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Female-Power Getting On With The Business Of Building The Nation

Dr Thandi Ndlovu of Motheo Construction on her dramatic career change that made her a powerhouse.

Standard Bank

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South Africa is a country where gender and business stereotypes are rapidly disappearing. Although it still comes as a surprise that one of the nation’s leading social housing developers with more than 75 000 units to its credit is owned, managed and run by a woman.

In fact, Motheo Construction has been breaking down stereotypes since opening its doors for business in 1997 under the leadership of Dr Thandi Ndlovu, a medical doctor who has seen the company complete projects valued at more than R5.5 billion.

With headquarters in Randburg and offices in Durban, Kimberley, East London and Johannesburg, Motheo has successfully completed building projects anywhere in the country where their skills have been required.

Related: 13 Female Entrepreneurs Rising To The Top

Clues of how a doctor, once schooled in Soweto, ends up running a successful construction company lie in Dr Ndlovu’s background. She is a woman of strong convictions who, when committed to a course of action, cannot be easily swayed.

While studying and acting as Secretary of the Student’s Representative Council at the University of Fort Hare in 1976, she was forced to abandon her BSc, because of the oppression that followed the Soweto student’s uprising. Her brother, Hastings, fell victim to shots fired at the students on 16 June 1976 – the same day that Hector Pieterson, a symbol of the revolt, died from the violent action.

Dr Ndlovu spent the next few years actively fighting apartheid as part of the ANC’s MK military wing, moving into exile in Angola. She undertook several tasks, including that of running literacy and education programmes, and assisting as a medical officer before moving to the USSR. Later, she moved on to Lusaka in Zambia, where she enrolled at the University of Zambia in 1984 and completed her BSc (Human Biology) and MBchB degrees, finally realising her medical ambitions.

After the regime change, she returned to South Africa and identified a need in Orange Farm informal settlement, where she set up shop as the only doctor assisting a population of about 200 000 people. And there she could have remained, living out what she describes as “her life’s work”, and educating people on the benefits of preventative and community medicine.

The event that changed the direction of her life came when she began working with local health committees, pushing for improved housing to replace the shacks that exacerbated the health problems in the area. Dr Ndlovu’s first challenge was to find suitable premises for her medical practice.

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“I found a half-built shack and began working with some men to replace it with properly built medical rooms from which I could treat people,” she recalls.

She learned a lot about building, but saw her investment rewarded as patients came from other townships to consult and admired her building and facilities.

“I read about a former MD of Premier Milling who was introducing the art of brickmaking to rural communities. After seeing what he was doing, I got excited and phoned government to find out how I could get involved in building houses for the people. Eventually, I received six large files on the processes and rules to be followed to build homes.”

Not knowing the meaning of “impossible”, Dr Ndlovu drove to Pietermaritzburg to meet with a builder, and by the end of a weekend session she knew that what they wanted could be done.

“If you could persuade a professional team to work at their own risk, it was possible to get the drawings and engineering services planned and approved. Then government would provide a subsidy that could finance the required project, and that was the birth of Motheo Construction.

Related: 10 Successful SA Women Entrepreneurs’ Top Advice On Balancing Work And Family

“We began to target chiefs in rural areas of Mpumalanga who could give permission for building. I realised that we needed people of vision to assist us, so I contacted Matthews Phosa, Premier of Mpumalanga, who arranged for us to do presentations. The chiefs were fascinated by our model for building 1 000 units, as we did not only concentrate on building, but used the activity as an opportunity to train and develop people.

“We proposed coming in with a competent professional team to train people in these areas to build houses within the subsidy guidelines. Once we left, they would have the skills necessary to add rooms and improve the houses as needed.”

Phosa responded by asking her to build 10 000 houses. Political pressure and suspicion about Motheo’s model led to auditors being brought in. After a full audit, and three years later than scheduled, Motheo began their work. The medical practice in Orange Farm was sold to another doctor, and Dr Ndlovu began structuring Motheo for the future.

The result is an enterprise where women own 52% of the equity and work in the business on a daily basis. They also represent professionals ranging from quantity surveying, project management, and water and civil engineering disciplines.

“Like their male colleagues, Motheo’s women work on site in both rural and urban environments. The success of our empowerment initiatives can be measured in the achievement of the 20 Motheo Trust beneficiaries who progressed from newly qualified, inexperienced individuals to full members of Motheo. Today they manage projects and departments within the business.”

The agenda to develop and empower those with talent is undertaken by the Dr Thandi Ndlovu Children’s Foundation, which currently supports 20 orphaned and vulnerable children through their schooling and tertiary education. The Foundation covers education fees, accommodation, meals and provides the support that the children would normally have obtained from parents.

The career paths chosen by the children are as diverse as their backgrounds; they are pursuing professions as chartered accountants, musicians, chemical engineers and agricultural economists.

The development of small- to medium-sized enterprises is another passion that is served by Motheo, assisting identified companies with bridging finance, technical skills and guarantee facilities so they can undertake projects on their own account.

Going into the future with a full order book, Dr Ndlovu’s company is benefitting from her belief in investing in people and expanding their skills. Although Motheo’s activities still centre around housing, about a third of the projects they have successfully completed involve building facilities that range from the R60 million Orlando station in Soweto, rail refurbishment projects valued at R100 million to a R35 million administrative building for the eThekwini municipality.

Dr Ndlovu herself goes into the future with strong views about strengthening her own company: “This is a truly South African company. It is built on a model where everybody works together for its benefit. We are still true to our original model. We send in the professionals and work with young people to carry things forward and leave skills behind.

“Motheo believes that there is room for everybody to benefit and grow in our country,” she says.

Dr Thandi talks more on how Motheo Construction came about – watch the below video.

Visit the Standard Bank Community page more on Dr Ndlovu’s inspirational story.

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Standard Bank SA is the largest operating entity of Standard Bank Group, Africa’s largest bank by assets. Standard Bank SA provides the full spectrum of financial services, with more than 720 branches and over 7 100 ATMs. Independent surveys of customer satisfaction consistently place Standard Bank at or near the top of their rankings. The personal and business banking unit offers banking and other financial services to individuals and small-to-medium enterprises. For further information, go to community.standardbank.co.za

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Forever Learning, Discovering And Empowering

From work-life balance to finding the right support, Constance Kawelenga CA(SA), director and owner of Zuva Financial Services, shares her top tips on how to manage a successful business as a sole proprietor.

SAICA

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“Every business has its own slice of the market; one just needs to define their service offerings and target market.”

“When I established Zuva Financial Services, it was under the ‘illusion’ of a work-life balance. I say ‘illusion’, because when you work for yourself, you put in just as many hours, if not more, than when you work for someone else.

“I also wanted the flexibility to be able to shape my working space around my own lifestyle and family, and not to have to account to anyone else. The rigorous training to become a chartered accountant taught me to be highly disciplined. That means when I work for my own business, I am just as tough on myself, if not tougher, than any boss would have been in a different setting. The plus for me is that I am able to be there for my family when I need to be, and compensate for this in a way that best suits my lifestyle.”

Being your own boss has its pros and cons. However, for Constance, it is all worthwhile. Setting targets for her business every year and achieving those targets is deeply satisfying. Again, this is something she attributes to her training — she values client success and feedback.

“Whenever I get affirmation from clients regarding the value that we are adding to their business, and they refer other clients to us, I celebrate those achievements. The growth of Zuva Financial Services’ has resulted mostly from referrals or word of mouth and that, to me, is a testimony to the value that our clients place on our services.”

Related: The Power Of Finding Your Why

Overcoming a lack of internal support

The hardest thing about being the owner of Zuva Financial Services for Constance is the lack of an internal support structure. However, Constance has developed a network of technical specialists that she can call upon to consult. She agrees that technical support remains the toughest challenge of being a sole practitioner.

“We offer a mixed bag of services such as accounting, taxation, secretarial, payroll and even Black Economic Empowerment consulting. Additionally, I have audit clients — some in industries with specific reporting requirements such as estate agents and attorneys working with trusts. On a smaller scale, the breadth of services is almost the same as those offered by bigger firms. The difference is that I don’t have the internal resources such as a technical department.

Prior to establishing Zuva Financial Services, Constance spent six years in audit, mostly in Zimbabwe, but also in Botswana and South Africa. Since then, she has also been exposed to other financial roles, where she fulfilled financial management roles for different organisations such BMW Financial Services.

Constance advises those aspiring to follow in her footsteps and open their own companies not to overthink it, or doubt themselves.

Related: Can Computers Replace Human Accountants? We Doubt They Can

Don’t overthink it

”It took me such a long time to take my first step because I could not believe that I would be able to build up a client base. Today, there are times when I am overwhelmed by the workload on my plate. It reminds me of my mother-in-law’s advice when I started my business. She told me that every business has its own slice of the market; one just needs to define their service offerings and target market.”

Constance describes herself as “forever learning, discovering and empowering.” She adds: “We each have a unique walk in life — ours is to boldly step out and embrace it”.

Visit www.saica.co.za

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TuksNovation – Accelerated Innovation With The University of Pretoria

The University of Pretoria’s high-tech business incubator will be launched on the 6th of August by Minister Zulu, Department of Small Business Development at UP – Hatfield Campus, to alleviate the serious challenges related to unemployment South Africa is faced with.

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According to Trading Economics (2017), the youth unemployment rate in SA is extremely high at 55,9%. The University of Pretoria is aware of this challenge and has embarked on launching a high-tech business incubator and accelerator.

This business technology incubator, known as TuksNovation, will promote job creation by providing support for the commercialisation of technology, networking, mentoring and sustainable spin-off technology companies.

Fuelling the economy

In a knowledge-driven economy, universities play a major role in regional socio-economic development. Innovations arising from a university’s intellectual capital can stimulate economies through new product development. Universities are therefore highly valued in terms of economic potential.

Although the creation of spin-offs is one of the key mechanisms that universities can leverage to promote socio-economic development, few universities in South Africa have done so, and the impact has been very modest. This low success rate can be attributed to the absence of an entrepreneurial culture, limited access to funding, as well as technology transfer offices at universities that lack critical skills and capacity.

Related: The Power Of Life-Long Learning with University of Pretoria

The elements of success

TuksNovation is based on the triple helix model of Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff (1995). According to the University of Stanford Human Sciences and Technologies Advanced Research Institute (H-STAR) (2011), the triple helix concept comprises three basic elements:

  1. It allows universities to play a more prominent role in innovation, on par with industry and government in a knowledge based society.
  2. There is a movement towards collaborative relationships among the three major institutional spheres, in which innovation policy is increasingly an outcome of interaction, rather than a prescription of government.
  3. In addition to fulfilling their traditional functions, each institutional sphere also performs 34 new roles. Institutions that are currently taking on non-traditional roles are viewed as a major potential source of innovation.

Over the long-term, the business incubator aims to enable the development of industrial clusters with a positive economic impact in Tshwane. It is set up in partnership with the Department of Small Business Development’s Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA). 

How it works

TuksNovation aims to build strong networks among academia, government and industry to create new spin-offs that can benefit society. According to Prof Elma van der Lingen, Chairperson of the Graduate School of Technology Management (GSTM) at the University of Pretoria, the TuksNovation model is based on allocating seed funding to students who are keen to become entrepreneurs and are conducting research on projects that have the potential to develop commercially viable technology.

“Annual TuksNovation competitions will be held on campus and interested students will be able to participate in order to qualify for TuksNovation seed funding to develop their ideas into commercial products,” she says.

The competitions will have strict guidelines and will be evaluated by a committee comprising mainly representatives from industry and technopreneurs. The technology development phase of the projects will be conducted in a virtual incubator in the University’s laboratories and at facilities at local industries.

The students will receive expert technical guidance from academics at the University, as well as technological entrepreneurship training. Various in-kind contributions will also flow from building strong industry networks.

Some benefits from this relationship could include:

  • The use of industry facilities
  • Research on industry-related problems
  • Employment for students and mentorship.

Related: Small Enterprise Development Agency (Seda)

Funding for the business phase of the projects is secured from external funders, such as venture capitalists, investors, and corporations.

Students with commercially viable technology will make pitches and submit business plans to potential investors in order to secure funding. SEDA covers the incubator’s initial operational costs. TuksNovation will initially support the development of spin-offs in the Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology, but will expand to other faculties involved in science and technology at UP, depending on the availability of funding.

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Knowing The Basics Is Not Good Enough Anymore

Being able to confidently speak and write in English has never been so important. Using the right words in the right way can make a massive difference to any company.

Wits Language School

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Do you know the difference between “organize” and “organise”? Do you believe “device” and “devise” are the same thing? Do you think a comma and a semicolon could be used interchangeably? Why is “talk about” considered informal language? How does one create cohesion in your writing?

Few people in the business sector ask these questions; it could be because they do not focus on the language they use in business correspondence or, as second language speakers of English they do not know the answers. With many pupils in South Africa receiving basic education in their mother tongue, many enter the business sector not knowing the basic rules of how to articulate an idea coherently or cohesively. It is often when they are asked to compile a formal business report or prepare a presentation that few realise the importance of upskilling their English proficiency.

At the Wits Language School’s English Communication for Professional Development unit, that is the main focus: Enhancing participants’ English language skills for the business environment in an interactive manner. Whether you need to go back to the basics; learn how to write and edit emails, proposals, memos, minutes or reports; enhancing your speaking and pronunciation skills in order to deliver confident presentations; or practise your critical thinking skills when using English in your everyday life, there is the right course to fit your needs and help you climb that corporate ladder by focusing on what many regard as a “soft skill”.

Related: Tips To Becoming Fluent

Business English students can generally be classified into two sections: those who recognise the need to address their language skills, and those who believe they do not need any language training. The first group often walks into a class not knowing what to expect and leave with more confidence in their English spoken and written forms. The second group leaves the class understanding language structures better and rely more on grammar and writing rules than on what “sounds right”. Regardless of the group you might fall in, participants who successfully complete the courses gain knowledge, understanding, confidence, a higher aptitude in English and critical analysis of the language they are expected to converse in.

Take for example the following sentences – “I write reports”, “I am writing a report”, “I wrote a report”, “I have written a report”, “I have been writing a report” and “I had written a report”. Although all of these sentences are grammatically correct, they are very different in meaning and intention. “We could invest”, “We must invest”, “We might invest” and “We should invest” indicate different intensities and degrees, and “Please see attached” is better than writing “Kindly see attached”. One should avoid using a colon after a verb or preposition when you list things, and “U.S.A.” and “USA” refer to two different writing styles (one of which is preferable in South Africa).

Today, many companies are recognising the importance of English in the workplace as a way to create better internal and external communication, as well as creating uniformity in general forms of correspondence and business documents. While some companies offer their staff financial assistance in upskilling themselves, other companies opt to complete training as a group. With classes being presented in a communicative and fun way, English training has never before been made more accessible and exciting. Public classes run every Saturday over a 10-week period, while more customised corporate training takes place during the week at a time and place convenient for the client. Participants often comment that they start to analyse, question and edit their writing more critically and that their superiors at work see a marked change once they start a short course from Wits Language School.

Read next: How English Language Skills Play An Essential Role In Building Trust With Your Customers

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