Updated: Jan 29
Meet our second remarkable woman, Nomvuselelo Songelwa, CEO of Jurni
Tell us about how you came to have a career in technology
I entered the tourism industry in 1996 when I joined SANParks as an environmental education coordinator. Environmental education was being introduced as part of the transformation initiatives in 1996, and I became part of that initiative.
Although my main focus was on academics, the reality is that I got involved with every aspect of the organisation, including tourism and technology.
For other women contemplating pursuing a career in technology, what advice can you give? What do you wish you had known when you entered the industry?
As women, our careers are not career ladders, they are jungle gyms.
If I look at my professional and academic career, there has not been one linear field. Instead, it was a jungle gym where I had to go from one end to the other end to the other.
The leadership role for me has always been about bringing my strong points to the table. You must bring your authenticity, your own identity and your femininity into the boardroom without trying to emulate your counterparts.
Of course, as a woman, you will always be questioned. In the tourism sector, in the conservation sector, and even now that I’m in the technology sector, people always question me because the very first thing that they see is: I am a woman.
People will question your competence, they test your emotional intelligence, your maturity. But what is important for me is that you have to always be true to yourself. Because if you’re true to yourself, and you actually are very clear on what you do and you are very comfortable and content about the decisions that you make; you are able to defend your decisions at any time.
With the #challengeaccepted movement doing the rounds on social media, what do you think women in business and particularly women in tech can do to uplift and support other women in business? What would you like to see more of, in this regard?
The problem that we have as a society is that we portray women as a homogenous group. A lot of people are calling for a narrative that changes this and that says: first and foremost, we are human. Women are never homogenous.
But let’s share the lessons that we have learned, in particular as women leaders, to the younger women.
Let’s encourage women to innovate. Innovation comes in many different forms and shapes. There are numerous women who have innovated our tourism landscape through technology or innovative ideas on a very high level.
However, almost more exciting to see is the women entrepreneurs in rural areas who are innovating in their region by using technology to market their small tourism establishments and putting these on the international map. This kind of innovation leads to true transformation not only for the tourism sector but for our country as a whole.
Who do your draw inspiration from?
I cannot single out one person as a role model.
I pick up different attributes from different people whether they are men or women. Men, women, white, black, different people have groomed me to be where I am today. From each one of them, I have picked up some things that have shaped me to be who I am.
What do you see as the biggest challenge for the next generation of women and how can we be a strong role model for them?
As women, we need to be role models. We need to continue building each other up. We can’t all be activists or celebrities, but we have to ensure that for every woman we meet, we have a positive impact. We need to share, embrace, empower and uplift each other. Womanhood is about celebrating community and households, and men are part of that circle. Our responsibility is to love our counterparts and raise our boy children to appreciate women. In that way our legacy will be imprinted onto generations to come.
Wherever you go, you’re actually writing your own book. I have learned that consistency is very important. You can talk to anyone I have worked with; they all know exactly who I am. They will hate me or they will love me, but it will be for the same reasons. I’m consistent and true to myself.
I think the other thing to consider is that we are all human beings first.
Most importantly make sure we impart the lessons that we have learned in particular as women leaders to the young ladies. These times are tougher than they have been before for us, as women.