One of Africa’s leading entrepreneurs, Kabo Leshoai, a passionate, intelligent, South African business woman, who has remained a source of inspiration to young women, shares her success story, challenges faced, and her ideologies on the African society today that needs to be re-examined and more so, readjusted.
Who Is Kabo Leshoai?
I am a 39 year old mother to a beautiful human being, wife, daughter and sister, involved in a few businesses in different capacities. My current role is Managing Director of DSolar (Pty) Ltd, an absolute privilege that allows me to play within the Energy efficiency space. The energy industry is a space that has sparked my interest, an industry I would like to grow in and make an impact as green energy is very exciting. In addition to my current role, I am a Board member of AE Soft, a software solutions company with offices in Centurion and nationwide. I am also a shareholder in Interflex Merafong (Pty) Ltd, a business that specializes in supply of conveyor belting for the mining industry.
Although I acquired diploma from AAA school of advertising in Marketing, my background has primarily been in project management. My first job was with a company called Zahwa Entertainment and my role was a project coordinator. I subsequently joined Oasys Innovations and then Oasys Events which I always credit as having set a strong foundation for my passion for sales and great leadership.
It goes a long way to have a boss who really believes in you; at Oasys that person was Mr. Craig Newman current CEO of Nasrec Expo Centre.
I then joined the Joburg Tourism Company as part of their amazing marketing team, where I worked with the most wonderful boss Ms. Hapiloe Sello. It was at this time that I realized that women can build each other and we can carve and own our own spaces. She gave me an opportunity to shine by allowing me actively to play a part in the direction our company was growing in.
Although Corporate environment was great, however I soon came to realise that in order to reach my personal goals and avail myself for greater and more exciting opportunities; particularly in the South Africa today, I had to explore opportunities beyond Corporate sector and move into business or entrepreneurship where I believed I had a better chance of attaining my highly ambitious goals at the speed I wanted. Business presented an option, which of course would take a little longer to establish itself but would ultimately allow me to earn what I believed I was worth.
Obviously this direction came with its own challenges. I knew that running my own business would allow me earning potential that was commensurate with my effort and hard work. This led to the birth of Dingwedi Investments, a vehicle I would use to enter into an unknown world and earn money from different investment opportunities. While carving my way within the business world, I met very many accomplished business people who saw value in me and entrusted me with positions where I grew to ultimately reaching where I am today. Subsequently to establishing an invest company, I started a business called Dingwedi Renewable Energy (Pty) Ltd which trades as Dsolar (Pty) Ltd
What Are The Attributed Factors To Your Success Story?
Although success is relative and we have indeed been blessed with a few opportunities within this male-drenched industry, this is still not what I would define as my greatest success yet. There is still a lot of work that needs to be done to break through. We also need to get to a place where there is a solid working capital, steady income, more people employed by us, and a lot more projects under our belt. Despite the low women participation rates in this industry, I must say this is the first time in a long time that a business idea has felt right and the passion behind it hasn’t wavered and I am absolutely not intimidated.
Being part of the IPP (Independent Power Producer) programme in the first round for Eskom with our various partners sparked an interest in an industry I knew little about. And I still don’t know everything there is to know but I am learning every day. With so much happening in the renewable energy space and that is so exciting, we also know there is a lot of room to grow and create an organisation we dream of.
The reason we stay focused on this path is purely passion, and more passion to do something that is good for the earth while changing lives.
How Do You Rate The Leadership Role Of Women In Africa?
I think this is changing, changing slowly but we will get there. We do need a lot more women in leadership positions to not only help create opportunities for other women but so our daughters have role models to look up to, that our sons aren’t intimidated by strong women.
As An Accomplished Leader And A Role Model To Many, What Are The Challenges You Faced Personally In Your Line Of Work As A Woman And How Did You Subjugate These Challenges?
Thank you for the kind words. We still face financial challenges to grow the business to where we think it belongs. The South African government has put various programmes in place aimed at helping entrepreneurs such as ourselves to access funding. The process to funding isn’t easy, because you need money to enable you to get the correct documentation, business plans, meaningful financial projections based on sound market opportunities etc. to be able to apply for the government funding. You also need to show that you have generated enough business to enable you to access the funding. It is a typical chicken and egg situation, which comes first?
We rely on relationships and multiple networks to present our value proposition which hopefully provides the right solutions to our potential clients. We have and continue to build strong social networks and relationship though our work in order to gain trust and credibility and ultimately positive references for our business. In addition to funding, we believe in value of social capital developed through extensive networking and delivering solutions beyond our client’s expectations.
Women Across Africa And The World At Large Are Restricted, Owing To Culture and Territory They Find Themselves In. What Is Your Opinion On How The Government Should Emancipate The Limitation And Discrimination On Women, Giving Them Equal Oppotunities As The Male Gender, Irrespective Of The Culture, Race Or Economic Barriers?
I think this conversation is so much larger and it will take so much more than government intervention. I think the conversation should not be left to boardrooms only but is one that needs to start at home. My view is; very many children grow up without a father figure in their homes and very rarely have someone they can mimic in terms of how women are treated and little boys suffer more than little girls in this respect. The first place a child learns behaviour is in the home and it becomes important that we demonstrate what we want the world to look like in our homes. Where kindness, respect, shared responsibility, shared value, love and humility are demonstrated in our homes not just by a woman but by a man as well. This is where our children learn. Once we get this right, children will grow understanding this conversation and this will give rise to a natural and not a forced conversation that is unsustainable. When little boys understand that we are all equal the conversation is no longer one that needs to be had, but it will be what life looks like, our new reality. Government can only enhance what we want because we are the people who put them in power.
Speaking On Women Empowerment As A Topical Issue, How Can Gender Inequality Be Eradicated For Women Who Seek Higher Level Of Success In Their Line Of Work?
Definitely supporting and prioritizing women run and women led businesses. In order to close that gap because men do that unapologetically, we need to go out of our way to seek those businesses but obviously they need to be the kind of businesses that add value to their offering.
Our South African Government has tried to put legislation in place that seeks to level gender inequality through BEE programmes but compliance is always a problem. We find that when we introduce ourselves we need to highlight that we are a 100% black female owned business because if not for your credentials, you hope to appeal to those companies who need to earn points for their BEE score card, for work, quite sad really but whatever gets you through the door! It is for this reason that I believe more women need to start their own businesses and be really good at what we do so we make it our issue to create more opportunities for each other in the new work spaces. We need more of us not just sitting on decision making tables but across multiple positions. There is enough room for all of us to shine.
What Are Your Expectations For The African Woman In The Years To Come?
Oh wow, I think everything is possible for the African Women. My dreams are beyond what the mind can comprehend. It is in knowing that “our time is now”. As my friends Papama Ramogase’s campaign suggests…“Africa your time is now”. This speaks directly to us owning our future as Africans and understanding that we have all the tools on this continent to enable healthy trade between ourselves.
I’m excited about the future, the possibilities are endless and it is truly our time to shine as a collective in Africa and we need all of us to do that. So yes, the men also have to play a role in supporting and uplifting the women of this continent by creating access to all of it. Our future is very beautiful and I can’t wait to get there. Our time is now!