Telecommunications giant turns 20 this year and Executive Head of Corporate Affairs, Adv Tšepo Ntaopane speaks of an ‘even more exciting journey’ ahead
Telecommunications giant, Vodacom Lesotho, is turning 20 years this year, with its management team aiming for an even more “exciting journey” and deeper commitment to “taking Lesotho to the next level.”
In this wide-ranging interview, Vodacom’s Executive Head of Corporate Affairs, Adv Tšepo Ntaopane, speaks with the Sunday Express (SE) reporter, Lekhetho Ntsukunyane, about the “exciting journey” and how the company has partnered with government and development partners to improve Basotho lives.
Mr Ntaopane also shares his first experience with Vodacom Lesotho after joining the company in September last year, having previously been in the banking industry for the past eleven years.
SE: Could you please tell us about the mandate and functions of your Corporate Affairs department within Vodacom Lesotho?
Ntaopane: Vodacom Corporate Affairs is actually a department within the company that is the face of the company. It is the face of Vodacom Lesotho in the sense that it deals with external stakeholders: government, business, NGOs (Non-governmental organisations), communities and chiefs. . Our mandate is to open doors for the business units and staff to interact with stakeholders build and maintain a positive image for the company as it carries on with its daily operations. Thus the stakeholder engagement responsibility which is paramount in ensuring that we are a responsible business. Secondly, we are tasked with ensuring that both our internal (staff) and external stakeholders (shareholders, regulators, government, social partners, media and society in general) are kept abreast with what the company is doing, performance what it is about and actively communicating and reinforcing the Vodacom Lesotho brand. This role is aimed at ensuring that the reputation of the company as the trusted brand and communications solutions partner for Basotho and Lesotho is maintained and communicated to all relevant stakeholders. And yes, the media is very crucial in ensuring that we deliver on this mandate.
If you look at the above two, it’s all about building and maintaining very good relationships with all our stakeholders and ensuring that they are adequately proactively informed about the company.
The third and equally important role perhaps which we are often known for is the corporate and social investment component which we drive through the Vodacom Lesotho Foundation. As we drive commercial our objectives, we are also aware that we are a part of a community that has some other challenges and to that effect as a company identifying and prioritizing the following three areas – Health, Education and Entrepreneurship development over and above all the other initiatives that we are involved in- as a company we recognize that we need a healthy, educated (and skilled) generation in order to change the fortunes of our country. We need entrepreneurs to create jobs and employ others and we feel that our technology can be used to assist government to achieve these core aspirations of the National Development agenda. We are also very aware that we live in a world that does not have infinite resources the recent drought being a typical example of our impact on the world and our carbon footprint. As such as we do business we integrate principles that talk to sustainability for future generations and ensuring that Vodacom Lesotho will still be an ongoing concern and very profitable and caring business for staff, clients, business partners and communities in the next 20 years.
LT: Do you, perhaps, go out to communities for public awareness on this issue?
Ntaopane: Whilst we may not have physically been in the communities for awareness around sustainability, we have recently supported an initiative that ensured that through our technology, bulk SMSs (Short Message Service) were sent to our users to conscientise them and to urge them to commit to the sustainable development goals. We will not have any business if we do not care for our environment and ensure sustainability through caring for our staff and ensuring that we build capacity for the future – health, education, skills development as well as taking care of mother earth. Small initiatives such as ensuring efficient energy, water and paper usage. This we do by ensuring that all our staff are energized around this such that they become ambassadors in society and get the message out.
SE: Looking back at 2015, what highlights can you talk about in terms of developmental strides and challenges the company went through?
Ntaopane: I must say coming from outside, one used to observe that Vodacom is a highly energized company; very young people who are very passionate about their company; all the initiatives that the company was running and continues to run, they were very energetic behind those initiatives. And what I have also learnt, having come in now, I think one of the very first initiatives that I joined was a mobilisation programme that was going out into the communities in terms of raising awareness about one of the health projects that we are supporting through the Vodacom Foundation. You will start to hear a lot from this initiative probably from February 2016 as there will be a lot more communication on this exciting project that addresses health challenges and harnessing the best of the Vodacom Lesotho technology. It is an initiative through which we have partnered with the Ministry of Health and other international development partners, as well as the Vodafone Foundation
SE: And what was your experience in the rural areas?
Ntaopane: What I found very interesting was the fact that we went to Leribe and Botha-Bothe and Mohale. I and staff members visited some very rural places there. The staff were energized and all the message that the staff was carrying was around this health project; right down to the villages; talking to village chiefs, community elders, herd boys and school children. That ability to go to that level to share a message that is mutually beneficial to us, as a company, as well as the communities really was mind blowing for me energizing them through our products and services particularly around M-Pesa service and what it can do for them. .and yes “mocha o chele” is still synonymous to Vodacom “kae kapa kae” in Lesotho.
Other than that, we recently launched the Vodacom Innovation Park at Maseru Mall another mind blowing initiative. The biggest challenge that we have as an economy is that we have high numbers of young people graduating from tertiary institutions with no jobs. They run up and down with brown envelopes seeking employment but to no avail. Potential employers always say that people that join the market do not have experience and skills. Simple solution is the economy itself needs to create new jobs and this can be done by a new breed of entrepreneurs who create jobs for others. So what we do with Vodacom Innovation Park is we incubate business ideas and provide the basic skills and a platform for entrepreneurs to take their ideas to the market. This process of incubation gives them skills of how to run a business and ensure that these can be sustainable allowing them to interact with those that have already made it in the world of business.
The last bit from the Vodacom Foundation is that we are also very involved in education. One of the things that we have realised is that the world is changing. We now have technology taking over. How do we use our technology to assist sectors of society to change our country and the world? Young graduates that will get employment now are those that will be able to demonstrate that they are aware of the changes in the world and they have kept up with those changes. That is what the industry is looking for. We have partnered with the Ministries of Education and of Communications first of all in the primary schools, to provide tablet based curriculum last year piloting this. The intention is to make sure that every primary school, in years to come, gets access to education material on a tablet. Obviously that will need a lot of commitment on the side of government in terms of basic infrastructure and resources to ensure that all the 1500 schools are onto this programme… We want every Mosotho student and teacher to be able to use technology for their learning. This will need to flow into secondary and high schools to ensure that we deliver world class education.
Right now what we are working on is zero-rating of educational content, which you can get on your smart phone or tablet and computer.
SE: We have observed in government ministries and departments how slow the use of computers and other technologies are being incorporated into the systems so as to improve service delivery. How do you help the government in that aspect?
Ntaopane: The investment that we are doing in health, education and entrepreneurial development is such that we want to create a generation of Basotho that will have a different outlook from the current generation. It will take time to get the government machinery to catch up. But it doesn’t mean that as a telecommunications company we are not supporting and encouraging authorities to catch up. It is much easier for us to start from primary schools and then go up. In the government space I am aware that there are also moves to implement e-government. We are supporting government in that initiative in terms of consultations. So it’s still a long journey.
SE: Traditionally, we know Vodacom as a telecommunications company, period. Why is the company going out of bounds and investing in issues of health and education, for example?
Ntaopane: Without a healthy population Vodacom will not have subscribers. Without skilled and educated graduates, Vodacom will not have the workforce to provide these services. Yes, we are a telecommunications company, but we provide total communications solutions. The fact that people in Maseru can now hold meetings with people in the United States of America, for instance, the fact that a miner or domestic worker or labourer working in South Africa (SA) can send money home in Thaba-Tseka through our M-Pesa service is a solution that addresses a need in our society. Yes, you can send money from SA to Lesotho via M-Pesa. But in order to be able to deliver on these ambitious goals, you need to have healthy and highly skilled people. And in order to have those highly skilled people you need to invest in education. We know these are responsibilities of government, but we are part of the community. This is where we get our workforce. Over and above all this, these are the very people who buy Mocha-o-chele and support Vodacom Lesotho. If you cannot support their education, they will not be able to use some of your products. We want Vodacom to grow bigger and we can achieve that if we have the right base – those people down there as they get educated and see Vodacom supporting these initiatives they begin to realise that when you buy Mocha-o-chele and use M-Pesa the money is reinvested back to the community; to assist them where the hand of government is not able to reach.
Our staff as stated are very highly energized and through their own initiatives from time to time they give what they have as individuals; acknowledging that we are fortunate to have jobs while there others may not. We then contribute what we have and give out to the needy, hence the Vodacom’s Random Acts of Kindness which contribute clothes and food to the needy.
SE: Vodacom is turning 20 years: Tell us what this means and the vision of the company over the next 20 years.
Ntaopane: Vodacom is an exciting company. It is committed to Lesotho. We are the best mobile telecommunications company in the country and will maintain so. It’s been a long journey since we started those 20 years ago. We have come to understand our market. There will always be challenges but we strive to see our customers happy. We should be seen as a partner of Basotho and will continue to invest in the country from investing in telecommunications infrastructure – to be at par with the best, our own new head office to show that Vodacom is here to stay and is committed to Lesotho. Lastly and most importantly investment in our staff and developing our locals to take leadership positions and offering them opportunities both in Lesotho and across the entire Vodacom and Vodafone Groups. All these projects that we are doing are a sign that we want Lesotho to move from where it is and we believe Vodacom Lesotho will be a catalyst to take this country to the next level whilst remaining “the best employer and service provider #kae kapa kae”