By Charndré Emma Kippie
Signa’s Innovator Director, Janine Piper, is currently the head of the Signa Group’s Power of One initiative which is committed to changing one person’s life at a time, making a meaningful impact and contribution to someone else’s life. A social entrepreneur, Janine is from Linden, Randburg, and holds a BA degree with a postgraduate qualification in Education specialisation.
What are your main career objectives and how do you hope to make a difference?
I wish to empower South African people to be economically self-sustainable by either employment or entrepreneurship. Currently, the country does not have a sustainable economic plan through the handout of social grants. Although, it is recognised that these grants are necessary; they do not address the self-worth and potential of our people. Africa has the capability of economically and culturally flourishing if the right structures are implemented.
We, at Signa Group, consider ourselves a ‘commercially viable charity’ which implies that our hearts lie with the people we are impacting through Power of One. While we are making sure that we remain a sustainable, successful, and ethical business, we also strive to grow and extend our impact on people and businesses in South Africa.
My career aspiration is to make a difference by finding the magic formula which enables economic activity for previously disadvantaged communities and facilitates a fulfilling family and cultural life for everyone. Too many people make personal sacrifices and travel to cities for the opportunity to train or work. I believe I was born in Africa to make a positive impact on the future of the people of South Africa.
How did you get to this point?
I studied education at RAU and I am an entrepreneur at heart. I had entrepreneurial ventures since I was in high school and before Signa, I had various businesses that taught me practical business skills. These included a restaurant which taught me people skills, a marketing company that taught me creativity, an IT business which firmly established my IT skills. Furthermore, in 2002 – 2004; before opening Signa; I had a business that focused on eLearning feasibility studies, which gave me wonderful experience in education, corporate structures, and the integration of technology in business solutions.
Signa (previously BEExchange) was started in 2004 from a passion of supporting transformation through B-BBEE consulting. The BEE Codes were published only a year later, in 2005, which implied that we were ahead of the curve. I have 4 highly qualified, committed, and passionate business partners. Without them, this business would not have grown as it did. We employ around 200 people, and I am forever grateful for the blessing of being able to assist them to support their families.
Signa has since evolved into 10 businesses that are focused on various solutions which contribute to empowering businesses and people in South Africa. This includes a private equity fund manager for SMMEs and ownership solutions, a skills development academy, an artisan training centre, a supplier management solution with a database of 90 000 unique up to date company records, a software development company and various unique other development solutions and projects.
We also started an NPO in 2014 that offers bursaries to young, black ladies in pursuit of a tertiary education. Our philosophy is that each student needs to be sponsored on all levels during their studies to increase their chances of success; therefore our bursaries include course fees, accommodation, stipends, books etc. We are proud to have our first doctor qualifying this year through the Signa Trust. Inspired by this feat, we were honoured to launch a competition on social media to sponsor a female ICT bursary in celebration of Women’s Day 2021.
What excites you the most about the work you do?
I am most excited by the Power of One stories that we generate to demonstrate the impact of our business on clients, small businesses, and individuals. We make these stories available on Signa Group’s website for the public to read a few ‘feel good’ stories. Even just having this one outcome makes the business activities of Signa Group worthwhile and meaningful.
I am also the Director of Innovation for the Group which allows me the opportunity to conceptualize and test unique solutions throughout the group.
Each student, business, employee, or stakeholder of Signa is considered a Power of One beneficiary. It is an absolute privilege to be part of a business that has like-minded partners and employees where the impact of our activities is measured and considered in a positive meaningful way.
Our culture is reflected in our business values: Grace, Giving, Gratitude, Love, Trust and Enthusiasm.
What life mantra/inspirational quote do you live by?
We are spiritual beings in a human world. Live with purpose. Remain positive. And if you set your mind to it, you can do anything you can imagine.
What 3 tips do you have for implementing solutions in your field?
- First, it is core to evaluate whether the solution has a purposeful outcome. Training for instance, is only purposeful if it creates a future for the participant so training of unemployed people should result in employment or self-employment.
- Second, the solution should be independently sustainable once the initial implementation is complete. So many projects fail after the first year because it is not planned for longevity.
- And finally, while you are doing it, do it properly. Only if you have given it your all to make it work, you can rely on fate to do the rest.
Are there any books and podcasts that have inspired you?
I recently finished The Boy who never Gave Up by Dr Emmanuel Taban. His life story and reflections about people’s potential (especially in Africa) resonates with my life philosophy 100 percent. His perseverance and “big-picture” thinking are the foundations to anyone’s success. In the book he quotes The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho which has also been an inspiration to me. That book formed my life philosophy of “searching for the solution in yourself”. You need to be able to make a success where you are with what you have. Any desire for needing something more to be able to be successful is an excuse.
What is your WHY and how do you stay motivated?
I believe that everyone was put on the earth with a purpose. Mine is to make an impact on people – through education, enabling livelihoods and the maximisation of personal potential. My divine role is not on a detailed interpersonal level but through the creation of a caring environment and support structures for people to help themselves. That is what keeps me motivated. As well as seeing the success Signa achieves daily through our business.
Who or what inspires you on a daily basis?
It is truly inspiring to arrive at the Signa Academy every morning where people living with disabilities are already at class having travelled far distances with great difficulty. This is the type of commitment that breeds success. I am also inspired by Mr Ramaphosa who is maintaining a 7day 24-hour schedule to keep the balance in all the challenges South Africa is facing.
Signa is implementing a project with the Ndebele King, HE Makosonke II to economically activate the Ndebele nation. The enthusiasm of the community leaders to explore opportunities and not lose hope; is humbling. Most middle-class South Africans have a limited understanding of the hardship of rural people who have almost no resources or access to opportunities. It inspires me to think that there are still entrepreneurs and star students from disadvantaged communities that can carve a living out of hardship to become future leaders.
What advice do you have for the future entrepreneurs of SA?
Stay grounded! It is the small things that matter, not the vision of importance in having ownership in a business. Think big but start small and stay humble. Risk and Opportunity are two sides of the same coin. Often the bigger the risk, the better the opportunity. Each entrepreneur needs to find the balance between these two which they are comfortable with.
One cannot build a high tower without the right foundation. It is at the end of the foundation that consists of your employees, clients, prudent funding, compliance, honouring commitments and being open to change that determines the sustainability and success of a business. But most important of all – have fun with what you do! What you feel when having fun breeds success, which you will achieve if you are in the right industry.
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