Passion to solve Africa’s problems through innovation

Xoliswa Kekana
Xoliswa Kekana
Image: Russell Roberts

It was far from easy opening an all-black, all-women ICT company in the 1990s, but that is exactly what Xoliswa Kakana did.

From a young age Kakana, 53, has been passionate about mathematics and science.

This, coupled with the urge to succeed, has resulted in the single mother of six leaving her mark across the continent.

Born in Mvenyane in the rural Eastern Cape, Kakana – who founded and runs one of South Africa’s leading 100% black, female-owned ICT companies, ICT-Works – said it was her focus to solve Africa’s problems through innovation that kept her moving forward.

“Our aim has always been that the solutions we put in place have a positive impact on all the lives that it touches,” Kakana said.

As an invited speaker at Rhodes University’s recent graduation ceremonies, Kakana said it was quite a spectacular move to start her ICT company back in 1999.

“I started ICT-Works in 1999 and at that time the ICT industry was, and in a sense still is, a very male-dominated industry. It was quite a spectacular move to do so not only as a woman, but a black woman at that.”

With her head office based in Johannesburg, Kakana has offices in Cape Town and Pretoria as well.

While she divides her time between these offices, she also looks after her two biological children and four others, aged between seven and 29, who live with her at her Morningside, Johannesburg, home.

Armed with a drive to make a difference in the lives of ordinary Africans, Kakana has received numerous business awards.

“I am humbled by the fact that myself and ICT-Works have been nominated for and won a number of business and industry awards,” she said.

For Kakana, some of her career highlights include winning the International MasterCard Transport Ticketing Award for the Best Bank Card Ticketing Scheme for their work on the City of Cape Town’s MyCiti Connect Card.

“All our work with the City of Cape Town has also been a huge source of pride for us,” she said.

Recently Kakana and her company concluded the implementation of the Lagos Urban Transport Authority Project, funded by the World Bank.

The project is aimed at improving public transport facilities for 150 000 Nigerian passengers a day on the key route between Ikorodu and Tafewa Balewa Square.

“Another very key project that we are very proud of is the IFMIS Procurement to Pay System Implementation project that we delivered for the ministry of finance in Nairobi, Kenya. All our contracts are a source of pride for us,” Kakana said.

Kakana holds several qualifications, including a BSc in maths and applied maths from the University of Transkei; a master’s degree in electronics engineering from F H Giessen-Friedberg University, Germany; a master’s in business administration from Henley Management College in London; a master’s in business administration, technology management and innovation from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University.

“ICT is an industry like any other – it requires tenacity, personal motivation and strength of resolve.

“Whatever it is that anybody sets their mind to . . . if you dedicate the work, effort and passion required, nothing can stand in your way.”