South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) CFO Innocent Gumbochuma shares how he is shaping the financial trajectory of the organisation and has ambitions of setting it on a path of innovation, resilience, and diversified revenue streams.
Innocent Gumbochuma, formerly with the Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO), was initially unsure about joining the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) when the CFO vacancy arose. Having a good understanding of the organisation and considering the ongoing pandemic, he had reservations. However, despite his initial uncertainties, he decided to embrace the challenge wholeheartedly, leveraging his expertise to navigate the situation.
In November 2022 he assumed the role. Reflecting on those early days, he openly recalls, “There had been a longstanding leadership void in the finance department and I was faced with an unstable organisation.” Armed with determination and professional expertise, he set out to streamline the finance unit and restore stability.
During his tenure at QCTO, Innocent oversaw supply chain management and finance. However, at SAQA, he found himself managing a significantly broader portfolio, which included procurement, facilities management, ICT and NQF MIS. This expansive scope presented increased demands, but Innocent viewed it as an opportunity to make a more substantial impact.
Innocent’s strategic approach was twofold: to stabilise the financial situation and foster a culture of efficiency and excellence. He stresses,
“We initiated a thorough clean-up exercise to prepare for audits and steer the organisation towards financial health.”
Innocent built a dedicated team, appointed a finance manager, and reinforced the finance unit by recruiting highly skilled professionals. His actions were precise and timely. This marked the initiation of a transformative journey towards achieving financial stability, which resulted in a clean audit.
Diversifying revenue streams: understanding SAQA’s financial dynamics
Understanding SAQA’s funding model is pivotal to navigating its financial landscape. Innocent explains that SAQA is not solely reliant on public funding and raises funds through the services it offers as a commercial entity.
One significant revenue stream is the evaluation of foreign qualifications. Innocent provides an example, stating that if someone returns after studying at overseas institutions and wishes to work in South Africa, SAQA plays a crucial role in providing qualifications equivalence and necessary certificates. This nuanced understanding of SAQA’s financial model highlights the complexities that Innocent manages on a daily basis.
Like many organisations, SAQA had to quickly adapt during the Covid-19 pandemic when employment and immigration activities came to a halt, severely impacting their revenue streams. This unfortunate situation resulted in the need for retrenchments, affecting a significant portion of their workforce. However, Innocent’s focus is not solely on preventing future retrenchments; he is determined to redefine the financial dynamics of the organisation.
His goal is not just to stabilise the situation, but to optimise and secure diverse revenue streams. Innocent firmly believes that SAQA cannot afford to remain complacent, but must instead forge a path to resilience amid economic volatility. With a keen eye on the future, Innocent has been an integral part of a team spearheading the creation of a robust strategy that prioritises revenue diversification and minimises reliance on specific sources.
By taking proactive measures, Innocent aims to ensure that SAQA is well-equipped to navigate any future challenges that may arise. He understands the importance of adapting to changing circumstances and is committed to implementing innovative solutions that will safeguard the organisation's financial stability.
“We meticulously crafted a strategy aimed at broadening our revenue streams. The goal was to attain financial flexibility by minimising concentration risk,” he says.
The strategy, thus, revolved around ensuring that if one revenue source faced challenges, others could sufficiently compensate, maintaining financial stability.
This entailed a deliberate move from a mono-source revenue model to a diversified one. Innocent expounds, “We are strategically diversifying revenue streams by exploring new avenues and optimising existing ones. This will reduce our vulnerability and amplify our ability to navigate through financial uncertainties.” This approach underscores a proactive stance, reflecting a keen understanding of the modern business landscape where financial agility is paramount for long-term sustainability.
Vision for a tech-savvy SAQA
In this swiftly changing landscape, Innocent’s role transcends financial aspects. His vision for SAQA involves a full embracing of technology, ensuring sustainability and amplifying efficiency. Leading the charge towards a tech-driven future, he understands the imperative of technological progression in enhancing SAQA’s operations.
Moreover, Innocent is at the forefront of actively exploring AI and blockchain potential to revolutionise SAQA’s verification processes. He emphasises, “Automation, especially in evaluating foreign qualifications, can boost accuracy and speed.”
Innocent’s ambition stretches beyond the present, envisioning SAQA at the forefront of qualification verification. He elaborates,
"Our goal is to create a system that not only verifies qualifications but does so with unparalleled accuracy and efficiency.”
Innocent sees a future where SAQA’s verification processes become a global model, streamlining pathways for individuals, institutions, and employers. This pioneering approach ensures that qualifications are trusted and accepted seamlessly, enhancing mobility and opportunities on an international scale.
Innocent has an entrepreneurial spirit, and this shone through when he decided to breathe new life into a struggling restaurant in his Pretoria neighbourhood. He recognised the fading spark in the eatery and saw an opportunity to turn it around. He says, “The restaurant had changed hands multiple times, each transition marking a further decline. I realised that merely serving good food wasn’t enough; the business needed a complete makeover.”
The first step was understanding the heart of the community. Innocent dug into the local tastes and preferences, conducting surveys and engaging with the residents. He notes, “You have to know what your community craves; that’s the secret ingredient.” Armed with this knowledge, he revamped the menu to align with the community’s palate.
However, Innocent knew that taste alone wouldn't save the restaurant. He emphasised customer experience, ensuring that the staff provided exceptional service, making every diner feel at home. He remarks, “A restaurant isn’t just about what’s on the plate; it’s about the smiles at the table.”
To bring in more foot traffic, Innocent organised themed nights and events, making the restaurant a vibrant hub in the community. He states, “You need to create an experience, not just a meal. People remember how you make them feel.” This thoughtful approach led to an upturn in the restaurant's fortunes.
Moreover, Innocent leveraged his financial acumen to manage costs effectively. He negotiated with suppliers, streamlined operations, and ensured the business was financially sustainable. He comments,
“Numbers are the backbone of any business. You can’t thrive without financial health.”
He also really enjoys sports. He loves playing golf and watching rugby, tennis like the US Open. He cheers for Mamelodi Sundowns in his local games and is a big fan of Manchester United in international matches.
Travelling is another big love for him. Whenever he can, he travels to new places and learns about different ways of life. He says, “When you travel, you see the world in a whole new way. It’s amazing to realise there’s so much beyond what we know.”
From navigating financial complexities to savouring the flavours of entrepreneurship, Innocent’s narrative stands as an inspiring tale of a CFO who not only steers the financial ship, but also embraces the diverse hues of life.