It’s been an impressive career rise for the quiet and determined South African who had a humble beginning in “dusty Hammanskraal”, outside of Pretoria. Sibongile Chiumya, who started with The Coca-Cola Company as a laboratory chemist in 2001, has made her way up the ranks as Head of Scientific & Regulatory Affairs for Coca-Cola Southern & East Africa. Just last month, it was announced that she has been promoted to Director of Scientific Information and Product Stewardship at Coca-Cola’s headquarters in Atlanta, United States.

In Atlanta, Sibongile will be responsible for providing stewardship on product innovation and scientific communications for the Coca-Cola Company’s ingredients and products. In addition, she’ll be responsible for managing key strategic projects and ensuring accessibility of research, science and regulatory information.

Sibongile’s polished presentation and thoughtful way with words reveal the purpose and care that go into everything that she puts her hands to.

One would be forgiven for being wowed by the achievements of this petite and softly spoken powerhouse, given her humble beginnings. But where others saw overwhelming social challenges, Sibongile crafted out opportunity and forced open windows of possibility.

With a curious mind and a love for learning, Sibongile learned to read from a young age from her domestic worker grandmother who surrounded her with books. By the age of four, Sibongile was ready to start school and moved to the township of Atteridgeville to live with her parents. Ever since then, Sibongile has been redefining possibilities for women of colour and women in their youth.

“I was a curious child so reading took me to that adventurous space, wanting to know how things work. Back then Hammanskraal was rural with cows roaming around and lots of mulberry bushes and trees to climb. Every Friday we had fish and chips with a bottle of Coke. It was one of the most beautiful times of my life.”

Sibongile’s parents (in particular her bookkeeper father), left an indelible mark on her and instilled a strong work ethic, pride in her roots and confidence in what she could bring to the table. They remain her inspiration today.

It’s these important foundations in her life that have made Sibongile passionate about the cause of early childhood development and education for South Africa’s most vulnerable children. “Working for a company like Coca-Cola that is concerned with women’s empowerment both internally and externally as well as being concerned for the communities in which we work, is what I love,” she says.

It's her tireless commitment to preparation, to putting your hand up, to striving for more knowledge that shattered any barriers to entering the field of science for Sibongile. Today she is encouraging other women to see maths and science as subjects that are for everybody.

These are the values that she’s built her career on that have become life messages: “Be prepared. Always be ready to put your hand up. Put your best foot forward. Conduct yourself with integrity. Be true to who you are and make sure that the interactions you have with people are positive interactions. And lastly, as you move forward, always seek to give back where you can.”

Sibongile’s colleagues describe her as a collaborative and fair team player and these are traits that she’s developed throughout her career journey. “I’ve really grown at Coca-Cola in terms of being a team player. Having started as a laboratory chemist and now working in the scientific and regulatory affairs division, I’ve evolved and learned to get out of my comfort zone. I’ve learned the importance of listening to others and to value diverse opinions. Team work is everything.”

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As a working mother, Sibongile has learned to accept help and looking back, it’s something that she would have done sooner. “You can’t outsource parenting, but you also can’t be everywhere at once either. So, learn to accept help and find a solution that works for you.”

Parenting for Sibongile has been a joy filled journey and when she looks at her 15-year old daughter Nkhensani, she is proud of the young woman that she is raising; a confident, sociable, studious teenager who is grateful and happy with life. Nkhensani is looking forward to moving to Atlanta with Sibongile and the promise of opportunities that have come as a result of her mom’s dedication and commitment.