Meet the Leader – Caren Johnstone

_D7V4669-Caren-johnstone-white-backgroundCaren Johnstone, Director of WonDesigns

Caren is Director of Wondesigns (they created the wonderful African Diaspora Kids website), a creative design studio situated in South West London. Their diverse industry experience allows them to work with a broad mix of clients who benefit from their creatively skilled team and high energy work ethic. Caren and her team believe that your brand is the face of your company and that your look is their business.

Read on to discover why she is a leader…


Country of birth:

South Africa

African countries you have visited:

South Africa

Languages spoken:

English, Afrikaans

African dialects spoken or understood:


Your family background:

My father has German heritage, my mother has Scottish and Irish heritage. Both parents were born in South Africa so, I am South African through and through.

Tell us something about your leadership roles (employed or voluntary):

As a child, I always wanted to lead the games we played and direct the kinds of things we did for fun. I liked to think for myself, sometimes teachers saw my desire to lead as being impudent. I did have a few teachers that encouraged me and to them I am forever grateful.

Within my career I started as a junior designer keen to learn as fast as possible to get higher up the career ladder.

After feeling frustrated that I was not being recognised by my manager, I took up the challenge to open my own business. I was very lucky to have a friend that gave me his extra design work and helped me in the new world of managing myself while running a small business. In a year I had grown the business to 3 people. It was then that I decided to move to the UK.

I went back to my previous company as they have a global presence, hoping this could be my key to moving to England. This time I was appointed as the Senior Designer and valued by the new manager. I was very happy and worked there for more than a year before applying and being accepted in a design role in the UK.

I had to start all over again, I realised my skills were completely behind the advanced ‘first’ world expectations. Working day and often late into the night. Soon, I was recognised and appointed Assistant Team Leader and then Design Manager. I grew the team from 4 to 12 people before I left the global company almost 4 years ago.

What recent achievements (in the last 3 years) are you proud of and why. Give examples of the positive impact you have made in the diaspora and/or on the continent:

Starting my own company in England – This was the second most difficult experience (after immigrating to the UK). Competing with London and the global market was a massive challenge.

Managing to keep the business going and growing it for almost 4 years. I am so passionate about design and the creative world, having this business empowers me to give young talent the opportunity to enter this field. My team includes: Indian diaspora; Spanish; Ghanaian; Australian; Iranian; Chinese diaspora, English and me, South African.

I get great satisfaction in nurturing young designers, giving them the tools to grow and blossom in a supportive but challenging environment.

A few words of advice to young leaders (age 5-11):

Everyone says “believe in yourself”, this is the best gift you can give yourself.

So much more is possible than you can imagine. Everything you wish for can and will come true – it may take time and hard work. Take those opportunities with both hands and buckets of gratitude.

If I can achieve what I have as a South African who was told as a child that they are never going to make it in life, then you surely can!

It doesn’t matter what gender, race or religion you are, you will achieve greatness, whatever your greatness is, but you have to want it. So go out and get it! Make your family proud, show that person who says “you can’t”. Show them that you can and you will!


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