ENGINEERING has historically been an inhospitable profession for women and although the local industry is trying to change that, one can argue that it hasn’t made enough progress. One thing is true though, a handful of women shrugged off the haters and pursued their passion as engineers. One such woman is 26-year-old Valeria Mbango, who found herself in a fabulous career as an industrial engineer. Her company, TeSik Decking and Geoplast Namibia provides innovative building industry solutions as well as manufacturing and supplying services.
In an interview with Confidente recently, Mbango says that it is vital for women to understand their abilities so as to make a meaningful contribution to the industry. She also talks about her company and being a professional that is socially conscious and solving real-life problems.
Give us a snapshot of who you are ?
I’m Valeria Ndapunikwa Mbango and I’m 26 years old. I hold an Industrial Engineering degree from Stellenbosch University and I’m currently pursuing a Masters in Project Management from the University of Pretoria.
Briefly tell us about your upbringing ?
I was born in Oshakati, raised by a loving and supportive mother. She had me involved in a lot of activities as a child such as sports, Sunday school and dancing to name a few. My mother was fairly strict with us. She instilled the right values in us growing up, such as hard work, self-discipline and accountability. My upbringing has definitely shaped the person I am today.
What triggered your interest in engineering ?
I always had a liking for Mathematics and Physics in school, plus I was good at those subjects. So when it came down to choosing a career path I wanted it to be aligned to those particular subjects. Furthermore, I have always wanted to solve real-life problems and to be a professional that is socially conscious.
Tell us about the establishment of TeSik Decking and Geoplast, how do they complement each other and what is the nature of the businesses ?
TeSik Decking and Geoplast were established in 2014 – the companies are 100 percent owned by previously disadvantaged Namibians (PDIs). Both businesses were established to focus on providing innovative building industry solutions. These solutions are mainly centred around reducing construction cost and time while maintaining and/or in many cases enhancing quality. TeSik Decking is more focused on manufacturing and supplying optimised beams, columns, slabs and staircases for buildings using local material and labour. Geoplast Namibia predominantly looks to optimise building foundations with our innovative Geoplast Modulo Foundation system and supplying innovative plastic formwork. Moreover, our business solutions are green as they seek to reduce the carbon foot print synonymous with the construction industry. What are challenges and opportunities facing the company ?
Namibia stands with a challenging situation where the housing crisis finds itself with a backlog of around 300 000 houses. The Namibian government has set itself a target of 20 000 houses to be built by 2020 as per the Harambee Prosperity Plan (HPP). To achieve this end and tackle the housing crisis meaningfully, Government and other relevant industry players will need to call on building technologies and systems that cut costs and time yet maintain quality and structural integrity. This presents an opportunity for the company to offer a sustainable Namibian solution. For example, our Geoplast Modulo foundation system saves our clients 5 – 20% versus a conventional foundation. Just to put it into context, the initial Mass Housing budget was touted to be N$45 billion; this means that our company would’ve been in a position to save the state N$ 2.25 billion to N$9 billion which could then be used for other pressing national issues. Our TeSik Decking products manufactured locally are also able to derive similar benefits for construction projects. Penetrating a niche engineering and construction market isn’t easy. You find that people within this industry are extremely conservative, unimaginative and not always accepting of new technologies. This creates huge barriers within the decision makers i.e. Developers, Engineers, Architects and Quantity Surveyors from both private and Government bodies that decide on which technologies and systems should be used on a construction project. You’ll find that many of these individuals are middle to senior aged and are stuck in doing things the only way they believe it can be done which is the old school, traditional, conventional way. Although all our products are based on SABS, ISO and Agreement Accreditation and other tried and tested and sound engineering principles, people still have walls of skepticism, fear and doubts to break through before they are truly able to embrace our kind of solutions. But we have faith that there will be a tipping point where ours and similar solutions become a standardised industry norm.
As a young woman in a male dominated field, how do your male counterparts treat you ?
It’s true there are not enough female engineers but I always try to focus more on being an engineer, rather than worrying about being a woman. At the end of the day it’s not about the number of women engineers, it’s about the competence and the ability. I can’t confirm the intimidation but there is always that feeling (women’s intuition) you get when walking into meetings filled with men. My petite stature doesn’t help alleviate such sentiments either.
What achievements in your line of work are you most proud of ?
We have had successful engagements with some major role players in the industry such as, Sahara Commodities with our foundation solution at Elisenheim currently under construction by OJ Construction, NMC Namibia with foundation solutions at Town Lodge Grove Mall, NHE with our foundation solutions and Windhoek Consulting Engineers (WCE) as independent engineers, Prinsloo Drilling with formwork, OJ Construction with formwork and Nexus Building Contractor with formwork, to mention just a few. We are about to complete full commissioning of the TeSik Decking factory – a system I’m responsible for bringing to life. What advice do you have for girls on taking up engineering as a field of study ?
I would really like to encourage girls to take up careers in engineering and to have confidence in their ability to become great engineers. Engineering needs a female perspective. Just what do you do for a little fun ?
I enjoy working out, reading, learning about wine and spending time with my family and friends.
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