Divine Ndhlukula, a Forbes 'Africa's Most Successful' Woman

The NextWomen Social Entrepreneurship Theme.

Divine Ndhlukula is the founder and MD of DDNS Security Operations, the holding company for SECURICO SECURITY SERVICES. 

She was named one of the most successful women in Africa by Forbes and recently deemed the 'Queen of the security industry in Zimbabwe' by BBC World. Her company is the largest employer of women – currently ranking 900th in Zimbabwe outside of the civil service - having grown her business to over 3600 employees. 

Her astute leadership has turned SECURICO into one of the leading security organisations in Zimbabwe. This success in a male dominated industry saw her winning several leadership awards including the Empretec Entrepreneur of the Decade (2003), Zimbabwe Institute of Management Manager of the Year (2005), and Zimbabwe Institute of Directors' Director of the Year (2008).

Divine champions for women's economic and social empowerment and is a member of several voluntary organisations that seek to empower women. She has an honorary MBA from Women’s University in Africa in recognition of her accomplishments and work in gender equality initiatives in business.

We spoke to Divine about breaking into the male dominated industry of security; her views on entrepreneurialism in Africa and how she has contributed to female empowerment in business! 

 

TNW: How did you come up with the idea for Securico and then arrive at the decision to turn your idea into a reality?

DN: Firstly, I needed to create a decent livelihood for my family and myself. I always knew that I wanted to go into business from a very tender age and would tell my friends in high school that the business I was going to start was going to be significant in size.

Secondly, I had identified glaring gaps in the quality of service and professionalism in the private security sector and this inspired me to start a security company and make a difference.

Thirdly, I wanted to make a difference to disadvantaged women who could not get opportunities to get formal employment and I knew the security industry was a mass employer.

I became an activist for the empowerment of women when I was very young, at school. When I started working I joined women empowerment groups and I got to meet various role models who inspired me to seek personal self actualization.

TNW: What is the biggest challenge your business has faced in the last 15 years? What has been the biggest highlight?

DN: The biggest challenge that I faced was that I was a woman getting into a male dominated industry. The market had no confidence in woman as security practitioners and that was a barrier which we overcame through building a reputation for quality. The same lack of confidence extended to financial institutions which were reluctant to fund our operation so most of the growth had to be funded by reinvesting all proceeds into the company. We did not declare dividends until quite recently.

Secondly, the issue of corruption is a big challenge now especially from male operated companies who believe in going the short cut route to getting a foothold in the market.

Disappointingly corruption has become so rampant and we have indeed lost business to security companies that offer bribes. In some instances we had to fight really hard to retain our business and we were fortunate that top management in those companies quickly noticed the irregularities

TNW: You not only employee women in Executive and Board positions, but also in security roles. Do you feel that this gives your business an advantage over your competitors? If so, why?

DN: Firstly we have proved that women can do security work just as good as men and sometimes they are better. However at first it was extremely difficult to persuade both clients and my own team to accept women. Security was regarded as a masculine job but I managed to convince people that the key imperatives in security work is integrity, loyalty and brains. The employment of women actually saw losses going down significantly as women are generally more honest. Employment of women turned out to be the greatest competitive advantage during the height of the economic crisis in 2007 and 2008 when men were not interested in employment anymore due to the hyperinflation. Now we employ women whenever we can depending on the work we get.

TNW: Have you faced opposition from customers who would prefer male security guards? How do you deal with this?

DN: Indeed there was resistance by some clients who did not want to see female security guards at their sites. I had to make conscious and deliberate effort to persuade clients to accept women. I had to site the various reasons why deployment of women was important to manage some of the security risks they were facing. The few who initially accepted became the excellent references for other clients eventually. I ensured the deployed women operatives were thoroughly trained and inducted to the sites they were posted for them to be very effective. I was personally involved in this exercise to ensure its success.

TNW: Tell our community about the particular challenges faced in Zimbabwe by female entrepreneurs.

The Zimbabwean economy is actually driven by women at the micro level. However the biggest challenge women entrepreneurs face is to break into big business and grow their enterprises.

Accessing loans is almost impossible because they do not have the security required by banks. Accessing markets is also a tall order as women generally find it difficult to go out and network at the various fora so increase their opportunities.

Cultural beliefs by society also militates against women entrepreneurs, as success is not usually associated with women.  

Rather the stereotypical role is that a woman should become a good wife and mother, therefore many women simply strive to fulfill this role. So at the end of the day it’s our society that mostly militates against the development of women entrepreneurs.

TNW: Do you feel optimistic about the future of entrepreneurialism in Africa in general?

DN: Absolutely, as Africa is the next frontier for investment in the global economy. In addition, there is a great move towards wealth creation by many seeing the opportunities being presented in our economies. With the shift towards political democratic changes in many countries now, this is also creating a serious entrepreneurial societies in Africa.

The positive thing in countries like Zimbabwe and others, entrepreneurial studies are now a must in the education systems so the new generation of entrepreneurs is developed.

There is also a change in mindset where parents and students alsike expected to get a good education and be employed by some multinational company.

TNW: Are there other female-founded Africa business which you really admire? Tell us a bit about them and why you respect them so much.

DN: In my travels and readings, I have seen quite some formidable African businesswomen that I admire. Locally we have people like Kubi Indi, Prof Hope Sadza, Lea Dauramanzi, Elizabeth Magaya, Barbara Rwodzi. Beyond our borders, I have met Joanne Mwangi of Kenya, Victoria of Uganda, Bethlehem Alemu of Ethiopia, Kofo Akinkugbe of Nigeria, the late Esther Ocloo of Ghana, Gloria Sorobe of South Africa etc.

What I admire about most of these women is that they have built their businesses from scratch, they are resilient and have had to overcome adverse conditions to be where they are.

TNW: Tell us about your work towards female empowerment in Zimbabwe.

DN: My greatest passion actually is women’s economic empowerment. Firstly, the creation of employment opportunities for the more than 900 women we employ. I also ensured that their unique needs as women are addressed all the time through the Gender Desk we have at SECURICO and the annual SECURICO Women Empowerment Seminars we have.

Secondly, I am involved with a number of women’s civic and business organisations where I avail myself for empowerment presentations especially on entrepreneurship. Through some of these and in my own personal initiatives, I mentor women aspiring or already running their businesses.

TNW: Do you have any role models or mentors?

DN: I have many role models both male and female. However, I am more inspired by women fore-bearers - those that made it before me as well as those doing well now despite the adversities they face.

TNW: Is there anything we haven’t asked you, but you would like to share with our community?

DN: Yes, I would like to encourage my fellow women out there to learn to stand for themselves, to stand for other women and above all to stand for justice and this world, in particular Africa, would be a better place.

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