Nomkhita Mona, the recently appointed head of the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber (NMBBC), wants the organisation to play a key role in boosting investment and fast-tracking development in the region. The 51-year-old and a mother of three, who joined the chamber as CEO in December, is passionate about her home town’s economic prospects.
In spite of multiple degrees and numerous CEO jobs under her belt, she remains modest about her achievements.
“Yes, I am the first female CEO of the chamber. The whole notion of being first or called a pioneer especially when you are a woman – 24 years after – worries me,” she said, referring to the years since the country entered the democratic era in 1994.
“For me, I view it as a challenge and an opportunity to bring more women on board to take up such positions. I do not like that status quo to remain. I see it as a problem rather than an accolade. There should have been other women in that position before me,” she said.
This is her fifth position as CEO after having led the Eastern Cape tourism board, Inkezo Land Company, the Uitenhage Despatch Development Initiative and the South African Forestry Company Limited in equivalent positions.
Mona holds an MBA from Rhodes University and a master’s degree in labour relations and human resources from the University of Port Elizabeth, now known as the Nelson Mandela University (NMU).
Her first managerial appointment was at the age of 29, when she joined the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration as a junior manager.
“I believe in the mantra ‘Once a leader, always a leader’. I am enjoying it here. I feel this is an opportunity, and not to supervise people but to work as a team. For me leadership comes naturally. I like challenges and don’t want to be idle,” says the avid reader.
“That notion that men are better leaders is incorrect. I have never looked at myself as a woman, but as a human being. In fact, we as women bring a certain kind of finesse in anything we handle,” says the woman who, when growing up, initially had aspirations for being a doctor.
Asked how she reconciles leading an organisation that mainly represents big white business at a time when there is a loud cry to nurture and develop small businesses, Mona showered praises on her board for its transformation agenda.
“Yes, people still believe that the NMBBC represents big business, but that is no longer the case. Out of our membership of about 700 companies, we have small businesses included.
“We have put programmes in place to embrace small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs). As a business chamber, we are a catalyst for economic development. Thanks also to my board.”
The NMBBC, working together with the Eastern Cape Development Corporation, has exporter development and enterprise development programmes in place.
The NMBBC has identified 10 SMMEs that are on a one-year programme as part of the enterprise development strategy.
The programme assists small businesses enter and explore new markets.
“On their own,” says Mona, “small businesses find it difficult to face international competition, they are unable to participate in potential buyer outreaches and they face marketing and logistics challenges and how to process export documentation. All these inhibit them from expanding and growing their products and services in foreign markets.”
The exporter development programme is designed to assist the SMMEs reduce and eliminate all these challenges and barriers.
With the enterprise development initiative, the business chamber’s big business members take SMMEs under their wings and mentor them.
In February this year, 15 small businesses graduated from this six-month programme.
The participating SMMEs take part in all the business chamber activities, including business breakfasts and workshops.
“The long-term vision is to have one business chamber representing big and small business so as to close the gap,” said Mona.
Most small businesses are represented by the National African Federated Chamber of Commerce.
Mona said that, together with the Nelson Mandela metro, the NMU and other relevant stakeholders, they are planning to set up BayGrow – a one-stop investment shop aimed at making it easier and faster to do business in Nelson Mandela Bay.
“We have consulted and a committee is already in place and looking for premises. We have discovered that we do not have a strong investment element. Although that is the job of the metro council, as a chamber we have been proactive and approached them about this,” said Mona.
She said talks were being held regarding the expansion of Port Elizabeth International Airport in anticipation of increased investment, and moves were afoot to speed up the implementation of the waterfront at the Port Elizabeth harbour.
“I am born and bred in Port Elizabeth and my heart is here. I want to make my contribution to the development of this region. I am right now in the age of significance – doing things not for myself but for others,” she said.