Patricia Dlamini: E Cape’s digital doyenne
Patricia Dlamini isn’t just the head of a provincial technology initiative. She’s also a broadband advocate and budding golfer. Profile by Craig Wilson.
East London’s Patricia Dlamini found herself in technology partly due to chance and partly for what she calls a “change of scenery”.
Now executive manager of the Eastern Cape IT Initiative (ECiti), Dlamini says the province’s biggest challenges are retaining graduates, getting its people connected and making youngsters realise they need to bring value to business rather than feeling “entitled” and moaning about a “lack of opportunities”.
ECiti is a nonprofit company established in 2004 by the Eastern Cape Development Corporation. An incubation programme for small businesses and start-ups forms the centre of its mandate to develop the province’s technology and film sectors. The incubator provides support services to entrepreneurs.
Dlamini, who was named one of the top three women in information and communications technology (ICT) at SA’s recent Most Influential Women in Business and Government Awards, began her career after completing an accounting degree, taking an interest in entrepreneurship and starting a small business. “I closed the business to relocate to Durban to join my family,” she says. “The Durban municipality was setting up an ICT incubator and I was recruited to run that.”
During her time in the KwaZulu-Natal city, Dlamini was involved in policy development and later moved to Gauteng to join the Innovation Hub in Pretoria to work with small and medium-sized enterprises in the technology sector and help with their development.
“In 2010, the Eastern Cape advertised a position for someone to resuscitate a struggling ICT incubator. They were deciding whether to proceed with the programme or close it. I’m a sucker for a challenge, so I decided to give it a try.”
The provincial government now wants it to coordinate the Eastern Cape’s ICT strategies. Part of this involves helping develop small enterprises; another involves working with the department of communications to improve broadband in the province.
“We’re talking to the private sector and state-owned companies like Broadband Infraco,” Dlamini says. The plan is to build fibre in the region, possibly along the lines of the public-private partnership model used by BWired in Johannesburg.
A challenge for the Eastern Cape is there is very little private-sector involvement in ICT, Dlamini says. “Private-sector [IT companies are] almost nonexistent beyond a handful of companies that serve the consumer market. We need to look at ways to use ICT to support local industry and not just consumers.”
A big problem in the region is the relative lack of relevant skills being produced by local universities. And those science and technology graduates that do exist often relocate soon after completing their studies.
Another obstacle for the Eastern Cape is getting government bodies on the same page. National, provincial and local government departments don’t talk to each other about ICT strategy, she says. “This has to change if we’re to avoid duplicating infrastructure and roll out services as efficiently as possible.
“People in the Eastern Cape say basic education is essential, and it is, but I say basic education will come with the right information being available. Get children online and you’ll be amazed how much they’ll teach themselves.”
Education remains problematic. “I chat to lecturers who aren’t aware of ICT trends. Some institutional programmes are simply not aligned to the way the industry is going. Courses need to be dynamic, because the industry is.”
Divorced with two children — a 15-year-old son at boarding school at Hilton College and a 10-year-old daughter — the 44-year-old Dlamini says she keeps busy outside of work with gym and squash and has recently started playing golf.
She also offers mentoring in her part time. “Young women and girls, whether students or graduates, need support,” she says. “Many of them come out of university believing they’re owed something. But it’s the reverse; they need to bring value to an organisation.” — (c) 2012 NewsCentral Media