CFO Nonhlanhla Mona: An accountant with a big soul

ETDP SETA CFO Nonhlanhla Mona-Dick takes her inspiration in hope and empathy from Maya Angelou.

CFO of the Education, Training and Development Practices (ETDP) SETA , Nonhlanhla Mona-Dick, is at the forefront of closing the critical skills gap in South Africa. She oversees the finance function of an organisation that issues 11,000 bursaries each year.

“As a CFO of a public entity, I play a role in protecting the entity’s reputation by ensuring that we are delivering on our mandate and abide by the laws and regulations set out for public entities. I’m also giving back to my country working for an organisation in the training and education space,” says Nonhlanhla. With 141 employees, the ETDP SETA has offices in each province. She leads a team of 20 people across finance and supply chain.

She says that she has experienced the most professional growth from working in the public sector. Her other public sector experience includes working in the office of the Public Protector, the Auditor General of South Africa and at the Central Energy Fund (CEF), a state-owned diversified energy company reporting to the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy.

She also spent several years in auditing but doesn’t regret the move into a finance leadership position. “A CFO is a powerful person within an organisation. They have a bird’s eye view of what is going on, including perspectives into operations, governance and compliance. They’re no longer known as simply the numbers people,” says Nonhlanhla.

Nonhlanhla’s first CFO role was an acting position at the CEF. She had just turned 29. The role turned out to be a 14-month stint before a permanent CFO was appointed. “Although I didn’t have the experience, I told myself I could do it. I am incredibly grateful to the leadership who showed an interest in me during my time with the group. I have really benefited from mentorship,” she comments.

The Covid-19 impact
The ETDP SETA’s revenue is R1.1 billion in a good year. She learned of a new risk to the organisation in April when the President announced that employers would be given a four-month payment holiday for skills development levy contributions.

Nonhlanhla describes this pronouncement as a ‘huge setback’ as skills development levies account for more than 50 percent of revenue for any given financial year. “We are a sector that is directly impacted by this and we were not consulted prior to this announcement. We will struggle to fully deploy our mandate as our resources will be stretched quite extensively for the foreseeable future,” she comments.

The organisation’s core activities are rolling out training and development programmes aimed at the education, training and development (ETD) sector. These tend to be large, in-person gatherings of between 50 to 100 people. A hard lockdown followed by strict social distancing protocols has meant that this training is impossible. Then, the shifted university and school timetables have cut into the times when the EDTP SETA typically conducts training.

For Nonhlanhla the worst part of the Covid-19 financial distress was the impact on the organisation's training providers. “Many of the smaller companies did not make it and others retrenched staff to stay viable. So many of the surviving companies will struggle to adapt to the new normal,” comments Nonhlanhla.

Nonhlanhla anticipates a shift to online training following global current trends, although it may take time for the industry to catch up. “Not a lot of providers are equipped to offer online training – there are lots of business opportunities to go digital,” she adds. Nonhlanhla expects that 2021 will be a recovery year where the organisation will take stock of its current initiatives and plot a new way forward.

Lessons from Maya Angelou
Nonhlanhla is an admirer of the late American author and poet Dr Maya Angelou. Dr Angelou is best known for her series of seven autobiographies, which focus on her childhood and early adult experiences. The first book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings published in 1969, tells of her life up to the age of 17 and brought her international recognition and acclaim.

Her early adulthood experiences included fry cook, sex worker, nightclub performer and a correspondent in Egypt and Ghana during the decolonisation of Africa. She is also recognised for her anti-apartheid activism.

Nonhlanhla admires how Dr Angelou turned her life around, recovering from trauma including a childhood rape and time spent as a prostitute. “Dr Maya Angelou is one of the greatest poets and writers of our time. Her life story is about hope and not giving up despite the obstacles. She was a child who never felt valued growing up in a racist United States, who through courage and determination, carved out a place for herself,” says Nonhlanhla.

The greatest lesson that Dr Angelou has taught her is empathy, something that she incorporates into her daily life as a leader. “I’m an accountant with a big soul. I believe in people and give everyone a chance to prove themselves. I’m good at listening and take a while to judge a person,” she comments.

Nonhlanhla’s favourite quote from the author is “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humour, and some style.” This quote sums up her life purpose.

Nonhlanhla has read all of Angelou’s books. She is an avid reader and book collector who likes nothing better than looking for new books with her children each month.

An interest in money
Nonhlanhla grew up in Kanyamazane, a township near Nelspruit. From a young age Nonhlanhla knew she wanted to work with money. “At six years old my mother and I used to dress up to go to town to cash my mother’s salary cheque. I liked how the bank tellers looked and I wanted to work at a bank. Later in high school, I got the idea to become a chartered accountant. From that point on, I never entertained any other idea,” she adds.

She completed her BComm in accounting sciences from the University of Pretoria while obtaining her Bcompt Honours from Unisa. She is a qualified Chartered Accountant.