From VenturesAfrica.com: Meet Pioneer Female Aviation Entrepreneur, Sibongile Sambo
VENTURES AFRICA - When Sibongile Sambo decided to make a career in
the South African aviation industry, she encountered a stumbling block
- she could not meet the minimum height requirement for air hostesses.
Today, Sambo is the Founder and Managing Director of SRS (Sibongile
Rejoice Sambo) Aviation – the first black female owned aviation company
in South Africa. SRS offers charters in a range of categories including:
VIP charter, air cargo charter, tourist transfers or charter, game
count and capture, fire-fighting, heli-camping, medical evacuation,
aerial photography, film work, slinging or airlifting, powerline
inspection and maintenance, and general air security services to
Born in 1974 in Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga, South Africa, Sibongile
Sambo’s interest in aircrafts started when she was a young girl.
Whenever she sees a plane flying overhead, she would stop immediately
and imagine herself in that plane. Sambo had visions about planes and
would imagine herself flying to different countries and meeting
people. Her dream came true when the 2003 post-apartheid government
passed the Black Economic Empowerment Act, which enables people from
previously disadvantaged backgrounds enter and participate in economic
life as entrepreneurs.
However, she had a challenge that could have prevented her from
achieving her dream – she had no prior experience or capital to purchase
an aircraft. Rather than go through the formal means for acquiring the
capital, Sambo relied on her family to lend her the money to kick start
her business. The small family loan from her mother and aunt enabled her
to broker contracts between aviation services and those with
Ultimately, with her impressive education history and work experience
in human resources from various organisations like De Beers, City
Power; Sambo started her airline company. In 2004, Sambo invited her
sister to be a partner in her aviation firm.
After the invitation tendered by the South African government for
aviation firms to bid on a contract for cargo transport, Sambo was on
course for success. The contract was awarded as a joint venture between
SRS and another firm. Although a collaborative project offered a golden
opportunity to wade into the industry, the other firm soon withdrew,
leaving Sambo to learn the contracting process on her own.
Speaking on her experience as a fresh-blood in the aviation industry,
Sambo said “It was very challenging. I had to learn the different
background operational needs before a flight. I had to call around and
find out from different people what I needed to do. Even the clients
themselves assisted me because they had run (similar) contracts before.”
Such was the challenges she faced and how she overcome some of them.
“Most people saw (my entry) as very awkward, and initially, people
never took me seriously. I had to prove myself more than 10 times.”
Ultimately, Sambo got her message across as she said: “I told them I’m
here, I’m here to stay, I’m here to grow this business, and I’m here to
make changes as well, because I’m young, I’m very innovative and I want
to bring a new spice into the industry.”
In addition, the aviation industry did not have many young, female or
black entrepreneurs. In this, Sambo said:”My background gives me that
platform to become a strong woman. I started living away from my parents
from the age of five or six, which gave me a lot of independence. For
me, managing in an environment that is very male dominated just comes
naturally. It comes from a confidence and willingness to learn, but also
from the willingness to make mistakes, learn from them and move on.”
“Being able to penetrate a male-dominated industry has been a career highlight.” she says.
In June 2010, SRS first Aviation shop opened at SA airports and since
then SRS has opened a chain of retail shops in South Africa airports.
Doing this hasn’t always been easy, she admits, “but as soon as men
are aware that you’re as intelligent as or more intelligent than they
are, they take you seriously”, she says. “So I stay knowledgeable; I
read continuously and attend conferences and industry events regularly.”
She admitted that “Being able to communicate with people at different levels has probably benefited me most in my career.”
Sambo is known for having the knack to taking advantage of
opportunities. Her ability to network targets has also helped her as a
successful entrepreneur in South Africa aviation industry.
Her company also has an Air Operating Certificate by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), making her company the first black operational enterprise to be given full rights to undertake commercial flying activities.
Aside from being an entrepreneur, Sambo doubles as a Motivational
Speaker. She mentors youngsters as well as business man and women in
Africa. The ambitious and self driven entrepreneur has been able to
generate job opportunities and empower women from previously
Sambo is affiliated with several associations including the South
African Entrepreneurs Network (SAWEN) – an organisation that promotes
youth and women empowerment globally; Business Women Association (BWA)
and she is part of a team that is establishing the Southern African
Woman in Aviation a non-profit making company that will encourage women
to enter the field of Aviation in different levels; offer bursaries and
scholarships towards Aviation related training etc. Sibongile is a board
member of SAWIA.
She also has a strategic relationship with Women of Color in Aviation
& Aerospace in the United States of America. She is also a member
of Women in Aviation International (WAI), the Black Management Forum
(BMF), the Enterprise Development Forum, FABCOS (CHAMSA) and Fly South –
just to mention a few.
A Member Think-Tank of the World Entrepreneurship Forum (WEF),
founded in France by French president, Nicolas Sakorzy and EMLYON
Business School; Sambo is also part of a team establishing a South
African chapter of the NGO Women in Aviation International, and was
featured in the World Bank report Doing Business: Women in Africa.
She is a beneficiary of the month-long mentorship program in the
United States for international businesswomen, featuring a mentorship
assignment with one of FORTUNE’s Most Powerful Women with the Honourable
Hillary Rodham Clinton as one of the founders of the programme.
Her efforts have been rewarded over the years. In 2006 she cleaned up
the awards table, taking home the Regional Business Woman of the Year
award, the Black Women in Business award in London, the SRS Aviation
Fidentia Award and the Top Emerging Gender Empowered Company award.
In 2007, Sambo was named a Leader of Tomorrow by the Fortune
Magazine. In 2009 she was nominated for the Queen Victoria Memorial
Award (International Socrates Award) by the Europe Business Assembly in
London. In 2009 she has been nominated for the Queen Victoria Memorial
Award (International Socrates Award) by the Europe Business Assembly in
“These awards show that I’m heading in the right direction. It also
means that the business of aviation is my playground. I plan to take SRS
Aviation to greater heights and become the leader in this business.”