Zizipho Nyanga discusses the importance of creating rather than consuming

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With a leadership philosophy of creating more than you consume, Zizipho is passionate about empowering entrepreneurs.

Armed with more than 17 years’ experience in external audit, finance management, entrepreneurship development and funding, Zizipho Nyanga, managing executive of SME and platform banking at Grindrod Bank, was previously CEO of Old Mutual Masisizane Fund, where she drove SMME development and access to funding.

Zizipho’s passion for empowerment is rooted in her personal journey. “I was one of six children and the value of education, and a sense of sharing and making a difference in the community was instilled in us early on,” she recalls. After Zizipho displayed an early flair for business, her parents decided she would one day be a CA. Yet at the age of 15, Zizipho lost her mother – a schoolteacher – and she and her family battled emotionally and financially.

“My mother was the pillar of strength in my family, and she wasn’t only a teacher at school – she was a teacher at home as well and instilled us with the right values,” recalls Zizipho. “She and my dad were a good team and knew how to play according to each other's strengths.” Yet unbeknown to Zizipho, her father had lost his agricultural job, and everything changed.

Her older sister, also a teacher, became the family’s breadwinner. She fought for Zizipho – who had already won The Association for the Advancement of Black Accountants of Southern Africa (ABASA) awards for her accounting excellence – to get a bursary and fulfil their parents’ long-held dream. Through ABASA and an accounting firm in her hometown of Mthatha in the Eastern Cape, Zizipho was ultimately assisted with a bursary to study.

“I don't think it’s a coincidence that I’ve found myself in the space where I'm helping SMEs with funding, entrepreneurship development and their initiatives,” she says. “One of my mottos is to create rather than just consume: it’s a dream I have for myself, for my community and for my generation. Entrepreneurship ties into that and is so important in South Africa for job creation and for the economy. A lot of people have invested in me along the way and because of that background, I find meaning in the work that I do helping entrepreneurs get money to fulfill their business goals.”

While Covid-19 was devastating, Zizipho says seeing the way entrepreneurs reinvented themselves through technology and innovation was exciting. “This ability of entrepreneurs to survive, despite the challenges that they’re facing, is something that gives me hope.”

SME development is just one way Zizipho gives back. “Throughout my career, I’ve had mentors and sponsors that have taken an interest in my career,” she says. “So, it’s important for me to do that for others both inside and outside of the workplace, to multiply that effect and make sure that I give back. As the saying goes, ‘to whom much is given, much is expected’. So, for us to change the narrative, it’s important for us to have a sense of obligation to make a difference in someone’s life.”

Zizipho is also a strong proponent of authenticity in her quest to inspire others. “I think it’s important, particularly as African CAs, to remember where we come from and seek to be relatable role models that people can touch and feel – even if they just reach us through the internet,” she continues. “For leaders to talk about the failures and challenges that we’ve had is also important.

“Even at high corporate levels, especially for women, there are a lot of struggles that are swept under the carpet, because vulnerability is seen as being weak. For me, it’s important to be vulnerable and to share real, authentic stories so that people can understand you don’t just get to a certain level. There are a lot of things that you have to go through to get to that point.” To women especially, she emphasises the value of staying true to oneself. “We mustn’t be apologetic about who we are,” she says.

Taking her own advice, Zizipho is honest in admitting that starting a new role amid the pandemic has come with challenges. “The transition has been difficult,” she says, “especially because people are working from home, and you don’t get to acclimatise as quickly to a new environment and get on with things.

“These are the things that people don’t talk about – about the information overload that comes with starting a new job; the fact that you have to learn new systems, new processes, meet new people, understand how they work and demonstrate the value that you're bringing.”

For Zizipho, the key to adapting and coping has been surrounding herself with the right people, and getting tools and support. No one has it all together, even if they are executives, she stresses. “I’ve also learned the importance of having a support structure at home and in the workplace.”

Investing in her mental health is also a priority. “You find yourself in a hole and you have to dig yourself out before expecting other people to do that for you,” she notes. She also believes in the value of continuous personal growth and development in one’s career.

A wife and mother, Zizipho says that she doesn’t create a work-life balance. “Rather, I think it’s a decision at that point in time as to what is a priority. I have decided that my career is important to me, but I understand that my family is all I’ve got. So, there is no balance, but it’s about prioritising what is important at that point in time and not forgetting your values.”

As an introvert – who’s been forced out of her shell due to the work she does – Zizipho says that journalling, prayer, and meditation keep her grounded, provide an outlet and give her energy from within. “I also love reading books and sitting at home with my family,” she says.

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