Zimkhita Buwa

Sharing her pearls of Wisdom

Zimkhita Buwa is excelling in the technology space—and empowering other young women to do the same

“We have to realise that innovation can come from anywhere, hence the need to make this industry a safe and thriving environment in which women can grow.”

Zimkhita Buwa describes herself as a tech geek who’s passionate about the information technology industry and how it can benefit communities. Living out her motto, “Lift others and you will rise,” she’s a member on the advisory board of GirlHype, a non-profit that exposes young girls from underserviced communities to the power of coding; and the founder of TechPearls, a global platform that provides valuable opportunities for women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

In addition, Buwa serves as a volunteer board member and director at Silicon Cape, an organisation that promotes technology entrepreneurship in the Western Cape. And she does all this apart from her day job as the group chief operating officer at Britehouse: a division of Dimension Data that provides industry-leading digital solutions in SAP, Oracle, Microsoft, Automotive, advanced analytics and mobility.

Buwa holds an honours degree in Information Systems from the Universiti Teknologi Petronas in Malaysia, and already has a list of accolades behind her name for her drive and work in the tech industry, including the MTN Women in ICT – Partnership for Change Award: Outstanding Woman ICT Professional.

Tribe Business Magazine found out more about Buwa’s work at Britehouse and her vision for women in tech.

Tell us briefly about your background in the technology industry before Britehouse.
Prior to joining Britehouse in 2014, I spent about nine years as a SAP business intelligence analyst. I was privileged to spend six weeks in Silicon Valley on an amazing programme called Tech Women, and I got to spend some time at SAP in the US. When I got back to home, I was invited to speak at SAP user groups in South Africa and share my experiences—which is where I met Paolo Masselli, then Britehouse CEO, who invited me into the Britehouse and Dimension Data family. Within Britehouse I’ve held various roles across the business, including account manager and regional manager for the Western Cape. In January 2018, I was promoted to my current role of COO for the Britehouse brand in the Middle East and Africa.

How does Britehouse assist companies in enabling digitally ready IT?
At Britehouse, we aim to be the first to know what the future holds; as the world transforms, we anticipate and prepare for tectonic shifts long before the first rumble is felt. We’re an African-born company with a global footprint, offering leading customised and pre-packaged digital solutions to local and multinational companies.

Where does your passion for community development and the IT sector come from?
Both my parents were teachers, and growing up we were very involved in our community. We did it together and we got joy and purpose from giving back. When I joined the corporate world, I found this spirit didn’t exist and it was very difficult to gain access to mentorship and knowledge from others, and so I want to change that for the next generation. I also want to be a role model for my son and teach him the importance of community development. Hopefully he will do the same for his children and so the cycle will continue. My passion for IT comes from my brother: When I was in Grade 12, he was studying IT at university and he used to come home and show us all the cool things he had learnt to do and code, so he inspired me to follow in his footsteps. My passion for business comes from spending time with my father in his shop, learning the art of making a profit.

You’re the founder of TechPearls. Tell us more about this endeavour.
TechPearls started as a blog to create awareness of global opportunities for women in STEM—opportunities they may not be aware of, such as jobs, bursary and scholarship programmes, conferences, or even international STEM competitions.

What products and services does Britehouse offer clients?
We partner with the best technology providers including SAP, Oracle and Microsoft, and complement them with our own mobile and software products to ensure our customers get exactly what they need. As a division of Dimension Data, we’re able to leverage a wealth of world-class expertise. We offer a number of solutions ranging from assisting organisations assess where they are on their digital transformation journey, and the steps they should take to deliver the greatest return on investment—right through to a complete outsourced solution where we take full responsibility for managing the organisation’s application environment, and the client contracts us on a business-outcomes basis.

We’re living in a fast-growing, digitally driven era. How does Britehouse engage in community development to ensure South Africans don’t get left behind?
As an organisation whose core focus is using technology to enable customers to improve the way they do business, Britehouse believes it’s our responsibility to utilise these skills and technologies for the betterment of our communities. The organisation has embarked on various empowerment initiatives that have a lasting impact, not only on the communities in which Britehouse operates but in the organisation as well. Britehouse seeks out like-minded partners to create upliftment opportunities for South Africans.

One of Britehouse’s flagship initiatives includes a partnership with social entrepreneur company, Got-Game, to develop the Britehouse Got Game™ digital hub. The hub’s goal is to create jobs, develop enterprises and empower women, teachers and students by providing smart technology and Internet access. The hub is provisioned with an online repository of education resources provided by the Seta-accredited Mentec Foundation.

Britehouse, together with Diepsloot Preschools Project and Training Force, embarked on a project that focused on early childhood development certification for previously unemployed childminders in underprivileged areas. Through our support, Britehouse has empowered eight women to become Grade R–accredited teachers and, therefore, as owners of crèches, to start their own micro-enterprises.

And what is Britehouse doing to empower young women, in particular, to succeed in the tech sector?

We regularly receive sponsorship requests from non-profit organisations that are teaching young women to code, and women’s organisations that are creating safe spaces for women to discuss such issues. It’s critical for corporates to support such initiatives. However, investing money in such initiatives is not the only way to show support, and non-financial support is always appreciated. A small gesture of putting up one’s hand as a speaker or providing mentorship has a great impact. Some of these initiatives are exposing young women from underserviced communities to the beauty of technology and offering opportunities to which these young women would never have been exposed. We have to realise that innovation can come from anywhere, hence the need to make this industry a safe and thriving environment in which women can grow.

Within Britehouse and the broader Dimension Data group, we have various initiatives that nurture our existing talent. I was fortunate to be part of our Fast-Track Programme in 2016, which is an intensive nine-month management acceleration programme run by the IE Business School in Madrid. Its programmes like this—but most importantly, ensuring we have diversity and representation across race, gender and age—that help us retain and advance our top talent.

What does it take to be awarded numerous times as an outstanding woman—not only in your career but within your community as well?

My focus has never been on winning awards, but rather to follow my purpose to use my experience, skills and talents to upskill and uplift others. If the recognition comes with this, then it’s an added bonus—but it’s not what drives me. 

Any other highlights in your career thus far? And what has been the hardest challenge?

This current role of COO is definitely a highlight, as well as the time I spent in the US with Tech Women. A big challenge has been silencing my inner critic—that loud inner voice that says you CAN’T—and turning it into “Can’t Afford Not To”.

As a woman excelling in the tech industry, what advice would you give other women aspiring to follow in your footsteps?

My advice is simple. Firstly, connect with leaders who have been around the block for a while! Don’t be afraid to approach leaders for mentorship; people are always willing to help. Don’t be afraid to approach male leaders—most of my previous mentors and people who have backed me (when I didn’t even back myself) were men, and they have opened so many doors for me.

Secondly, invest in growing your leadership skills: Courses are important, but nothing beats real experience. If you’re not in a leadership position in your professional role, why not volunteer in the community? There are professional bodies and non-profit organisations that are always on the lookout for an extra pair of hands. Be part of a volunteer committee and you will have the opportunity to hone your skills.

Know that no one leader has a smooth journey; challenges will be thrown your way, but resilience, perseverance and authenticity are key traits you need to keep in your toolbox at all times!

     

 

“Know that no one leader has a smooth journey; challenges will be thrown your way, but resilience, perseverance and authenticity are key traits you need to keep in your toolbox at all times!”

In the kraal with
Zimkhita Buwa

Favourite quote?
“If you’re given an opportunity to dance outside your comfort zone, bring your best dance moves.”

Cannot live without…?
“My family and social media: LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook are how I stay connected to the industry and my people.”

Favourite meal?
“Dumplings and chicken stew, made by hubby.”

Who inspires you?
“Family, family, family! They inspire me daily! Whether it’s my hubby who’s running his own business and overcoming challenges associated with growing a small business; my mother who retired last year but has turned her passion of tutoring into a business—she achieved her first degree in her 50s! My sister is a qualified quantity surveyor, nearly qualified pharmacist, and became a chartered accountant in her mid-30s, while being a mom to two boys! Their passion for striving to be the best, no matter what, fuels and inspires me.”

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