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More women needed in drone industry, says Kelebogile Molopyane

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Kelebogile Molopyane, CEO ofAB4IR and founding director of Drone Council South Africa.
Kelebogile Molopyane, CEO ofAB4IR and founding director of Drone Council South Africa.

Kelebogile Molopyane, CEO of AB4IR (Africa Beyond the Fourth Industrial Revolution) and one of the founding directors of the Drone Council South Africa, is calling for organisations in SA’s tech sector to level the playing field for female representation, especially in the drone industry.

The 42-year-old entrepreneur, mindset coach and published author, has 19 years’ experience in the enterprise development space and 12 years’ experience in professional coaching.

Over the past 10 years, Molopyane has been instrumental in setting up business incubators and accelerators across SA.

Non-profit organisation AB4IR seeks to address the digital divide by empowering small businesses and communities through technology, innovation and entrepreneurship. The Mabopane, Pretoria-based organisation offers a 24-month business incubation programme to start-ups anda co-working space, which serves as an access point of information and resources for entrepreneurs and the broader community.

As CEO of the organisation, Molopyane plays a significant role in helping to forge partnerships with government, the private sector and academia, both locally and internationally, to help support SA’s tech start-up sector, with a specific focus on helping more women to enter the field, while providing a support structure for those already in the industry.

“Women in the ICT sector are unfortunately still dealing with unsurmountable discrimination and stereotypes. Albeit 2020, females are generally not encouraged to be in the tech space. We need a community mind-shift to view females just as capable as their male counterparts at succeeding in entrepreneurship in male-dominated sectors,” she notes.

Only 23% of tech jobs are held by women in SA – out of 236 000 ICT roles, women occupy 56 000 of them, according to a study by Women in Tech ZA.

In addition to underrepresentation, gender disparity still plagues many ICT firms, with men earning higher salaries than women and to some extent, still being considered as better leaders.

Molopyane, who is passionate about entrepreneurship and people development, says she was introduced to the ICT sector through her role as manager for business incubation at the Small Business Enterprise Development Agency, where she was responsible for funding and performance of the business incubators. She was later appointed as senior manager for an ICT incubator called Maxum, based at The Innovation Hub in Tshwane.

In this latter role, she was exposed to the harsh realities of the digital and gender divide in SA and took it upon herself to create a programme focused on supporting and encouraging female participation in the sector.

In September and November last year, Molopyane visited Denmark and China to learn more about business incubation operations and management, entrepreneurship, innovation and value chains – an experience which she says has armed her with knowledge on imparting skills to her mentees, as well as helping them identify business opportunities.

She was part of the launch of the Drone Council South Africa, a non-profit organisation that seeks to facilitate growth of the South African drone economy, through the implementation of various programmes and initiatives, including drone industry collaboration, business incubation, industry sectoral optimisation and investment.

Board members of the council include Angelina Ntombikayise Maseko, chairperson of drone supplier Rugged Africa; Ken Venn, founder of drone firm UAVI; Shaun Ledlie, president of the Association of Aviation Training Organisations of South Africa; and Irvin Phenyane, chairperson of the Drone Council South Africa and a non-executive-director of Airports Company South Africa.

As one of the founding members of the council, Molopyane is responsible for the new licence or permit applicants and cadets and the incubatee chambers of the council.

Determined to see more females entering the drone industry, both in SA and the rest of the African continent, Molopyane says together with council members, she strives to provide more opportunities for women to enter the field.

“AB4IR is the business incubation partner of the council and we are working to incubate businesses coming from the council. We do not have near enough female entrepreneurs in the drone sector and there is lack of support for those who have entered the sector. That is the main reason why we have created a programme to consciously encourage more women participation.

“Through AB4IR’s Umbokoda Programme, we are working on increasing opportunities to have a greater number of female entrepreneurs, particularly from the townships, entering the tech sector and competing on a global platform and solving their own community problems through technology, innovation and incubation,” concludes Molopyane.

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