Women's Month 2023: Dr Portia Pearl Siyanda Sifolo

Women’s Month 2023: Dr Portia Pearl Siyanda Sifolo

August is Women’s Month, and this year the National Research Foundation (NRF) is celebrating the remarkable contributions that have been made by women researchers for the betterment of humanity. We thank all participants for sharing their stories with us.

NRF-rated Dr Portia Pearl Siyanda Sifoloisa Senior Lecturer in the Department of Tourism Management at Tshwane University of Technology (TUT).She received funding from the NRF for her final-year B-Tech studies as well as a Rated Researcher Grant.

What impact did the NRF have on your studies/career?

I remember quitting my job in December 2005 to improve my studies, but had only a registration fee for the B-Tech in 2006. When the lecturer announced that there was funding from the NRF for students who got 65% and above in all their third-year core modules, that’s when I realised that I qualified. I received funding from the NRF for the duration of the year.

In 2021, I submitted my application for the Evaluation and Rating Process at the NRF. Based on the quality and the impact of my research outputs and the comments of the reviewers I received, they placed me in the Y category at level Y2 where all, or the overriding majority of reviewers, categorised the applicant as having the potential to establish him/herself as a researcher (demonstrated by recent research products).

I received the grant for the Incentive Funding for the Rated Researchers which I spent on the trip to Mid-Sweden University as well as coaching the students at the Africa Youth in Tourism Innovation Summit & Challenge in Namibia. In 2022, I received an NRF grant for Support for Y-rated Researchers for the research project titled Digitalisation of the Tourism Small Micro M Supply Network: A transformative transdisciplinary approach.

In the work I do, I believe in diversity and unity in South Africa and a prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development.

What has been your study/career journey?

Growing up in a picturesque area known as Hlathi Dam in Nqutu in KwaZulu-Natal, I always wondered what lay beyond the mountains of eMome and the rivers of uMzinyathi and iNcome. That’s where my humble beginnings are rooted. Starting school at the age of five was normal. Growing up in the Basotho “Monareng” household in the predominantly Zulu area was unique, and it had its opportunities of understanding diversity and inclusion (since my grandmother was a nurse). 

I went to boarding school for high school in Newcastle. I saw my mother working hard as a nurse such that she would sometimes work in Johannesburg too; whilst my father, who was a policeman, would work day and night. I was intrigued by their work etiquette and their lifestyle of travelling and visiting different family members in different towns. They challenged me to always do my best. They were selling different kinds of products such as cream, chickens, spinach, pork chops etc. They were also dedicated to their work as patriots.

I obtained a B-Tech in Tourism Management at TUT (2005); a Master’s in Business Leadership at UNISA (2011); a Doctorate in Business Administration at UKZN (2017) as well as a Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education (UP). It was not an easy journey to balance studies and my family. Then obtaining certificates from the University of Florida, Mid-Sweden University, and the African Doctoral Academy in Stellenbosch was very exciting and opened up a number of opportunities.

During my Doctoral studies, I developed an interest in the nexus between supply chain management and stakeholder engagement for the balanced and optimal development of the tourism sector. I am grateful to UKZN for funding tuition for the Doctoral study as well as CATHSSETA for a discretionary grant for conducting data. 

My story began when I joined the tourism business sector in 2003 where I started from the local level as a Tourism Information Officer and got exposure at the provincial level. From 2006 to 2010 I spent four years ‘as a spouse’ in the diplomatic community in Addis Ababa where I had an opportunity to research marketing strategies for major economic regional players in Africa (Algeria, Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa). In 2011, I was afforded an opportunity to pursue my career in teaching on part-time bases. In 2013, I was appointed as a full-time lecturer – it is then that I pursued my career based on tourism leadership, entrepreneurship, and tourism supply chains in Africa as economic development initiatives.

In 2017, I received an Institutional Award: Researcher-in-Training of the Year (Female) and in 2021 I received my NRF rating. Moreover, out of a total of 114 applications, I made it as one of the 29 candidates in the Future Professors Program of the Department of Higher Education & Training for 2021/2023. In 2021/2022, I was awarded the Faculty of Management Sciences Women Researcher of the Year.

My role in the tourism community includes being an adjudicator for the National Tourism Awards in South Africa from 2015 to 2019. From 2021 to 2023 I was nominated as one of the coaches by the African Tourism Partners in the Innovation for African Universities project, focusing on Accelerating Youth Entrepreneurship and Innovation for Sustainable Tourism in Africa. It is the same project that I was working on with colleagues from universities in the UK, Kenya and Ghana. In 2023, we collectively co-constructed the African Youth Entrepreneurship in Tourism for Sustainable Development Programme and Toolkit. The project was presented to over 80 delegates on 09 June 2023 at the Sustainable Tourism Africa Summit that took place in Mombasa, Kenya.

Being part of the organising team for the ENTER23 Conference, where I was responsible for the ENTER23 PhD Workshop, I made contact with Professor Juho Personen, President of the International Federation for Information Technologies in Travel and Tourism (IFITT) to spend two weeks as a visiting scholar at the University of Eastern Finland in August 2023. These are some of the opportunities that come with being a team member in the department and the faculty.

I am on the Editorial Board of the International Journal on Tourism & Sustainability and the Tourism Planning and Development (TPD). I am also a member of the Education Association of South Africa and Tourism Educators in South Africa. I have co-authored different books; published research papers in academic journals; and participated in both domestic and international conferences. I have been invited to be a keynote speaker at the 12th International Conference on Sustainable Tourism & Development: Risks and opportunities in uncertain times in October 2023 at Pokhara, Nepal.

What is your research focus on/what is your area of expertise?

My research focuses on the supply side of tourism. My specific interest is in the nexus between stakeholder engagement and tourism supply chain management (TSCM) for optimum growth and sustainability of the tourism sector in a developing market context. I believe that effectively managing this nexus may lead to economic growth. However, the tourism industry is complex and complicated. The problem lies in effecting the meaningful engagement and inclusion of small micro and medium enterprises (SMMEs) as stakeholders to access the tourism market. Hence, my interest is in demonstrating the critical role of SMMES towards economic development whilst integrating them as one of the key stakeholders in the tourism value chain for market access to drive tourism economic growth.

From a theoretical perspective, the tourism supply chain has been generally neglected in the field of tourism, particularly in the African context. The focus has been on the demand side of tourism and the limited research on the tourism supply chain has focused on the individual component or one element in the tourism supply chain, not how the integration of all elements happens. My research is guided by pragmatism epistemology that blends positivism and constructivism because it allows me to conduct research in the fragmented and heterogeneous nature of the tourism industry. Consequently, I mainly use a mixed method, transformative approach to produce research that can be applied in practice by the different stakeholders.

The research conducted thus far highlights the challenges and the possibilities of how stakeholders, specifically tourism SMMES, could be effectively engaged within the tourism supply chain to improve the underperformance of the tourism sector. Taken together, the research produced thus far evaluated the relationship among the tourism operations, drivers, and enablers of supply chain management as a catalyst to development in the African continent’s hospitality and tourism sector. Digitalisation and the sustainable supply chain practices that consider the business networks were also examined.

Why is your research/work important?

Social network analysis for SMMEs has been neglected in the South African context. Although my work is grounded within the tourism discipline, it has an impact on the African research agenda. Some of it was published in one of the African Breakthroughs Studies in Research and Practice 2020. Social network analysis remains one of the critical tools to promote transformative, transdisciplinary research that are likely to impact different stakeholders in the field of technology and the tourism value chain. Hence, I view digital procurement of tourism establishments, business leadership, and development in Africa as sustainable features for economic growth.

There is still a long way to go to truly achieve equity and a sense of belonging for women, be it within the research community or society in general. How do you envision yourself contributing to this space?

I believe in raising your hand. We are all worthy. We need to be bold to articulate what we would like our research to focus on. We need to be curious and participate in our communities, in our country, our continent and the world. There are numerous resources, programs, and workshops designed to encourage participation. Let’s grab the opportunities and enhance our skills and knowledge and be bold in who we are and what we can do.

What advice do you have for girls who are interested in STEM-related careers?

As a mother to two boys, I would be inclusive in providing advice to a girl child because they are all children. Ubuntu as a value remains at the core of who we should be. Being altruistic is an attribute that we must possess. Therefore, I would say to them, cultivating professional attributes begins where you are. STEM fields can be incredibly rewarding, intellectually stimulating, and impactful. Embrace your passion for science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, and know that you have the potential to make a difference in the world through your STEM-related career. As young and future entrepreneurs in your fields of study, you see the world through a different lens; start now to develop your capacity so that you can advance your future endeavours. “Never trade your authority for approval….strive for intellectual excellence.”

This work is licenced under an Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 South Africa (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 ZA) license. Please view the terms for republishing here.

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