By Charndré Emma Kippie
CEO and Founder of the Soma-Solutions Group, Marilyn Radebe, heads a 100% black women owned information and communication technology company based in Johannesburg. Marilyn has a long standing track record in the IT industry. She is the mastermind behind Edu-Supply and SmartSaver – two exciting new digital platforms making waves across South Africa. Marilyn Radebe is passionate about coming up with top-tier solutions for ensuring that businesses are viable, and accelerating organisations to reach their full potential. With her team, their client’s organisations are future-proofed, using cutting edge digital solutions and platforms; with a particular focus on cloud based solutions and cyber security.
As a member of the Institute of Directors of South Africa, Marilyn Radebe has also been a major contributor to the formation of African Women in Information Technology (AWIT), and has provided input into the National Integrated ICT Policy White Paper. She completed a BCom Information Systems degree at the University of Cape Town, and also completed the Management Advancement Programme at Wits Business School.
Congratulations on launching two new digital platforms this year! How did you achieve this, and why are these projects so important to you?
Thank you. By believing that we are resolving societal problems with our digital platforms and by quickly developing and determining the financial viability of the platforms. These two projects are important to me because they are there to solve problems. With Edu-Supply, it revolves around solving the problem of convenience while with SmartSaver, it focuses on finding a safe way for members to save and spend money.
How has technology empowered your business?
Technology has greatly empowered my business in many ways. Firstly, technology during the Covid pandemic has enabled my business to continue uninterrupted. Since Soma-Solutions is a services business within IT, it was one of those businesses that were not impacted. Also, the power of technology has assisted me with my clients because we enabled our staff people to have data and to continue working. So none of the projects we were working on were interrupted.
What is the most rewarding part of your job as the CEO of Soma-Solutions?
Being faced with new challenges every other day and coming up with solutions to remain a viable and growing business. This enables me to continuously grow as an individual and to also allow my team to grow. Another aspect that I find rewarding about my position as a CEO is fulfilling my dream of heading up an ICT company and to be able to use tech to solve everyday problems. This serves as confirmation that my dreams are valid.
What have been the major obstacles in your career and how did you overcome them?
I had to overcome myself, by believing that yes, I can do it. I learnt that overcoming oneself means you overcome the fear and you start developing the courage and muscle to continue pushing forward even when you get disappointed.
Another obstacle I’ve experienced is in all the other business related aspects concerning the ability to analyse financial statements and reports, understanding HR processes, knowing when to engage a legal team, etc. It is impossible for one person to have all these skills at once, but over time I had to gain all of these skills and apply them in the business.
Jumping at a new opportunity without considering the time and effort it would take to get it off the ground and the impact it would have on the existing business. Also, accepting that I will not be everybody’s cup of tea i.e. not every potential client or partner I engage will find value in our offerings or concepts and that’s okay. We just need to move on and find those customers and partners that we are aligned with.
What 3 tips do you have for future-proofing businesses?
- Digital is here! It is important that businesses understand it and know it, through this, they will know the possibilities. Business leaders need to make an effort to understand what we mean when we say 4IR and digital transformation.
- Secondly, businesses need to look at how they can use digital to transform their business operations.
- Thirdly, the leader of any business today needs to be a driver of digital within their organisation, to ensure that their business is future-proofed. For example, if you’re a CEO of company A and you still consider digital to be an area that solely sits with the chief digital officer, you’ve got it wrong. You need to be the driver of your organisation’s digital strategy by being a sponsor and biggest advocate for your organisation’s digital transformation.
Are there any new ICT trends you foresee in upcoming years that will accelerate businesses in SA?
The current trends to look out for are:
- 5G Connectivity and its ability to provide faster connectivity speeds
- Cloud computing as we move away from our reliance on computer hardware
- Artificial intelligence and machine learning
- Block chain adoption
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs looking to grow their existing business operations through harnessing the power of digital?
- Entrepreneurs should ensure that their businesses have a digital presence. For example, one cannot say that their business offers a catering service but has no way of showcasing the work that they’ve done. It doesn’t have to be a website only, but it also can be social media pages to showcase your work as it also gives your business great credibility.
- They must be able to use other forms of digital for customers to reach them. This means being highly accessible via various digital platforms such as WhatsApp and through the use of an e-mail address that has your business name.
- They need to invest in a billing and payroll system as this will assist them with their compliance as well as invoicing and handling tax affairs because everyone, i.e funders, potential clients and partners wants to associate themselves with a company that is compliant.
- Have an e-commerce/online store and make use of digital marketing and advertising.
Have you read any books that have inspired you and your business?
Yes, the two best books that have inspired me personally and in my businesses are The Lean StartUp by Ries Eric, and How I Made $2 million in the Stock Market by Nicolas Darvas.
Are there any outreach initiatives, social projects or community work that you’re involved with at the moment?
I am currently volunteering as a board member of the SA Women in ICT Forum – an NGO promoting the advancement and representation of women in the ICT industry and providing a forum for women in the ICT industry to network and exchange ideas and knowledge. Our organisation has recently issued a report on the ICT Leaky Pipeline to highlight the lack of women representation in the ICT sector and we also launched a ‘A Girl Without Identity Campaign’ late 2020.
Another organisation that I am part of is The Black IT Forum which strives for the economic inclusion of black people in the ICT sector. I am a Deputy President of the organisation and we have also recently compiled an ICT Survey Report in response to the Critical Skills Report by the Labour Market Intelligence Research Program.
What advice do you have for women who aspire to work within the ICT sector?
The ICT industry has a lot of opportunities, for example, you could be a lawyer, PR and Marketing person who specialises in the ICT sector or even a block chain developer. So the careers that they’re aiming for have to be aligned with 4IR technology, things that are new such as AI, RPA, cloud, data science, cybersecurity, software development and block chain.
I would also advise them to find sponsorship and mentorship because that will take them further whether they’re starting their own ICT company or beginning their careers. I feel that there’s still a need for mentorship and a lot of women aren’t speaking enough about that. We’re all alone trying to do all of this. So they need to have an objective sounding board that you trust as you go about your day to day struggles trying to break into the industry or in your career.
*Interested in discovering more inspiring stores about Top Women? Check out the 16th edition of the Standard Bank Top Women Leaders publication on Issuu – Digital Publishing Platform – here.