Mbali Blaai is the founder and managing director of Data Service Agency, which she founded in 2017 while she was a university student. Her enterprise is oriented around providing academic support to postgraduate students as well as assisting aspiring entrepreneurs, with 37 different services currently on offer.
“My entrepreneurial journey has allowed me to grow and extend compassion where I needed to,” she says. Blaai, who has always had a passion for business and philanthropy, has not only completed an honours degree in public governance, but has also received a postgraduate diploma in corporate governance and a higher certificate in entrepreneurial development.
“I would [like to] encourage a more economical state that supports innovation, idea generation and creativity with the intention to compete globally,” she says when asked what she wishes to see South Africa achieve one day.
Data Service Agency’s most recent endeavour was hosting the Merafong Youth Business Expo. The two-day event provided opportunities for local small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) and included a business summit, a series of workshops on how to upscale SMMEs, a gala dinner and a keynote address from executive mayor of the Merafong City Local Municipality, councillor Nozuko Best.
“Some [SMMEs] got instant shelf space to some of the biggest chain stores in South Africa, while others received funding,” Blaai explains. The event also provided an opportunity to promote discourse on how to develop a more sustainable local business system.
Blaai’s entrepreneurial journey has taught her priceless life lessons and has also allowed her to learn a lot about herself and what makes a strong, good leader.
I [have learnt that you] shouldn’t view people as robots but rather as humans and extend some compassion when needed,” Blaai says.
She also describes how her experience as a leader has created a deep sense of self-awareness. One such occasion was her first time dealing with a labour-related issue. As a solution, Blaai hosted a roundtable discussion with employees to search for a collaborative and inclusive solution that would also hold her accountable.
“It was not easy,” she says. “In fact, it was very uncomfortable for me to allow myself to be grilled in that manner because I encouraged everyone to speak their mind.”
Blaai encompasses the African spirit of ubuntu in her work and embraces the importance of giving back to the community.
“I am reminded that as we step forward and follow our dreams, we provide others the same opportunity to step forward and follow their dreams.”
She continues to encourage people, young and old, to break free from a dependency mentality and to “step forward” into your greatest self.
One part of you that you have full control over is your thoughts. Your thoughts drive the direction of your life,” Blaai says.