Ana Claudia Antunes
Prudence Mabitsela – the young dynamite MD of Dynamic DNA – appears to leave no stone unturned when it comes to identifying opportunities. Where does all this drive come from? Partly from the strong women in her life – her mother and grandmother – who were both very strong ambitious woman and goal-setters in their own right, she replies. “I am sure I inherited some of it, but some is just purely from me,” she says with a smile in her voice.
Her father was also an entrepreneur. As a young teenager, Prudence would assist him in his cellphone repair shop, where she learnt her customer service skills. She would log in the customer phones and take them to the repair personnel. What she saw there was one of her inspirations – it was a little township store, but it was a “big deal” for the time and the place; and for a young and ambitious Prudence.
In the last 11 years of her life, she has travelled from being a matriculant with ostensibly no prospects, to the Founder and MD of Dynamic DNA – a company offering accredited learnerships to bridge the gap between industry needs and available skills. With their unique blended-learning approach, Dynamic DNA is having spectacular success addressing gaps in the ICT market for young skilled professionals with the correct combination of technical and soft skills.
Growing up in Soweto with her mother and grandparents, funds were not available for university. A couple of days after receiving her matric results, she was alerted to a Vega bursary opportunity at a newly-established marketing and communication training institution in Soweto. After an hour-long walk, Prudence joined the queue – on the last day! Of the hundreds of applicants, only 30 were selected – and Prudence found the first diamond of her career.
“I would still walk to the course everyday and I was top student at the end of that course. I never let anything faze me. I thought, let me just ensure that I do 100 percent more than anyone else.”
After completing the 18-month course, Prudence utilised the facilities offered by Vega to their full advantage – she continued to walk to the institution every day to send her CV out to prospective employers. Her first stepping stone was a sales job for an advertising company. Although she was the only sales representative without a vehicle (she would take minibus taxis to clients), this obstacle did not stop her from bringing in the best sales figures.
“I was willing to start at the bottom and work my way up – I have always been that person who has been very driven, and a hard worker.”
But working hard is only one part of the formula – Prudence also made herself and her ambitions known to the CEO of this particular company; who was so impressed by her drive and passion that she eventually created a post especially for Prudence; and the company gave her the opportunity to study at the University of the Witwatersrand. “That is where my passion for skills development and empowerment really grew,” she says.
“I moved from that company to DVT. My main role there was skills development and empowerment, but I took it a notch higher – I always set goals for myself and, when I reach those goals, I want to add more – just to see what else I can actually get out.” Within two months of joining DVT, Prudence had secured funding for their skills development programme and had registered it with the MICT Seta.
As the programme rolled out over the next year, Prudence started identifying the gaps: “I saw an opportunity in the market because we were utilising another training provider and what they were doing was not relevant to what the industry in my mind needed.” She took it upon myself to change these obstacles into opportunities when she pitched a new business model to the Chief Financial Director at a board meeting. This was the inception of Dynamic DNA, which was formed in order to close ICT gaps within the market and to incubate students for a longer period of time – to build an ecosystem to address youth unemployment and to serve industry needs. “This ecosystem included government, unemployed youth, corporates and us – the training provider.”
Prudence started Dynamic DNA three-and-a-half years ago at the age of 26 years – a mere 8 years after she first joined the hundreds of student in the Vega queue. “It was a road map I had already decided on. I decided at 18 that I would have my own company by 26. I remember that when I was 25 years and a couple of months, I started to panic … 26 is around the corner – I have to be gutsy enough to stand in front of the board and present.”
Prudence cannot tell her personal story without talking about Dynamic DNA because “I, in myself, have put my whole heart into this business.” She is not only committed to success, but also to addressing youth unemployment. She is driven by her passion to empower and upskill young people – particularly women and rural youth. In terms of skills, she wants to take the previously disadvantaged and marginalised directly into the 4th industrial revolution – she wants them to be included!
“Just looking at the township I come from – the people I grew up with, went to school with, the majority are still unemployed to this day. There is a backlog of people who have been unemployed for a number of years, including those who have just finished school. We are in a crisis.”
Although she recognises that her perseverance and in-built ambition have set her apart from those of her cohorts still struggling with unemployment, she believes strongly that business skills can be developed in young people, especially through mentorship – “learning from people who have been in the industry for a while. People who have gone through the do’s and don’ts in the industry”. Having gone through these experiences herself have also built her as an individual, she acknowledges.
When asked about the DNA helix in the company logo, Prudence says, “This was very intentional. It represents different people from different backgrounds and age groups coming together, with the older person transferring skills to the younger person. At some point the younger person becomes the older person, and so the circle of learning and mentorship goes on. We are always learning something from each other”. Does she face challenges as a younger person in the role of the older person?: “Anyone faces challenges – mine are related to age and gender. When I walk into a room I know I look 29 and there may be doubt about my abilities.Then I open my mouth and they change their minds!”