Sibongile Sambo; Pioneer Founder of the First 100% Black-Female-Owned Aviation Company

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Sibongile Sambo

Born in 1974 in Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga, South Africa, Sibongile Sambo’s interest in aircrafts can be traced from early childhood when she gazed in wonderment as planes soared past and could only dream of a time when she would be no longer a spectator, but a passenger in one of those giant, graceful creations of men. She grew up holding that dream close to her heart, but her every attempt to break into the aviation industry by way of employment as an air-hostess was met with closed doors; her height didn’t make the cut. Ouch!

Sibongile holds a Bachelor of Administration degree from the University of Zululand, a Bachelor of Administration Honours and an Advanced programme in Organisational Development from the University of South Africa, a Marketing certificate from the Institute of Marketing Management, and a Mining Executive Preparation Programme from the University of the Witswatersrand. Sibongile is currently working on her Masters of Science Degree in Management of Technology and Innovation in Aviation and is training to be a pilot.

WORLD ENTREPRENEURSHIP FORUM

On the road to founding her own enterprise, Sibongile worked in the Human Resources Dept. at Telkom, City Power, NSA Securities and De Beers. When she decided the time was right, Sibongile took the plunge into aviation for keeps and this time, she wasn’t begging anyone to hire her as an air-hostess, no sir!

SRS [Sibongile Rejoice Sambo] Aviation was founded in 2004 with loans from Sibongile’s mother and aunt. Its mission statement is to offer clients professional and personalised flight options to destinations around the world. Their Air charter services vary from VIP Charter, Tourist Charter, Cargo Charter; Game Count & Capture and Helicopter Services.

SRS Aviation got its big break on a government contract for cargo transport. Sibongile who had no prior experience in aviation matters, learnt on the job. “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.” Sibongile stated concerning her early days in business.

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SRS Aviation nevertheless managed to accumulate capital by maintaining very low overhead costs, with only four employees and no office space. Sibongile soon stepped up the tempo by applying for licenses to become a full operator in the industry, which would authorize SRS to contract and pilot its own flights. In addition, her company also has an Air Operating Certificate by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), making it the first black operational enterprise to be given full rights to undertake commercial flying activities.

Her industriousness and capacity to take on and beat the odds have seen her on the receiving end of many awards right from the inception of her business. Sibongile is the 2006 winner of the Business Women Award’s Regional Business Women of the Year Award for the Star-up category; she was a winner at the BIBA (Black Woman in Business Awards) 2006 in London, and she is the 2006 winner of the Impumelelo Top Female Entrepreneur of the year. In 2007 Sibongile was named a Leader of Tomorrow by the Fortune Magazine; in 2008, she was featured in the World Bank reports: Doing Business; Women in Africa. That same year, Sibongile was a recipient of the BMF (Black Management Forum) Presidential Award in the Category of Youth Business Leadership. In 2009 she was nominated for the Queen Victoria Memorial Award (International Socrates Award) by the Europe Business Assembly in London. Come 2010, she was a recipient of the International Women’s Entrepreneurial Challenge (IWEC) Award.

Sambo feat

Sibongile who is also a motivational speaker is affiliated with several associations including the South African Entrepreneurs Network (SAWEN) – an organisation that promotes youth and women empowerment globally; and the Business Women Association (BWA). Sibongile serves as part of a team that is working to establish the Southern African Woman in Aviation [SAWIA]; 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. She is also affiliated with the Women of Colour in Aviation & Aerospace in the United States of America.

On her journey thus far, Sibongile confesses, “It hasn’t been easy, it’s been a huge task but it’s been worth every sleepless night I’ve endured. The company is now well established and is a growing enterprise, with an annual turnover of R54 million. To me, that alone is an incredible achievement.”

Incredible, astonishing, amazing, awe-inspiring, earth-shaking, mind-boggling, terrific…any words you would care to add?

© 2013 – 2017, Jennifer Nkem-Eneanya. All rights reserved.

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