networking opportunities through local and international conferences, workshops, meetings and forum events and strive to be “the voice” for women in South Africa and the continent by influencing opinion and advocating for women’s issues at the highest levels of government, business and civil society.

Issued on behalf of IWFSA by Vuma Reputation Management.

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