Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Palesa Phili wants to focus on the chamber’s partnerships with bigger corporate members as well as its small, medium and micro enterprise members.
Durban - Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) chief executive Palesa Phili is passionate about the empowerment of young entrepreneurs and small businesses and the role they can play to fuel the city’s economic growth.

Phili, who stepped up to the helm at the chamber which represents thousands of businesses in the city, says she took up the challenge, which meant quitting her top corporate job, because it spoke to her passion of wanting to make a difference in the local economy.

“The first thing that inspired me to say yes to the challenge is that I have a lot of passion in terms of what’s happening in our economy for youth development and other socio-economic issues which are very close to my heart. It spoke to my purpose and passion,” Phili said.

Phili has more than 20 years’ experience in the information and communication technology and telecommunications sector working for leading multinational companies.

She left her role as regional head of MTN Business in KwaZulu-Natal to take up the full-time post with the chamber. She previously also worked for Vodacom as executive head for enterprise business in KZN and has also worked for corporations including EMC Computers, Hewlett Packard, IBM, Dell, and Intel.

Phili’s career highlights include being voted the Computer Reseller News (CRN) Top Women in IT for 2009 and she was the first runner up of the IT Business Woman of the Year in the same year. At EMC Computers, she increased productivity efficiencies and revenue generated by the services business division and successfully set up a public sector division, an area the firm previously had no presence in.

She is a member of the South African Institute of Directors and sits on various boards, including the local SmartXchange and Invotech incubators. Phili holds a Master’s degree in business administration from the University of Johannesburg (UJ) and an advanced Business Management Programme certificate. She matriculated at Moshoeshoe II High School in Lesotho.

Phili said the chamber’s vision to be in business for a better world lined up perfectly with her own personal passion to see small businesses and entrepreneurs flourish and larger businesses impacting society.

Phili said she aimed to strengthen the chamber as a public voice for its members and to highlight some of their good works, such as their job creation initiatives.

She will also be focusing on strengthening the mutually beneficial partnerships between the chamber’s bigger corporate members and its SMME members and growing new partnerships to enhance economic development. The DCCI also recently launched a special membership package to attract more SMME members.

Phili said the biggest challenge for many local SMMes was the struggle to find business opportunities and at the same time the chamber’s larger members were seeking to get involved in SMME supplier development programmes.

“When you look at the dynamics of our economy, the government only supplies 30% of opportunities within the economy and the balance comes from the private sector. SMMEs are getting frustrated that the opportunities are not that many. The role I would like us to play is to work closely with the government and our members to ensure that there are more opportunities being created,” Phili said.

She is also particularly interested in developing young people who have innovative technological ideas to establish start-up businesses that can grow into sustainable job creating enterprises.

“We need to have a special focus on our SMMEs and youth development, which is very important, and on innovative technological business ideas which works hand in hand with ensuring that we participate in the economic growth of our city,”she said.

“We have had quite a lot of members who have come to us as a chamber asking how they can assist in terms of moving forward some of the people who have innovative ideas.

“Venture capital organisations that we are talking to are running programmes that can assist with some of the incubation programmes,” Phili said. On succeeding as a woman in business Phili said it had involved hard work breaking the glass ceiling.

“Being a woman in business is never really easy. It is important that we work very, very hard and get to understand the different industries and break down the walls and barriers that have been there in terms of gender inequality in the sectors we operate in,” she said.

“It’s important that women who get into the business environment get a lot of support and that the people who give them business recognise them not just as women but as capable of delivering the products and services they are offering to the marketplace,” Phili said.

The Mercury