Realizing potential

By the time the Oprah Winfrey Network offered Zanele Mutepfa-Rhone (’15) a job opportunity, the woman who had once wanted to be the next Oprah had found a different path. “When I was a young girl, Oprah represented my North Star for the things I dreamed of doing,” says the Zimbabwean native. “But later, I was driven to create new storytelling platforms that allow people from different communities to learn about each other and bring them together.”

Mutepfa-Rhone skills in facilitating connections between people date back to her days at PSU. While an undergraduate student and member of the African American Student Services, she created Empowering Sisterhood, a program for women to unite and become educated about various cultures and current issues. “What I enjoyed most about PSU were the people and opportunities,” Mutepfa-Rhone recalls. “I was surrounded by people in the Diversity and Multicultural Student Services department who were committed to helping me achieve my career goals.”

Strong Initiative

Her own hustle pushed Mutepfa-Rhone’s career forward as well. She held internships at Sesame Street and then at CNN, where she worked with Anderson Cooper. To pay for New York housing while at CNN, Mutepfa-Rhone proposed an idea to adidas North America: after work, she would facilitate round tables and interviews to gather women’s marketing insights in exchange for a stipend that went toward her living expenses. She refined the vision for her future that summer, which drove her decision to pass on the Oprah Winfrey Network offer. “By then I wanted to carve a new lane and touch people in ways they’ve never been affected before. I went to work fulltime for adidas instead, and it was the best decision I’ve ever made.”

In her three years at adidas, Mutepfa-Rhone held multiple brand strategy positions aimed at reaching women and people of color. “My favorite role at adidas never had a title,” she says. “I found opportunities to work with people who were different, tap into their potential, and show them that they were equal and worthy. Whenever I could do that, I was doing a good job.”

Out in Front

Ready to meaningfully affect more industries and serve her community in a bigger way, Mutepfa-Rhone launched her own business – brandZanele – in September 2018. Now, she leads diversity strategy, brand collaborations, and multicultural initiatives within global companies.

Her proudest achievement is an endeavor called Here to Stay. “With Here to Stay, we celebrate diverse women who built their own seats at the table and are building seats for others.” In addition to helping these thought leaders create content and advance their exposure on social media platforms, Mutepfa-Rhone developed a speakers’ series so the pioneering women can share their wisdom and the community can cheer them on.

Serving a wide diversity of people remains Mutepfa-Rhone’s passion. “I love learning about people and hearing their stories, and then finding different ways I can positively impact their lives.”