The Mail & Guardian 200 Young South Africans showcases South Africa’s eminent and accomplished young people. Making the list in the Tourism & Hospitality category under the 2021 theme Resilience and Innovation for Excellence was Kabelo Kgodane, Business Development Manager at SITA.
Congratulations on making the Mail & Guardian 200 Young South Africans list. Can you tell us a bit about it?
Thank you, I’m thrilled to be included! I was among 6,000 young professionals nominated for the award and am incredibly grateful to be selected in the Tourism & Hospitality category. The list identifies young trailblazers in South Africa who are active in their careers and communities, working hard to move the country forward. This year’s theme focused on resilience and innovation, which are topical right now for our industry. Coming off the back of a global pandemic, I feel that the aviation space was hit hardest. It was almost like we had to hit pause, rethink the business models, and reimagine what life would look like after the pandemic.
What was your motivation for entering the award?
As a young person, many people will say to you, “you’re still so young,” almost like you need to reach a certain age before you can affect any kind of change. Not at SITA. We have a group of young professionals called SITA NXTGEN. Sponsored by our CEO, Barbara Dalibard, the group takes on a range of projects to support SITA in its long-term evolution. Through participating in the group, I realized that if we’re talking about the future — the future of aviation, the future of the world — then it needs to be the young people who are vocal about how the future looks. We are the ones that need to shape it. This was my biggest motivation.
Can you describe your pathway to working at SITA?
I started working for SITA in Johannesburg on 1 July 2019, which makes it two years this week. My pathway into technology may appear like a logical progression, but many people have helped me get where I am right now. I’m originally from Mamelodi, a township in Pretoria. Growing up in a township often restricts some of the opportunities available to you, but I was fortunate to receive a scholarship to study at a local international school. Being in an international environment broadened my horizons — it made me realize that there is so much more to the world.
After school, I received a bursary to study at the University of Johannesburg, obtaining a Bcom IT Management degree and Honors in Informatics. After a few years working on mobile applications in Germany, I wanted to take everything I learned back to South Africa. Joining SITA was an easy decision. Africa is a pioneering ground for technology, and I wanted to be a part of that. I saw aviation as a space that not many people know about but with great opportunities to uncover. There is so much change we can bring for the African passenger.
What does your current role entail at SITA?
I work as a Business Development Manager for Airlines in Sub-Saharan Africa. I constantly have to look out for new business and enjoy approaching my role with creativity. I take it as my responsibility to know what societal trends are driving the world forward and understand the industry — our customers, competitors, and the end-user.
You mention in the award that your vision for the African passenger is purely a digital one. Can you expand on that?
The air transport industry is unique. You can start a journey in Africa but end up in a completely different continent in a matter of hours, being exposed to all the other elements of that new country. The idea of taking off in a low-tech environment and landing in a digital one makes me realize how much work there is to be done.
We spend time with the airlines to educate them about the type of customers that will come out of the pandemic. The crisis has been challenging for our industry, but we can use it as an opportunity to build a stronger tomorrow. When South Africa was in lockdown and people could not go out or socialize, mobile applications became ingrained in our lives. We bought groceries, takeout — all sorts of things — through our mobile phones and then tracked them up until the moment they were delivered to our door. As a result, when people start traveling again, they will expect the same experience in the airport or on the plane. We need to be ready for that.
At SITA, this a big focus where we are helping customers to automate the passenger journey, where your mobile phone becomes your remote for travel.
How do you see the future of African aviation?
I see it as digital! Honestly, the future is bright. In Africa, we have one of the largest populations of young people who will be a huge resource for economic growth. They are skilled, they have dreams, and they are all part of the digital ecosystem. I see a lot of young people taking up problems and creating solutions through digital technology. These are the people who will do the innovative work, and a lot of this will be in the aviation space.
The industry has experienced the toughest time over the last 16 months, but we walk through this journey to recovery together. I will continue championing a digital future through SITA’s technology solutions for air transport passengers on our beautiful African continent.