#WCW: Elekanyani Ndlovu

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Elekanyani Ndlovu is a woman who’s credentials I could list in the singsong manner of praise poetry, yet one of the humblest people I have met in a long time. She is a qualified engineer with a BSc in Electrical Engineering from UCT and an accomplished business woman with a meaningful contribution to the energy sector. Ele is a mother of two, sister, wife, friend and now also a role model to yours truly. It has been a women’s month full of blessings, one of which was being introduced to Ele. When I first met her I noted the calming warm smile she had and soon found out that behind that kind smile lay a wealth of business acumen and a mind valued on various boards. Her experience in the energy sector includes working on large scale infrastructure and renewable energy projects with direct responsibility over billions of rands; testament to the technically astute engineer and sharp business woman that she is. I had a fantastic chat with her this past Sunday which broadened my perspective and left me very inspired. I haven’t known Ele for long but what I can say is that I love the sisterly woman that she is, always nurturing and teaching in her manner yet ever warm and fun to chat to. Moreover, I love how sternly she answered my question about blessers in the Q&A, making me step back and think about the place from whence this question came. I am honored to have had the opportunity to share a bit about her with you below in our Q&A.

What are your thoughts on the relevance and or importance of Women’s Month?

I believe that it is important because of what it stands for and what it represents. I am a beneficiary of the sacrifices of women before me.  But truth be told, Women’s month sometimes goes by so quickly that apart from the holiday on the 9th and happy women’s day whatsapp messages from friends; I continue as I did the month before. So from time to time I question its relevance and often wonder how I can make this month, a celebration of woman, more relevant.

Tell us a little bit about your background, how you went from toughies to stilettos?

Half the time I am in steel toed safety boots at a power plant….I was born in Soweto and spent some years in Malavuwe, Venda until I went  to Mambo primary school in Tshiawelo, Soweto. I had the best teachers and I remember in std 5 (grade 7) my head master asked my parents to take me to write an entrance test to get into Raucall. I did and it worked out quite well because in matric I was awarded a bursary to go to the University of Cape Town to study BSc Electrical Engineering.

Since graduating I have gone from engineer in training to heading up an engineering division in renewable and natural energy and I am responsible for all engineering and construction management scope. I am a business woman and I am a member of an investment cooperative; Phato Investment Cooperative. I am a non-executive director, a board member, an advisor (technical and business), wife, mother and a family and friends person.

What is your number one social media don’t?

Don’t let it consume you and don’t live through it, live in real life.

Would you say you are street smart or book smart?

I grew up in Soweto so I am definitely street smart, but then again I have a BSc Electrical Engineering degree from UCT, that is a lot of book smart right there.

If you could visit yourself five years ago, what advice would you give to yourself regarding work, friendship and love? 

I would go back 10 years to give myself advise and it would be that time goes by so quickly, 5 years is not as long as it sounds. So do the things you say you want to do, don’t put them off because life moves and before long it’s 10 years later.

Don’t confuse being content with being complacent, you can be present and happy about your life and still work towards your aspirations.

Discipline is not punishment; it is the one habit that will allow you to live the life you want. It takes discipline to follow through and live how you want and do the things that count.

For work, friendship and love to work you have to be content and present but disciplined enough to not let procrastination steal moments away from what could be your work, your friendships and your love story.

Complete the following sentence: Women are ____.

Women are grace, it is grace that loves and gives no matter what, it is the nurturing, the strength and the wisdom.

What have you learnt in your industry that tertiary education didn’t teach you?

The industry has taught me sales, raising capital and relationship management. It would have been a great help if those were part of the curriculum.

Many young women are looking for mentorship and don’t know what they can bring to the table, what would make a mentee perfect for you?

A perfect mentee is someone who does the work, the inner work that is required to have a healthy relationship with yourself and be self-aware. This type of mentee is perfect because all they need from a mentor is the guidance to connect the dots that have not yet connected but they know who they are and what they want.

Is there something you do daily that keeps you motivated and inspired, if so can you share it with us?

I have a whole routine. I have tried and tested it, started and stopped it just to see if it really works for me and now I can say yes I have something I do daily to stay inspired and I check myself daily to ensure that I have had my daily dose and to reinforce the habit:

I pray every morning

I listen to what I consider to be good music every day

I read a book every day and I choose the books that I know will inspire me and have them lined up and ready for when I finish one.

I read a book titled The Invitation years ago and the author asked the question “what keeps you going when faith and hope are no longer enough?”. Her answer was that routine kept her going until hope and faith returned. It stuck with me. So more than inspiration my routine is to safeguard my hope and my faith.

What does a day in your work life look like?

My day is unpredictable. I am responsible for all technical and construction management scope. I plan my work for the week and prioritise action items the day before but sometimes I find myself flying out to the power plant for one thing or another, or having to join a meeting that was confirmed the night before or required to review documentation where feedback is required urgently. On more predictable days I execute the to do list as prioritised and look forward to the sense of achievement when I review my progress. I aim to at least do priority one item no matter how unpredictable my day gets, it helps keep the momentum going.

What do you think are some of the things we as women can do to decrease the instance of uninspired young women opting for blessers instead of growing their careers?

I think the question assumes that the young women are uninspired, I am not convinced that it’s that black and white. Until I have an open discussion with young women who do end up with blessers, I feel I can’t even begin to prescribe what I think the solution should be because I sincerely don’t understand the root cause. I have not found out and I don’t know why young women end up in that position and I can only guess that it could be issues of poverty or self-esteem or experimenting and adventure or upbringing….but I would be guessing and each of those guesses would require a different solution. Again, maybe the young women are not the root cause and the root cause are the blessers, this too would have an entirely different solution.

What are some of the perceptions (from strangers, family and friends) that come with being a successful young black woman? These can be positive or negative depending on what your experience has been.

My family and friends are too close to me to for me to even have a sense that they think I am a successful young black woman. I guess I just feel like me around them with no label. But with strangers you are able to read their reaction to my career achievements. I look younger than I am and so generally people assume I am the “junior engineer” until they realise I am not. Then they continue to engage in disbelief until you see the shift in how they had perceived me and it’s fascinating to see how pleasantly surprised they get. I don’t receive it negatively when it happens, there is nothing like exceeding people’s expectations, lol.

What is your number one networking do? A piece of practical advice that has helped you improve your networking experiences. 

It has to be authentic, if it’s not, it’s not sustainable. It has to be about building a mutually beneficial relationship, when it makes sense, it is sustainable.

As Oprah would ask: What do you know for sure? 

I know for sure that what my father told me is true “muthu ene mune” meaning it’s all up to me, I choose. I know for sure that what my mother told me is true, prayer gives inner peace.

If you had to have a payoff line, what would it be?

“Things work out” and “Consistency, consistency, consistency”

Many thanks to EB Social Kitchen & Bar for offering us their fabulous space and amazing coffee for our interview. This restaurant is one of my new favs in Joho and the best thing is they are situated inside the Exclusive Books in Hyde Park Shopping Mall… how dreamy is a restaurant in a book store? Very dreamy!

All images by Mothusi Mo Molote, more of his work is here.

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3 Comments

  1. Wow Ele, this is so you, street smart and so down to earth, most resourceful person, the world needs women like you…brilliant article!

  2. I could read your interview the whole day if there was more.Im left thinking oh what a woman! …like you said ,you live among us with no label but the truth is that you are all that you reveal here and more. Iv never met such a confident, technically versed lady who is super resourceful and yet so humble.Your skills are endless. What Iadmire the most is your attitude towards everything…you never shy away from a challenge and when you face that challenge you make it seem so easy to tackle.The best part is that you are God fearing and your routine shows that You are a winner and will continue to be.what a woman!…every young woman needs a woman like Ele…

  3. Ele I miss your leadership style so much i.e the time we worked together in one of the projects in the power plant from 2012 till 2014.You are a woman of high calibre keep on mentoring the young women in the engineering industry

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