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“As women, our careers are not career ladders, they are jungle gyms!” Meet Dr. Nomvuselelo Songelwa, CEO of Jurni

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5 min read

In light of Women’s Day last month, Jurni would like to introduce you to our CEO, Dr. Nomvuselelo Songelwa. No stranger to South Africa’s Tourism Sector, and a champion for transformation, women’s rights and education, Dr. Songelwa – Mvusy for her closest friends and family – has a natural ability to inspire others.

With her strong leadership attributes and first-hand industry experience, Mvusy is passionate about driving inclusive economic growth, job creation and transformation for all South Africans through Jurni.

We decided to ask her a few questions about leadership, innovation and the tourism industry, read this insightful Q&A with her on the Jurni Blog.

Did you always have a passion for travel and tourism?

I entered the tourism industry in 1996 when I joined SANParks as an environmental education coordinator. Environmental education was being introduced as part of the transformation initiatives in 1996, and I became part of that initiative.

Although my main focus was on academics, the reality is that I got involved with every aspect of the organisation. Tourism became a part of what I was doing since you simply cannot divorce the aspect of Managing Parks and Tourism. Whatever you do, you have to be customer-friendly and you need to consider stakeholder engagement.

So, it was more by default that I got into tourism. However, I really started to enjoy the responsible tourism frameworks around National Parks.  My love for the tourism function was more related to the integration of the tourism parts into the operations of the park.

To be honest: most people who know me, cannot identify with Mvusy as a tourism person.

What is it like being a strong female leader in the tourism industry?

As women, our careers are not career ladders, they are jungle gyms.

If I look at my professional and academic career, there has not been one linear field. Instead, it was a jungle gym where I had to go from one end to the other end to the other.

The leadership role for me has always been about bringing my strong points to the table. You must bring your authenticity, your own identity and your femininity into the boardroom without trying to emulate your counterparts.

I have always tried to practice to not do to others what I would not like a leader to do to me. The empowering aspect lies in the inspiring part of leadership: it is about looking at the softer aspects of leadership and view people as well-rounded individuals.

Rules and policies are good and necessary, but it’s more important to actually look after your people. It’s not about not being firm. It’s more about understanding human nature: why do people do certain things.

Of course, as a woman, you will always be questioned. In the tourism sector, in the conservation sector, and even now that I’m in the technology sector, people always question me because the very first thing that they see is: I am a woman.

People will question your competence, they test your emotional intelligence, your maturity. But what is important for me is that you have to always be true to yourself. Because if you’re true to yourself, and you actually are very clear on what you do and you are very comfortable and content about the decisions that you make; you are able to defend your decisions at any time.

What are the most important things you have learned from your years as a leader in the industry?

It’s not what you say that is important but what you do. Wherever you go, you’re actually writing your own book.

I have learned that consistency is very important. You can talk to anyone I have worked with, they all know exactly who I am. They will hate me or they will love me, but it will be for the same reasons. I’m consistent and true to myself.

I think the other thing to consider is that we are all human beings first.

Most importantly make sure we impart the lessons that we have learned in particular as women leaders to the young ladies. These times are tougher than they have been before for us, as women.

Who is your greatest role model?

I cannot single out one person as a role model.

I pick up different attributes from different people whether they are men or women. Men, women, white, black, different people have groomed me to be where I am today. From each one of them, I have picked up some things that have shaped me to be who I am.

What does the future hold for the travel, tourism & hospitality sector in South Africa?

It is an exciting time for tourism in South Africa. Increasingly, tourists worldwide are looking for undiscovered, unique and authentic tourism experiences. South Africa as a destination offers the perfect answer to this growing trend as the country has numerous ‘undiscovered’ experiences for travellers.

Unfortunately, however, it is currently still challenging for overseas tour operators and travellers to find the ‘hidden’ gems our country offers.

It is time for our country to highlight the experiences we have to offer – the experiences beyond the major tourist attractions. We need to make it easier for the traveller, the tour operator and the travel agent to find what our country has to offer.

That is why we have launched Jurni. As the first tourism data hub of its kind in South Africa, Jurni will equip businesses with valuable insights and accurate forecasts. Jurni will also develop a booking tool and visitor portal that will showcase more tourism products to travellers.

Innovation comes in many different forms and shapes. There are numerous women and men who have innovated our tourism landscape through technology or innovative ideas on a very high level.

However, almost more exciting to see is the women entrepreneurs in rural areas who are innovating in their region by using technology to market their small tourism establishments and putting these on the international map. This kind of innovation leads to true transformation not only for the tourism sector but for our country as a whole.


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