Force of nature

Force of nature

Greek goddess meets Earth mother meets entrepreneurial activist: introducing Catherine Constantinides. By Lauren Shapiro

Looking at this svelte, golden-haired beauty, it’s challenging not to stereotype. I try really hard not to think of blonde jokes or speculate about which body parts are real. Indeed, one thing very quickly becomes apparent: Catherine Constantinides is as real as they come.

When she opens her mouth, rather than a high-pitched giggle, out comes an authoritative voice that indicates she clearly knows what she’s talking about. Her wide smile puts me at ease, but there’s no doubt that this lady is intelligent, educated and very passionate about what she does.

Constantinides is the managing director of events and PR company SA Fusion, and national director of the Miss Earth South Africa leadership programme. She’s the youngest Archbishop Tutu African Oxford Leadership Fellow (awarded in 2013), and was selected as one of the Mail & Guardian’s 200 Young South Africans the following year.

A typical day sees her running between her two offices and various schools, parks, and communities across the country – that’s when she’s not boarding a plane or giving talks at environmental conferences around the world. ‘I’m at my happiest when I’m among people in a community, doing physical work,’ she beams. I caught her on her way to one of her projects to pick her brain about her rise to success.


‘I grew up in a home where we had very little, materially, but our parents exposed us to so many enriching experiences, from showing us newspaper clippings to the example they set working all hours at the bakery business they ran together,’ recalls Constantinides. The family entrepreneurial spirit runs deep – her first successful business enterprise was selling empty pink pistachio shells lined with Prestik as artificial nails to her classmates in Grade 1 – but giving and service are the bedrock of who she is. ‘I remember driving around Hillbrow at night, handing out loaves of bread with my dad,’ she recounts. ‘It was just something we did. If you can help, you do.’

While still in high school, Constantinides’s efforts to raise funds for her community development work led to the establishment of her first ‘real’ business, SA Fusion. This was no school-market-day project: the company co-ordinated events such as Winnie Mandela’s 70th birthday party and the SABC Kellogg’s Kids Awards.


Constantinides went on to launch Fashion Fusion, a bimonthly magazine that celebrated South African artists. ‘I can’t sing or dance,’ she’s quick to quip, ‘but I’m very passionate about the arts. I wanted to find a way to share that.’ For the next seven years, Fashion Fusion provided a platform for highlighting gifted South African artists working in the entertainment industry. ‘At that time, this kind of acknowledgement wasn’t commonplace on social media like Facebook and Twitter,’ she adds.

All this took place before she had even turned 25. I can’t help but be amazed at these achievements, but Constantinides simply waves away my admiration.

Many women don’t like to discuss their age, but for Constantinides, it’s because she doesn’t want people to think she’s too young. She once took a company to court when they refused to continue a business relationship with her after realising her age. She won the case. ‘I believe that if you’re good enough to do something, you’re old enough to do it,’ she asserts. Then, turning slightly whimsical, she continues, ‘There’s beauty in the wisdom of the journey, rather than the length of the journey.’


‘I’ve always had a deep love and respect for the Earth,’ says Constantinides. Her weekends and summers were spent in her parents’ south-Joburg backyard, either gardening with her dad or just enjoying the beauty of the nature around her. So, when an opportunity arose for the part-time model to enter a pageant based not just on beauty but also on environmental consciousness, she jumped at it.

Constantinides won the title of Miss Earth South Africa in 2003. The highlight of her reign – which focused heavily on conservation – was the chance to work with impoverished communities around the Kruger National Park. ‘It was satisfying to be able to inspire entrepreneurism and empowerment in an area with such great potential for tourism. We helped to switch the focus from harmful practices like poaching to lucrative practices like creating and selling crafts inspired by nature.’

During her reign, Constantinides also travelled to Japan, where she addressed a UN conference about the role of youth and community service in preserving the environment, and later set up community projects in both Vietnam and Cambodia.

Capitalising on her obvious passion for the field, the managers of the Miss Earth contest asked Constantinides to join their professional team. The ensuing Miss Earth South Africa programme that she developed, based on service and volunteering, has become a blueprint for organisations globally as best practice and has ensured success for Miss Earth in other countries throughout the world.

‘Poverty, hunger and the environment are so interlinked,’ she explains. ‘I wanted to highlight these social issues and create opportunities to help. If you’ll excuse the pun, Miss Earth should plant the seeds for better citizenship. It’s not simply about how beautiful she is, but about what she can do for her community.’ This about sums up Constantinides herself.


Staying in the green field, the social entrepreneur co-founded an international climate youth network, Generation Earth, with her sister Ella Bella Constantinides, the United Nations Environmental Programme Youth Ambassador for South Africa, in 2011.

‘We needed a platform to encourage young people to do something good for the environment,’ says Constantinides. ‘Generation Earth is helping build a green economy by ensuring sustainability as a way of life.’

In 2013, Generation Earth received the Mail & Guardian Greening The Future Award for the work they do across South Africa.

Additionally, Constantinides does a lot of work on climate activism and food security in her personal capacity, but she doesn’t like to blow her own horn. ‘Where I can add value to organisations already working within a space, I do. Collaboration achieves a lot more than gunning for your own recognition.’


Constantinides lists her best qualities as trust, authenticity and humility, but admits she’s far too much of a perfectionist.

‘I’m trying to work on that,’ she smiles modestly. ‘I’m also trying to slow down, stop and reflect on what I’m doing. This is something I really believe in, but don’t always get right.’

She says her journey thus far has been a ‘wonderful, colourful series of twists and turns,’ and when I ask about what her future may hold, she hints at a ‘distinct possibility’ connected to a childhood dream of one day becoming president of South Africa.

‘I’m not saying I’m going to march into the Union Buildings, but I would definitely love to add value to our country by being able to serve the people of our nation in a governmental position,’ Constantinides clarifies with a grin and a flick of her locks.

She may not be able to say anything more specific than that yet, but if her track record is anything to go by, this blonde bombshell is set to blast all stereotypes out of the water.

Photography: Courtesy images
December 2015/January 2016

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