Nkgwete’s Siddika Osman is getting Africa's pulse racing

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She believes that technology makes things possible, but people make them happen.

Siddika Osman, a self-motivated black female entrepreneur, founded Nkgwete IT Solutions and is proud shareholder of one of the country's few women-led IT services firms. She has over 25 years of experience in the ICT sector, having worked for companies such as Transnet IT, T-Systems, and arivia.kom. Siddika's technical expertise and business acumen are critical to Nkgwete's success.

The name “Nkgwete” was intentionally chosen and means champion, says Siddika Osman, the company’s CEO. “It ties in with our company’s tagline, ‘Technology makes things possible, but people make it happen,’ and we say that Nkgwete is the place for champions that are high-performing individuals,” she adds.

“Furthermore, we are also passionate about the holistic individual. If you work at Nkgwete IT Solutions, you should meet certain qualification criteria, but over and above that, when you start working for us we also focus on the EQ as well.”

Nkgwete ensures new people who join the company to enrol for self mastery courses that cover aspects such as personal mastery, business communication and business writing skills. “Our mission is to grow people not only in the professional world, but also in their personal capacity,” says Siddika.

“We want our people to incorporate all of the values that they have learned at Nkgwete into their families and communities. Our unique selling point is our people: we don’t just hire people to deliver services, but build a group of people that make a difference in society.”

Championing empowerment
The company sets an example in this respect, through its Nkgwete Foundation, which is aligned to the UN sustainable development goals. “Four of those goals really resonated with us, mainly the goal geared towards gender empowerment,” says Siddika. She is passionate about providing opportunities for young women to pursue careers in STEM.

“This is not just lip service: 50 percent of the 16 people in our management team are women,” she says. “Forty percent of my technical team, which consists of 90 people, are women.

“We have also partnered up with FNB and the Tshwane University of Technology as well as schools in our district and have asked these institutions to send through their top five performing students to join us at an event that we are hosting, to encourage these young ladies to pursue careers in STEM fields,” Siddika explains. “Pursuing careers in STEM shouldn’t be daunting, and the young ladies will be paired up with women (mentors) who have walked this path before, and will guide them through this journey,” she continues.

Siddika started in the ICT space more than 27 years ago and in most cases, was the only female technician in the room. “I know what it feels like to fight an uphill battle to prove that there is a space for women in the ICT industry,” she says. “My journey is an example of how you can start as a technician and work your way up to the position of CEO, and I feel I have the responsibility to support other women on their journey ─ that’s my WHY.”

She recalls facing two challenges: one being a woman, and the other, being a woman of colour in ICT, post-1994. But she lives by Oprah Winfrey’s famous words: “Excellence is the best deterrent to racism and sexism,” and is a firm believer that once you prove your capability, there is very little room for prejudice.

Her message to young people wanting to pursue careers in ICT is that consistency is vital: “Consistency is not always there, particularly with young people, but you need to be consistently excellent in everything you’re involved with. You can’t be good in one project and average in the next ─ consistency is the key to success,” she advises.

Unlocking Africa’s pulse
“Nkgwete’s vision is unlocking Africa’s pulse through technology, which means addressing the huge gap the country has when it comes to digitisation,” says Siddika. “On one hand, you have a group who are privileged enough to have access to technology, but on the other, you have marginalised communities who have limited to no access to technology.

“Nkgwete’s vision is to unlock Africa’s pulse, the heartbeat of the people, the people who make up this country and help them gain access to technology,” she says.

Siddika points out that her priorities don’t lie with the latest cutting-edge technologies, but a focus on the people, at a grassroots level. “We conduct regular visits to schools where we talk to matriculants about careers in ICT, and after delivering our keynote address, one of my managers was approached by a group of students who wanted to apply for university, but had no idea on how to go about creating an email address, and couldn’t submit an application,” she recalls. “This was such a revelation for me, and instead of focusing on schools that have the resources, we focus on the schools that don’t – setting up networks for the day and helping them apply for university.”

Nkgwete also runs an internship programme every year, taking on 20 students for the compulsory in-service training required for them to obtain their qualifications. “This is mutually beneficial,” she says. “On one hand, the students get the required training and experience, and on the other, our technicians, who mentor these students, are able to share their knowledge and expertise. They feel like they have contributed to the lives of these students, which also boosts their morale and confidence.”

Through their digital onboarding system, Nkgwete is able to onboard new employees who have joined the business; there is no need for any physical paperwork: everything is done digitally, even signatures. This solution is not only limited to business use –, it can also be used in other sectors such as education, which Siddika says is something the company is currently considering.

Soft skills have become core skills
The ICT space has traditionally focused on technical skills, however Siddika suggests that soft skills are just as important. “Things like communication and interpersonal skills go a long way, and that’s our approach to business,” she notes. “I’ve heard stories from clients from companies I used to work for in the past, about technicians hardly engaging with them when they were out on call, and I wanted to offer a different experience with my own company,” she says.

Nkgwete is an ISO 9001 certified company, and currently in the process of becoming ISO 27001 certified. Siddika says this is all aimed at bolstering security standards and ensuring that the company is security-proof. “Working towards this certification has given us the guidelines and framework of what we need to do to meet the required standards,” she explains.

“If your policies and processes are in place, then your foundation is strong. Only then can you build on top of that,” she concludes.

This article was originally published in the first-ever edition of CIO Magazine, which is now available for download here.

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