Pat Semenya: taking ACCA to next level in South Africa
“I want to double our number of members and students and instil a real passion for ACCA,” says Pat Semenya, who is heading up ACCA South Africa since August 2015. After years at Nestlé, Pat felt it was time for a job that could really make a difference.“Economic transformation is not completed in this country and I want to contribute positively to that.”
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Pat is a working wife and mother, who starts her day at 4 o’clock with emails and a session of boxing with her favourite pink gloves. In the weekends she gardens or goes for nature hikes with her family. “My professional life is exhausting mentally, but it is necessary and I enjoy it.”
Since joining ACCA, Pat suffers the nagging frustration that many South Africans don’t know what ACCA is, even though the accounting body has a massive following the world over. “In South Africa we haven’t been out there enough to explain that,” she says. “ACCA provides a global platform to our finance and accounting professionals. We ensure that our chartered certified accountants are practising with professional values, ethics and governance.”
ACCA has just under 5000 students and members in South Africa. “Membership annual subscriptions fee is a common challenge with professional bodies,” says Pat. “A well thought retention strategy together with a strong brand identity is imperative in this industry to make sure people are proud to identify themselves as a member. We do have members in very powerful positions in South Africa; however as an organisation we are still to showcase the value of ACCA through our members. “
Although the relationship between accounting bodies is often “hostile”, Pat prefers to explore collaboration. “Our qualifications offering are packed differently with different entry points that accommodate diverse people.”
Why did you change jobs?
“I have always been a commercially focused as a person. It was whilst I was at Nestlé that I came to realise how proficient I am in growing markets. I wanted to use this skill to grow a market that would leave a legacy that can contribute to the economic landscape of our country. Education struck me as a sure way to contributing to this, especially the education of a black South African child. I want to be part of something good. I want to look back one day and realise I contributed to change.”
“I love the online learning modules we have. They take away the learning barrier around transport costs and accommodation for potential students in far to reach corners of our country. Online learning is very liberating.”
How hard was it to move from Nestlé to ACCA?
“Quite hard. I come from a fast-paced sales mindset. Initially I didn’t adjust to the education space. The art of selling the intangible was a bit challenging for me. It was my passion to contribute to the greater public value, the remarkable value proposition in the ACCA qualifications that saw me through my first 90 days.”
Does your love for education come from your parents?
“Both my parents are teachers; naturally it was expected of us to go to school. I enjoyed my entire education and I am thankful that my parents never put pressure on me to be the best at everything. They were happy that I was enjoying the experience and that I was a happy, healthy student. It was only much later in life, especially after being a parent myself that I understood what education really means. I realise it is broader than reading books."
“When thinking about an education, one must not forget about the education offered by life itself. We learn so much from day to day. Things like how to be polite and respectable, how to relate to people, how to be a good member of society and related things cannot be taught at a university, but they are also very important. Even people who cannot go to school, or who never get to travel, can get an education in this way.”
“I grew up in the Vaal triangle, but my grandparents are in a rural area in Limpopo. We as people are mobile now, learning new languages, cultures, how to be away from family, friends and our comfort zones and how to look after ourselves in those settings is all part of learning and is just as important as the academic education.”
“I understand education to be a process where a person gains knowledge – academic, values, reasoning, judgment and maturity which are all important for both professional and personal development.”
What do you want to achieve?
“Besides growing numbers, I will be happy if ACCA starts influencing career choices, educational and broader economic policies in South Africa.”
How do you plan to ring the changes?
“Ultimately it’s all about educating the public about the different options available to accessing the accounting profession and contributing to skills development in this country.”