In this post I chat to the perpetual trailblazer, S’onqoba Vuba
S'onqoba you have a very impressive biography, having occupied various leadership positions across different sectors, can you briefly share your journey with us?
I am a 33 year old young South African woman with a passion for the continent we call home. I was raised in the East Rand in the township of Vosloorus where I was raised as the oldest of two and saw the miracle that is a single mother raising kids to work hard and always aim for excellence.
I completed Matric at an amazing public school, Germiston High School, where I was able to secure a bursary to help me finish my last year. It was in this last year that I first heard of Actuarial Science as a career, having wanted to become a therapist until this point in my life.
I applied for a scholarship to study Actuarial Science at Wits and thankfully received it.
After 4 years at Wits completing my undergrad and Honours in Actuarial Science, I joined Corporate South Africa in the Financial Services sector as an Actuarial Analyst at First National Bank (FNB), FirstRand. I fulfilled a number of roles and quite quickly moved out of traditional actuarial work. I served as a an Analyst, a Brand Insights & Analytics manager and eventually moved to FirstRand Limited as an Executive Assistant to our then Group CEO, Sizwe Nxasana, while also heading up the FNB Innovation Programme. This part of my career was one where I worked the hardest and grew the most in my abilities and confidence.
After 6 years in financial services I took a 2 month sabbatical and it resulted in a decision to move into education and social change in some way or another. This took the form of me joining my then “retired” ex-boss who had started an education startup. I joined as an employee and had the privilege of assisting in building out an education group that reimagined the value chain of futuristic African education. My time at Sifiso Learning Group led to great lessons in business and showed this actuarial professional that she had a knack for Operations and Entrepreneurship.
And now? I am the Co-Founder and MD of my own business Perpetu8 as well as the COO of an SME Accelerator (10X Entrepreneur), Chair of the Board for the same organisation that funded my university studies (The South African Actuarial Development Programme) and was appointed a commissioner on the Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
How did Perpetu8 come about?
It was an idea that had been swirling in my head for a number of years and culminated and crystallised in a discussion with my then boyfriend (now husband and co-founder) who had, like me, registered and operated in some way a business that was assisting SMEs.
Perpetu8 is our desire to see African SMEs scale and take their rightful place in contributing to our continent’s economy as well as steps to achieve its potential. Perpetu8 is named from the word perpetuate which is to make something continue indefinitely as well as the infinity symbol. It symbolises how we want to build scalable, sustainable, and relevant businesses in this continent, through leveraging the gig economy.
Perpetu8 is a boutique SME consultancy focused on strategy and implementation consulting services. We work to build African SMEs into exponential organisations with strategies aligned to the global rate of change and opportunities presented by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Perpetu8 makes skilled specialists/freelancers available and affordable to SMEs through on demand implementation consulting to grow the business and create jobs. We do this through partnering with funders in the SME ecosystem.
You focus on building businesses of the future through harnessing the Fourth Industrial Revolution- can you give us examples of how you have achieved this thus far.
Sure! We are really lucky to live in a time of abundant opportunity that is presented by the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, characterised by a blurring of the lines between the physical and the digital (Think of something as simple as Google Maps which allows a fully digital version of the physical to exists and decide when we turn left vs right. Think of Facebook and how more and more of our interactions and friendships are digital. Think of virtual reality games where your physical body is transported into an alternative reality). This era and globalisation provides technology solutions ready to be applied to problems we need solving.
In this revolution, the notion of a small select few businesses being tech businesses is a misnomer. More and more, any company that is not leveraging technology is being disrupted and often made obsolete. Perpetu8’s work is to assist entrepreneurs and their teams to understand this revolution as individuals and as businesses in order to apply its principles to how they build their businesses.
These type of businesses are ones built for exponential change rather than linear change. They are businesses meeting the characteristics penned in the book Exponential Organisations (Salim Ismail) such as Staff on Demand, Interfaces, Dashboards, Experimentation, Autonomy, Engagement, Leveraged Assets and Algorithms which allow businesses to be built for scale and to experience rapid growth. Think of how companies like Tesla, Netflix, Airbnb and Waze have been built and have grown.
Think of a tutoring business that moves to embrace machine learning to enable personalised learning paths; autonomy and innovation that allows staff, parents, students and tutors to innovate on the product, staff on demand and leveraged assets (eg: office space) that keeps overheads low and provides the efficiency to outprice competition?
Think of a manufacturing business that automates aspects that are dangerous to humans and frees them up for more value adding work that differentiates the product; quality assurance that is automated and with close to zero defects; algorithms that predict product demand and allows the business to align its production to this demand…
And perhaps most importantly, this was of thinking includes staff on demand which allows an SME to have access to skilled professionals without having to own them as employees (which most SMEs can’t afford) but rather to use them as per an on-demand model that matches cost to output and value add/creation. Our base and access to more than 2000 freelancers and service providers allow us to implement custom solutions in businesses, that drive them more and more towards Exponential Organisation status.
As a commissioner on the Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution. What does your role entail?
The Commission is made up of just over 30 citizens who come from different sectors of society including public sector, private sector, labour, entrepreneurship and academia. The commission has terms of reference that mandate to come up with a country Fourth Industrial Revolution strategy and plan that allows SA to become more globally competitive.
This is a broad mandate that covers areas that include Infrastructure & Resources; Human Capital & the Future World of Work; Policy & Law; Science, Technology and Innovation; Industrialisation & Commercialisation; as well as the Social & Economic Impact of 4IR.
Most of 2019 I was occupied with work done as part of these workstreams and I also chaired the workstream on Integration, Programme Management and Communications. The work of the workstreams and consultations with over 200 organisations culminated at the end of last year in a consolidated report of the commission that includes some systemic recommendations for the country as well as numerous recommendations related to each of the areas of interests, recommending ways to collaborate as a society to use the opportunities presented by this revolution to move our country closer to its economic and social goals. These recommendations and work done was presented at the Cabinet Lekgotla and other government platforms in 2020 as we work towards implementation of the moves that can really move the needle for South Africa, using this revolution and the opportunities it presents.
We love that you have collaborated with another formidable changemaker Nambitha Ben Mazwi , Founder of #SheSpeaksByLadyNam. Can you tell us about this collaboration?
Formidable indeed! Lady Nam, as she is affectionately known is a media mogul in the making and a Perpetu8 client that we just adore! #SheSpeaksByLadyNam, is a global women’s empowerment movement that has now been running a digital series with Global Citizen. Its objectives presented an opportunity to work on a shared passion – developing people to be their best and achieve their potential. And it is no secret that I have a special place in my heart for women development and gender equality.
And so, we joined forces as individuals and businesses to benefit those in our communities.
How important is it for women to work together?
Wildly important – it just doesn’t happen enough and it’s a shame. Collaboration is the best road to growth and success – gone are the days of doing it alone and competing when we are in a world of abundant opportunity and many possibilities for win-with strategies.
Even as a country we see this: silos and fierce competition is not resulting in the best outcomes and collaborative efforts produce better outcomes! As women, we know what it’s like to be the underdog, but also have this tenacious spirit to win (even when it means defying the status quo and odds). We don’t have decades to wait for gender equality and together as women (and with men who realise its time) we can make real strides.
What are your hopes for Africa within the Fourth Industrial Revolution?
My hope is to continue seeing young people take the lead and become the ones that we have been waiting for, as we build the Africa of our dreams.
I want to see more instances of us becoming creators and leaders in this revolution, unlike the ones before, in order to fix African problems and build African global success stories.
We’re doing it… and scaling it exponentially.
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