South African business owner Josephine Sidambe believes that any problem—no matter how complex or counterintuitive—can be solved. And it can be solved “greenly”.
As the managing director and co-founder of Ingqwele Consulting & Project Managements Pty Ltd., she uses her strong corporate background in supply chain management and manufacturing to fill a niche in the infrastructure industry.
Ingqwele operates as a full-service construction company exclusively in South Africa that builds and improves commercial and retail infrastructures according to each client’s individual needs. The five-employee company provides construction services, facilities maintenance, green building efficiency consulting and commodity supply. All services comply with the UN’s Sustainability Development Goals (SDG) of responsible consumption and production, as well as climate action.
“We are proud of the green materials we use in infrastructure construction and maintenance,” Sidambe notes. “Ingqwele is helping reduce its clients’ carbon footprints, as well as immediate and long-term energy costs.”
Some of these green materials include LED lamps, solar panels, eco-bricks—which reduce discarded plastic and are produced at a lower cost with less energy than traditional bricks— and low-VOC paints that reduce the concentration of contaminants in the ozone layer and lower toxic emissions.
Sidambe founded Ingqwele in 2013 with her passion for building design and construction. After working for large corporations in the industry, she used her own personal savings to embark on a new entrepreneurial journey.
However, the journey has been anything but easy.
“The construction industry in South Africa is challenging to enter because it is male-dominated and highly competitive,” she explains. “It is difficult for a small business to compete with larger companies that can provide larger services at lower costs. Sometimes to get access to opportunities, I have to charge less than the market price.”
Sidambe mentions one of the biggest challenges she faces is the ability to maintain a continuous pipeline of contract opportunities so that Ingqwele can grow sustainably and retain skilled labor. In order to give Ingqwele a competitive edge, she enters contracts with minimal margins, but recognizes that this is not a long-term solution.
She joined WEConnect International in 2017 to solve this problem and gain access to a network of international corporations who support and want to buy from subscribe to women-owned businesses around the world. Through her certification she has become a beneficiary of the Cummins ESD program and was awarded an equipment grant, as well as a demolition and refurbishment contract from Accenture in 2021.
Sidambe has connected with potential new clients at the WEConnect International match-making sessions in South Africa. She credits her success to consistent communication, comprehensive research and understanding of the organizations’ requirements, and quality, on-time service deliveries.
Additionally, Ingqwele has received training and business advisory services from WEConnect International. In 2019, Sidambe participated in the National Cleaner Production Company course in conjunction with UNIDO on energy efficiency management. As such, Sidambe has scaled her business to focus on SDGs to ensure proper focus on efficiency.
Sidambe’s leadership is paying off. By converting traditional materials to green, Ingqwele has helped many clients reduce their energy consumptions by up to 40%, and Sidambe has fully recouped the initial capital she invested in the company eight years ago.
“Time is money and quality is everything,” Sidambe explains, “but sustainability does not have to be chosen as a tradeoff to something else. We can stay green while helping South Africa grow.”