‘Improving the world and enriching yourself do not need to be mutually exclusive,’ says Thabo Mongatane. ‘You understand the reason for the existence of business – to stimulate the economy and improve society. Our company will not make money if the society we live in is not improved and empowered. It is in my business interest to have a positive impact on society’
When he grew up, Thabo G Mongatane CA(SA)’s mother always had a couple of businesses. ‘She was a street vendor that sold tomatoes and onions,’ he explains. ‘So having been her understudies, my sisters and I understood business on a small scale and needed to develop our skills to go further.’
That was what lit the initial fire, but it was only when he was introduced to SAICA’s Thuthuka Bursary Fund in Grade 11 that Thabo’s love for accounting began. ‘For the first time I was getting distinctions in accounting, where I was failing before!’ Thabo remembers.
Thabo realised how accounting could assist someone like his mother. ‘When we were young, we didn’t have that kind of professional training. So, in as much as my mother had a business for over a decade, it never really grew. Accounting made me realise how everything is connected and how I could assist her to scale.”
LIVING A LIFE OF PURPOSE
In everything he does, Thabo strives to live a life of purpose. ‘Purpose is what drives us to excel. Family is one of the biggest things that drives me. Because of that, I can remain grounded, no matter how great or terrible things are.’
Today, Thabo is CEO of the Kolano Investment Solutions Group specialising in consulting, advisory, SMME development and talent management. He is also a founder of Kumbaya Africa, a start-up incubator for NGOs and social entrepreneurs. He is the chairperson of the ABASA National Leadership Committee, an independent audit committee member of the Johannesburg Roads Agency and serves on the Agribusiness Working Group of the BRICS Business Council. He also serves on the board of the South Africa United States Alumni Connect and Tunaweza Foundation.
For him, purpose forms the basis of a person’s values. ‘Purpose and understanding why I’m here make it easier not to waste time and to be productive in everything I do.’
Although it might sound like a lofty goal, Thabo has found a way to incorporate this principle into his daily life. ‘You can make it easy by ensuring everything you do is aligned to your purpose.’ One of his favourite quotes is ‘Life is simple. If you complicate it, then it will become complicated.’
Thabo believes that SMMEs are the key to unlocking more employment opportunities, especially for youth and women. ‘A lot of my family members are unemployed. There is a lot of dependency on government, the private sector or non-profits. We decided to do something to change this picture, empower SMMEs and stimulate the economy.
‘On a socio-economic level, SMME development improves the living conditions of many in society and grows the country’s GDP. It also allows the Kolano team to grow with our clients. If you look at Big 4 companies in any industry – they grew with their clients from start-up to listing. Our focus is not necessarily trying to get into the same market as the big firms. We would rather create and stimulate the growth of our clients, thereby creating sustainable relationships in the value chain. And, before you know it, some of our clients will also be listed on the JSE. That is real economic transformation.’
PAY IT FORWARD
Although Thabo’s family raised him right and laid a solid foundation for him to base his life on, he always expresses gratitude to other people who put him through school. ‘My family couldn’t afford to send me to school. It was good Samaritans like Peace Corps volunteer Jennifer Erie that helped me get a scholarship to get into the only high school that offered Computer Studies back in 1999.’ When Thabo tried to thank the woman, her words were: ‘Don’t thank me. Just be kind to other people and do the same for them.’
The same thing happened when Thuthuka scouted him. ‘I tried to thank Nthato Selebi; he told me to pay it forward.’ And Thabo has been trying to ever since …
‘I am where I am because people have been kind to me. It is my duty to do the same. I choose to serve humanity where I can.’
Sith his skills as a CA(SA) and executive coach, he therefore loves working with NGOs: particularly with strategy, financial management and sustainability. ‘Instead of me donating my time to an orphanage to give food or clean or paint, I found that I added more value to them when I offer my professional skills and knowledge,’ he explains. As a result, the NGOs that he has assisted have improved strategies, operations and financial performance, ultimately growing to scale.
Thabo’s selfless passion for the development of young leaders in particular earned him international recognition in 2019 when he was admitted to the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders. After completing a leadership development programme in civic engagement and leadership, Thabo served as a research fellow at LDI Africa, a Washington DC-based non-profit working with emerging African entrepreneurs and companies.
‘I have been part of programmes that have developed me into the leader I am today. It has made it easier for me, my family and everyone I work with. Now I choose to use my experience to be resourceful to others. It’s because of the lived experience, knowing the challenges first hand, that inspires me to do better.’
Thabo decided to start Kumbaya Africa, a start-up incubator for NGOs and social entrepreneurs across sub-Saharan Africa, after he attended the ABASA Limpopo FQE dinner where the speaker, Koko Khumalo CA(SA), challenged the audience to align their work with the United Nation Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the African Union’s Agenda 2063. ‘I realised the Sustainable Development Goals provide a framework on how to address socio-economic challenges. It just needs to be done!’
He realised that as an accountant, he had the ability to add value with regard to this and started liaising with some NGOs. ‘Kumbaya Africa started when I encouraged everyone in the company to spend at least two hours per week on pro bono assignments. Over time more people in our network wanted to join the evolution eventually became an incubator programme. The demand grew, so we decided to rope in the help of other experts such as lawyers and policymakers. Our aim is to see a sustainable NGO sector that promotes socio-economic growth,’ he explains.
FOR THE LOVE OF CHICKEN
‘Growing up in a family of seven children, we were unhappy that adults got to eat the meat while we children only got the broth. It was an injustice,’ Thabo laughs.
After chatting to his parents about the unfairness of the situation, he decided to start his own chicken farm. ‘We borrowed two chickens from my uncle and before we knew it, we had over 80!’ Unfortunately, bird flu hit Thabo’s farm and wiped out all his chickens. ‘I was in high school at the time and my parents refused to invest more money in the business. So I focused on my studies and learnt how to run a business properly.’
In 2017, Thabo and the family re-started his chicken farm armed with the skills and competence to run a successful poultry farm. ‘Because I am a CA(SA) and have an understanding of the UN SDGs, it is easier for me to tie into those goals, especially “no hunger and no poverty”. Our family has qualified animal production specialists and engineers who lead the poultry farm. Mine is to oversee finances, raising seed capital and graduate development,” he explains.
The Mongatane Farming Enterprise (MFE) hatches, grows and processes free-range organic chickens and quail for restaurants and private clients. Thabo realised theirs are also the type of products that retailers like Woolworths, Checkers and Pick n Pay, and an growing international market, want.
MFE has grown from strength to strength and is currently raising capital for commercial production with a capacity to produce 250 000 day-old chicks. The unique business model supports local smallholder and backyard farmers across the country. MFE sources their hatching eggs from community members in rural and township areas. Hatchlings are grown and sold to premium meat suppliers. It’s early days, but prospects look great.
‘I am a firm believer in continuity and consistency. We are continuing to build on the dream I had as a child, but with the necessary knowledge and skills to make it a profitable business that employs many people and stimulates the economy.’
Now Thabo gets to have his chickens and eat them too …
Unlock your value and achieve your goals
As an executive coach, Thabo’s has advice for entrepreneurs, professionals and NGOs:
- Remember your why. You need clarity on why you are doing what you are doing. Entrepreneurship isn’t easy. It’s challenging and needs consistency. If you don’t know why you are doing it, you will give up during difficult times.
- Always have an advisory board. Bring in different skill sets to help you grow.
- Know your numbers. Numbers never lie. If you don’t know your numbers, it becomes difficult to make sound business decisions.
- Have the right team with a diverse set of skills.
- Remember to have fun! Things won’t always go your way. Even so, laugh and shake it off, have fun, and try again. Having fun and laughing kind of balances out the stress of running a business. Also, when people are having fun, they are very creative, which creates a fantastic company culture with a basis of kindness.