Winning Women – Bogone Ngwato: Right place, right time

Bogone Ngwato’s career has taken her from nursing to owning an occupational therapy business in the nation’s capital, writes Sue Grant-Marshall

Occupational therapist Bogone Ngwato believes entrepreneurship is a skill that can be learnt, as that has been her life’s experience.

“We can turn South Africa around if we can change our attitude from being a jobseeking nation to a job-creating one,” she says passionately.

We’re sitting in her Tiro Solutions offices, located in a pleasant suburban house, just a few minutes’ walk from the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

She wasn’t, as she says, “born an entrepreneur”, but she learnt fast that one of the major tenets of having a business is all about position, position, position.

A major plank of her business platform is working with lawyers, mainly handling high court matters, so she’s extremely well-placed to do
so with the least amount of fuss and travel.

Furthermore, people with disabilities who visit her are able to park in the grounds of the house and gain access to it off a quiet, leafy street.

She opened Tiro, which means “occupation” in Setswana, in mid-July 2010 with the aim of mainly doing workplace disability assessments.

“We write reports that help claim handlers such as attorneys. We also do functional capacity evaluations for companies that may need to consider boarding someone who is medically incapacitated.”

Tiro may suggest a change in the kind of work an employee is doing or investigate possible malingering, she says.

She provides a hypothetical example of a photographer injured while covering riots. If he or she sustained injuries, either psychological or physical, that curtailed or ended their ability to take pictures, they might have a claim for damages.

Tiro does accessibility audits for environments that are friendly to the disabled, and it sources devices that will help improve their functioning.

When Ngwato first opened her business, she says “it was really tough because in a service industry, your reputation means everything”.

Now, two-and-a-half years later, and with her credentials well established, she is “seriously in demand”.

Ngwato is focusing on doing assessments and general disability consulting – as opposed to therapy sessions – and her clients fly in for this from as far afield as Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and, occasionally, from abroad.

Her business is growing slowly, consolidating as it does so, but there is talk of expanding the premises shortly.

Ngwato, who grew up in Polokwane, Limpopo, dreamt as a high school pupil of being an occupational therapist because she says she has always been caring and concerned about people’s wellbeing.

“However, occupational therapy was out of reach then for a black girl, or so I thought, and I qualified instead as a nurse,” she says.

She worked as a nurse for four years in Modjadjiskloof and when, on one auspicious day, she encountered a black occupational therapist, she was inspired to become one herself.

She applied for a government bursary to study at the University of the Western Cape.

After graduating, she returned to the hospital where she’d been a nurse to run the occupational therapy department, where she discovered it consisted of little more than a phone and a chair.

She went to work, undaunted and determined. A few years later, she had established a thriving hospital department.

Ngwato then went further afield, becoming the Ehlanzeni district manager for occupational and rehabilitation services in Mpumalanga.

She continued to expand her knowledge and authority by moving to Mahikeng.

There she was given the responsibility for the administration of disability grants for the South African Social Security Agency in the North West region.

“I also became involved in policy development, helping to establish the qualifying criteria for disability grants,” she says.

Ngwato had been doing this for about three years when she was head-hunted by Metropolitan Health as its national incapacity manager.

“I got my first exposure to the business world and soon realised that I had a wealth of experience in the disability industry.” She then decided to go it alone.

Despite her commitments as a mother to four children, she took the plunge, investing her pension in her passion.

“It was scary, but I had some savings and I decided not to take a loan.”

Tiro was humming along when she decided to do the year-long Goldman Sachs-Gibs 10 000 Women Certificate Programme for entrepreneurs
to improve her business skills.

“It changed my approach totally for I had more or less let Tiro Solutions run on its own. I learnt to run it as a business and concentrated on managing it, creating better revenue collection and a website,” she says.

Ngwato intends to expand her services across the country in the near future and over the long term to look further afield.

She’s now living the advice she gives to others.

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