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THE COLLECTIVE X: DRIVEN BY THE OPPORTUNITY TO HARNESS AND UNLOCK THE TRANFORMATIVE POWER OF DIGITAL SKILLS - The Collective X

THE COLLECTIVE X: DRIVEN BY THE OPPORTUNITY TO HARNESS AND UNLOCK THE TRANFORMATIVE POWER OF DIGITAL SKILLS

According to Collective X, a digital revolution is brewing in South Africa. The country stands on the brink of extraordinary growth and innovation. However, to access this growth, South Africa first has to navigate the current digital skills crisis.

A major discussion point during the gathering is how these skills represent a R400 billion economic opportunity for South Africa, and digital skills can unlock the potential of South Africa’s youth, promoting economic growth and global competitiveness.

The vision and potential opportunities

The opening plenary session at the Collective X conference featured guest speakers Lillian Barnard, president at Microsoft AfricaPhuthi Mahanyele-Dabengwa, South Africa CEO at NaspersMteto Nyati, executive chairperson of BSG and the chairperson of the board of Collective XNonkqubela Jordan-Dyani, the director-general of the Department of Communications and Digital Technology, and Vukani Mngxati, CEO at Accenture Africa.

“I think Collective X is an idea that has come at the right time,” was Mteto’s opening remark. “The formula that we’ve relied on in the past of working in silos to address the skills crisis has clearly not worked, and it is good that we’ve come to this realisation,” he added.

He continued to say that the youth have so much energy, but have lost hope, and Collective X has the power to restore that hope to them.

Lillian looked at the opportunity that AI presents. According to her, if Africa captured just 10 percent of the AI opportunity, it could have its share of a trillion-dollar opportunity. “We need to prepare our youth who are looking for work – work, by the way, which has in recent years changed. We are now living in a digitally skilled society,” she noted. “South African youth are the future of the workforce, not only in our country but in the rest of the globe.”

Phuthi spoke on the digital skilling initiatives. “We need to ensure that the youth have access to digital platforms and we have done this through Naspers Labs, a social impact programme that addresses youth unemployment through digital skills training.”

What will it take to deliver a pipeline of digitally skilled youth? Don’t look at the skills that aren’t needed, but rather follow where the crucial skills are, responded Vukani Mngxati.

“When I travel and see what other countries are doing, it tells me what we need to do as South Africa,” he noted. “African countries that were miles behind South Africa in the past are now leading the conversation when it comes to digital skills.”

A consistent theme emerged from the discussion: the importance of more effective strategic planning, including shorter timelines, swift implementation of government mandates, private sector skills-matching, and combined monetary resources to support national youth training programmes. Nonkqubela noted, “Training programmes without the correct vacancies and sufficient budget for stipends to address basic needs are ineffective.”

“Let’s build the skills that are demand-driven, skills at the right price point, and skills at the right quality standard that matches the rest of the world,” the speakers agreed.

Pairing tech with people

In the CIO roundtable discussion led by Ziaad Suleman, group chief commercial officer at EOH, alongside guest speakers Dr Denisha Jairam-Owthar, CIO at the Council for Medical SchemesFaith Burn, CIO at EskomHelen Constantinides, CIO at Avbob, and Khomotso Molabe, CIO at Standard Bank, the speakers observed how the tech landscape has become one that enables business, and how tech is no longer the discussion, but rather the business output.

Khomotso reflected on how the demand for skills has evolved in his environment of financial services. “I work with financial people and I often say that we are a tech company who merely has a banking licence,” he noted.

“When you look at our graduate programmes 10 years ago, it mainly produced finance graduates and fast-forward to today, it now churns out engineers and data scientists. From a revenue perspective, we are using tech to create new revenue opportunities.”

Faith, on the other hand, believes that the tech conversation is the easy part; the real conversation rather should be around how tech is making an impact on the business, and using it to solve business problems. “The business conversation comes before the tech conversation.”

“We need to understand the purpose, which I understand to be the people, the business and the process, and we also need to be careful not to digitise everything, because that human touch is important as well,” added Helen.

“It is important that IT aligns from a tech and business perspective, where it improves processes by removing legacy systems, and also looks at the technological skills needed in the business for the future.”

According to Denisha, “Enablement in my world has a deeper dimension: it’s about people learning how to co-exist with tech rather than fearing what it can do.”

Denisha also criticised how educated people are not being utilised to their fullest potential, such as individuals with master’s degrees who undergo training programme after training programme rather than being employed from the onset. In addition, Denisha critiqued how companies are spending so much on offshore skills and not looking within our own shores.

Ziaad spoke about the culture of instant gratification and how instead of looking internally or upskilling, most organisations would rather poach the skills they desire from other companies. “This is a mindset that needs to change,” he emphasised.

As a board member of Collective X he also noted that, “The current skills supply issues are beyond being talkshopped, which is why Collective X’s mission is so critical at this time. The private sector’s engagement with training institutions needs to be bolstered by meaningful collaboration and lowering the barriers to entry to gain on-the-job experience.”

When it came to the sought-after skills the CIOs looked for in potential candidates, Faith said that besides the noted lack of cybersecurity skills, she was really interested in purpose. “I’m a purpose-driven leader and go out of my way to find purpose-driven people when I recruit. From a soft skills perspective, I often look at a person’s ability to embrace change,” Faith said.

“I look for the hunger in people, people who want to get somewhere in life. The skills that go beyond the tech skills, but the ability to have conversations and techies who are coming out of their introverted shells,” Helen added.

The speakers concluded that Collective X has a huge role to play in getting the right skills in, and to get them in will require the right education coupled with access to the right education.

The conference closed with the announcement of the Digital Skills Industry Fund, which has already raised R50 million from globally recognised donor partners and has additional funding in the pipeline. The fund is designed to crowd-in and leverage impact skills investments from businesses, government, and donors.

This article was published in CIO South Africa

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Given the country’s abundant natural beauty, the sector has traditionally been a vital cog in SA’s economic growth engine, and it is now expected to drive the country’s economic recovery.

Ziaad Suleman

Chief Commercial Officer, EOH

Ziaad is the Chief Commercial Officer and Member of Exco at EOH, one of the largest technology services companies in Africa, where he is responsible for the overall go-to-market proposition, which includes sales, consulting, channel and OEMs, commercial constructs, investments, solutioning and marketing, as well as the Software Technology Business.

Ziaad is a notable figure in the ICT space. He chairs the South African branch of 4IR on BRICS and leads the ICT 4IR Public Private Growth Initiative (PPGI) Business Advisory Group, advising the President. His passion for community upliftment is evident through his roles as the independent non-executive chair of Qode, chair of the Parktown Girls Governing Body, non-executive Director of Charities Aid Foundation Southern Africa, and Executive Member of D1GIT NPO.

Ziaad holds a postgraduate honours degree in Law with distinction from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and an MDP Business Management degree with distinction from the GIBS

Vukani Mngxati

CEO, Accenture Africa

Vukani is the CEO of Accenture Africa, a role that showcases his extensive consulting experience and deep understanding of local markets on the continent. He has dedicated over two decades to leveraging his technical expertise and business acumen to deliver impactful digital solutions for both public and private sector clients. 

In 2019, Vukani was appointed Commissioner for the Presidential Commission on the 4th Industrial Revolution. This role underscores his commitment to advancing digital technologies.

Vukani is deeply invested in assisting clients to achieve the agility needed to thrive in today’s fast-paced environment. He is a strong advocate for the adoption of emerging digital technologies, believing that these are not just tools for improving service delivery and financial performance but also pivotal in nation-building across the African continent. 

He holds a BCom degree in Business Information Systems and Accounting from the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Pieter de Villiers

Co-founder and CEO, Clickatell

Pieter is the co-founder and CEO of Clickatell, a frontrunner in the chat commerce space and the first African company to receive backing from American venture capital firm Sequoia Capital. Under Pieter’s leadership, Clickatell has flourished into a global company with operations spanning multiple continents. 

Pieter has over 23 years of experience in global telecoms, mobile messaging, and mobile payments, 10 of which he spent in Silicon Valley. Apart from his corporate achievements, Pieter is deeply invested in fostering entrepreneurship as a catalyst for economic and job growth. He is a business mentor for Endeavour and the founder and chairman of SiMODiSA, an organisation focused on accelerating start-up success for South African entrepreneurs. He is also committed to enhancing digital skills in Africa, which he views as a more significant opportunity than mining or agriculture. 

Pieter has been recognised for his exceptional leadership and contributions to the mobile industry by numerous industry organisations and publications, including Global Technology Business (GTB), which named him one of its “top 40 under 40” executives in 2011, and the San Jose Business Journal, which awarded him its Social Economic Impact Award in 2012. 

Nicola Galombik

Executive Director, Yellowwoods Holdings

Nicola is a business leader and social innovator, driving multi-sector partnerships for systems change and inclusive economic participation.

As Executive Director of Yellowwoods Holdings she leads the investment group’s efforts to drive inclusive and sustainable growth through, and with, its portfolio of businesses. She also leads Yellowwoods’ social innovation hub, impact financing and grant-making. 

Under her leadership, Yellowwoods has incubated a portfolio of African social enterprises, including the Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator. Other impact focus areas include Impact Sourcing, Inclusive Carbon initiatives and Early Childhood Development.

She is currently active on numerous private sector and social sector boards, a member of the South African Presidential and Ministerial advisory on youth employment and digital skills, and a member of the advisory board of the Africa Leadership Group, the Aspen Global Leadership Network, and a McNulty Prize laureate. She won the Skoll Award in 2019 and the World Economic Forum/Schwab Foundation award for Corporate Social Intrapreneurship in 2020.

Nicola was a Fulbright Scholar and holds a bachelor’s degree in Film, Politics and Psychology from Wits University and a master’s degree in Cinema and Media Studies from New York University. She has also completed the  Leadership for Systems Change programme at Harvard.

Evan Jones

CEO, The Collective X

Evan is the CEO of The Collective X, bringing together leaders of industry to address the critical shortage of digital skills in South Africa.

Evan is leading the charge as the initiative sets to double South Africa’s output of high-demand digital jobs in the next three years while simultaneously enhancing youth digital skills, boosting employment and injecting a substantial R300 billion into the economy.

Evan was previously the Strategy Director of Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator, where he managed portfolios ranging from digital strategy, new market development, and Harambee’s leadership in priority sectors like globally transacted services. 

He joined Harambee from Webhelp South Africa, a French/UK-based global operator, where he served as COO to rapidly scale the organisation’s South African operations to nearly 2,000 staff. Previously, Evan worked at Discovery Health to transition their North American operation, at TalkTalk (Carphone Warehouse) to manage their contact centre outsourced relationships covering 3,500 staff; and as Director of Operations for Merchants South Africa, managing large-scale outsourced operations across various verticals and geographies. 

Evan also served as chairman of BPESA from Nov 2018 to Oct 2021.

Mteto Nyati

Executive Chairman, BSG

Mteto is the Executive Chairman of BSG, a prominent consulting and technology company focused on strategy execution. He is the chairman of the board of The Collective X. His extensive leadership experience has included roles as Group Chief Executive of Altron, CEO of MTN South Africa, and Managing Director of Microsoft South Africa. He also served in various leadership positions at IBM over a 12-year tenure in South Africa and Europe. Mteto’s exceptional leadership has garnered recognition, winning the EY World Entrepreneur Award Southern Africa in 2021 and CNBC Africa’s All Africa Business Leaders Awards’ Business Leader of the Year in 2019.

Aside from corporate success, Mteto authored the best-selling autobiography “Betting on a Darkie,” recounting his journey from a shopkeeper’s son to a respected business leader. Committed to mentorship, he guides executives, CEOs, and emerging professionals. In 2021, the University of Johannesburg awarded him an honorary doctorate for his contributions to IT Management. Mteto, a World Fellow at Yale University in 2004, holds a BSc degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of KwaZulu Natal, reflecting the technical foundation underpinning his business achievements.

Samantha Chetty

Samantha is the Finance Executive for Funder Management at The Collective X. With 28 years of financial experience, 17 of which are in non-profit organisations, she has expertise in both national and international fund/grants management, stakeholder management across government and private sector, as well as establishing and designing financial systems for complex funder reporting, as well as building and capacitating all internal teams and external partners. Samantha holds a Masters in Business Administration from Regenesys Business School of South Africa.

Pontso Ntseuoa

Pontso is responsible for University Engagements at The Collective X, bringing over 20 years of diverse experience in both corporate and entrepreneurial settings. She has worked in a number of industries, including development funding, renewable energy, telecoms, and business consulting. Her previous roles include significant contributions at the Industrial Development Corporation and co-founding U-Network Telecoms (UNTEL). She holds a Masters in Digital Business and International Business and Entrepreneurship, amongst other qualifications.

Nkululeko Gama CA (SA)

As the Financial Accountant for The Collective X, Nkululeko plays a key role in maintaining the financial integrity and operational efficiency of the organisation. His responsibilities include assisting with the drafting of business cycle policies, handling various aspects of contracting, processing accounting transactions, reviewing accounting journals, and compiling management accounts. Nkululeko is a chartered accountant registered with SAICA.

Lebohang Mosikili

Lebo’s adept communication and problem-solving abilities contribute to the efficient functioning of the entire team. In the dynamic tech landscape, Lebo is the indispensable force behind the efficiency, and smooth-running, of The Collective X’s operations.

Jennifer Kann

As the Marketing and Communications Lead for The Collective X, Jennifer brings a wealth of experience from her 25-year career in the field. Beginning her journey as a journalist, she quickly transitioned into a corporate communications specialist. For the last 12 years, her focus has been dedicated to youth employment and related issues, highlighting her commitment to making a meaningful impact in this crucial area.

Hina Soni

Hina is the Programme Manager for The Collective X and plays a pivotal role in driving and enabling technology platforms for the mobilisation of organisation. Her focus extends to partnerships and solutions, which help bridge the digital skills gap and grow the talent pipeline in South Africa. With her qualifications and extensive experience in management consulting, she has worked across industries to deliver customer strategies and innovative technology platforms.

Fran Swart

As the head of Partnerships and Strategic Client Engagements at The Collective X, Fran is deeply invested in addressing unemployment in South Africa. Her role involves creating impactful solutions to bridge the digital skills gap in the country. Through her work, Fran has contributed to the establishment of a national digital skills initiative, coordinating efforts to deliver essential digital skills efficiently and effectively.

Dianne Woodward

With a Bachelor of Commerce degree and over 35 years of experience in human capital management and management consulting, Dianne plays a pivotal role as the System’s Architect leading the establishment and mobilisation of The Collective X. Her extensive background and expertise are instrumental in driving the organisation’s initiatives and growth.

Deidre Samson

Deidre is the Executive for Insights & Strategic Supply Side Partnerships for The Collective X. She brings a rich background in corporate marketing, strategy and innovation, fostered through her experiences in private banking and at a leading multinational alcoholic beverage company. She is a member of several expert panels, including the United Nations Development Programme and Interpol, and also contributes as a faculty member at the University of Stellenbosch and the University of Free State’s MBA Programme.

Evan Jones

Evan is the CEO, and member of the board, of The Collective X and leading the charge as the initiative sets to double South Africa’s output of high-demand digital jobs in the next three years while simultaneously enhancing youth digital skills, boosting employment and injecting a substantial R300 billion into the economy.

Charity Phakathi

Charity serves as the Finance Executive for The Collective X. Her responsibilities include overseeing Opex and Sustainability, Governance policies, Financial Modeling, Legal and Contracting, as well as preparing Annual Financial Statements for the entity. She has 30 years of experience in finance, primarily in the corporate and banking sectors. Charity is a Wits Alumni with various qualifications in Financial Accounting and Tax.

Andy Searle

With a rich history in the Global Business Services (GBS) sector, Andy is the founder of Paladin Consulting and former CEO of industry body BPESA (2017-2022). He’s been a part of The Collective X team since 2022, focusing on government relations and fostering partnerships for digital skills development.

Tim Andrews

Tim focuses on Partner Enablement and Funding Innovation at The Collective X, leading initiatives to bridge the digital skills gaps in South Africa. He has worked in corporate finance and private equity and also founded a technology business, taking Google’s Enterprise and cloud solutions to market as a premier partner in South Africa. Tim holds an Honours degree in Investment Management from the University of Johannesburg.