Hannah Olukoye is a Kenyan software developer working in the IT industry. She is a graduate of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Actuarial Science.
She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in Applied Information Technology at the African Nazarene University. Take a look at how her experience and expertise have opened doors for her as a Software Developer.
How did you get started in the Information Technology field?
I have always had a passion for programming even though I majored in Actuarial Science at the University. I started off with part-time courses in basic programming languages as soon as I graduated and combined that with a lot of online courses that were offered on free websites.
As an African woman, was it harder for you to enter the IT field?
I am lucky to be born in a country that believes in equality for both genders in education.
In the beginning, there were fewer women in IT compared to the numbers we see now. It was more male-dominated, especially in the local workplace. I would be in teams where we were only two female developers and sometimes, I would be the only female Information Technology expert.
What changes do you foresee in Software Development across Africa?
I see tremendous growth in the number of women sticking to IT, especially when you look at programs like AkiraChix and GADS that are providing more opportunities for developers. These programs provide opportunities to not only learn how to code but also teach them how to make their work stand out.
I am now part of a team-building an Android application that will use machine learning, algorithms to provide solutions to health workers across Africa. I gained confidence in my knowledge through the community.
Would you encourage African women to pursue a career in Information Technology?
Yes, I would! Most women have a hard time being in the IT field because they are treated unfairly and even underpaid, compared to their male colleagues.
This causes many women to be unable to advance in their careers. One of my goals would be to attain more senior roles in companies or organizations that are leading in the Tech field and change the status quo.
On Friday 27th of July, the Civic Foundation for Innovation hit another milestone with the official launching of its mobile learning lab – Civic X, an initiative of the Foundation.
Civic-X is a mobile hub transformed from a truck, into a 15-seater tech hub. Retrofitted with an LED screen, smart tabs and computers, electricity and internet facility. The truck is deployed to execute a specially designed program for women and children in rural areas.
The program seeks to create access and empower women between the ages of 18-35 years old and children aged 10-16 years old in rural communities with information and skill acquisition on issues relating to healthcare, agriculture, basic ICT and social equality using technology as a vehicle.
Civic Foundation launched the program in the School without Walls, a school for children at the Area 1- Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp, Abuja.
Here are five points and lessons learnt from the event:
Breaking Boundaries, Building Synergy
Digital revolution is reaching rural areas in many developing countries. However, the rural digital divide continues to present considerable challenges, especially in a country like Nigeria.
One thing we are committed to is reducing the gap between rural areas and access to ICT and innovation in Nigeria. Rural residents remain largely marginalized; almost anyone seeking innovative products will look to the city centers and the perceived literates.
Civic X allows young children dare to dream by connecting them with Leaders of thought under the mentorship series of the program.
Anywhere innovation and technology thrives, community is formed. A community of change influencers and agents of development. The ripple effect of this can be as huge as total poverty elevation from our society.
Educational Continuity is Important: The IDPS were not always displaced.
One thing we learnt from the launch was that the kids in the IDP camps had proper lives before tragedy struck.
Prior to becoming “displaced”, they attended and received basic and fundamental level of education, either completed or half way. There is an urgent need to build on the foundation already established in terms of education for these children. Also, we want to introduce ICT education amongst those that have hitherto, not had any form of ICT education.
Civic X seeks to build on this ‘foundation’ by raising the bar and exposing women and children to technology. Starting from the basics and a limited number of communities, it is our plan to scale operations, and increase the number of beneficiaries for this project.
Empowering Women Is Empowering the Society
The underdevelopment or slow development of any country is directly proportional to the marginalization of women in issues of nation building and entrepreneurial development in the past.
This is because statistics and research by business analysts and human resource managers have shown that women are greater maximizers of resources. Studies have shown that women channel a larger chunk of their earnings to building family and society.
The place of women in any endeavor cannot be over stretched. Given their huge contributions to socio-economic development, there can be no meaningful advancement when we exclude women from governance and the process of governance.
The Civic X initiative for women is designed to help women make better and more informed decisions in their day-to-day lives. The women would be taught on a wide array of topics including but not limited to; personal and financial management, civic education & participation, health, agriculture and governance.
Harness the Energy of the Young
The energy and excitement with which the kids learnt was amazing. This energy is an untapped resource. This energy must be channeled into productive engagements. As a law of science, energy cannot be destroyed.
We can convert it into something impactful or we can watch these kids viciously engage in social crimes and vices. Education and inculcation of societal values at a young age reduces the chances of kids engaging in such vices.
Moreover, growing in these camps and rural areas without adequate guidance exposes them to a wide range of vices. Educating and empowering these kids with skills that can be commercialized will have a positive ripple effect on the rural areas over the years because it will hugely reduce crime rate while boosting development.
Make the Move and Get the Push
There is a general notion that government is not supportive of indigenous initiatives. The launch of the Civic X proved contrary.
We got Oludolapo Osinbajo – the wife of the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to engage the kids in a Skype call and watch them learn. Three days after, she invited two of the students to the Aso-Villa for an outing and practically spent her day with the kids.
They were treated to lunch and spent quality time with her Excellency. At Civic, we believe that what the government is looking for is a value proposition. Its the same thing every top social impact investor is looking for.
This article was written by Nwachuku Nnamdi for the Civic Innovation Lab.
This former man’s world is about to be shaken. Slowly but surely, ladies are taking the tech space by storm in Africa and continuing to build that proverbial bridge over what is still one of the widest gender gaps on the planet. Some of the most promising software startups coming out of Africa today boast female founders that have faced the tech boys’ club head on, and they’re not backing down.
The women of the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST) are speaking out about their experience as software startup founders and voicing the need for more women in STEM fields. MEST is a training program, seed fund, and incubator for aspiring tech entrepreneurs in Africa and is headquartered in Ghana. From just 10% women in its first class in 2008, MEST now boasts 30%, and it wants to see even more.
The ratio of women to men in tech isn’t where it should be
Head of Recruitment at MEST, Amma Baffoe, notes that though on the rise in Africa, the ratio of women to men in the tech sector is not nearly where it should be. The team is now on the hunt for even more driven, ambitious ladies to show the world how it’s done.
“We collectively need to ensure that as tech continues to thrive, we also take the necessary steps required to bring our women along with us by actively seeking to identify, recruit and mentor more African women into tech. This has enormous potential to empower families and create new opportunities for generations to come.”
Communications Director, co-founder of startup Skrife and former MEST student Kelechi Udoagwu feels the bridge is already getting stronger: “These are exciting times for women in tech – in Africa and all over the world. We are increasingly becoming visible and accepted in the tech industry, and this gives us to room to innovate and be creative in creating solutions for problems that are peculiar to females alone.” Of course, visibility isn’t nearly enough – but it’s a pretty promising first step.
A number of successful female-led startups
Female-led startups coming out of MEST have been blowing up over the past few years. Tress, the African woman’s go-to app on hair trends, styles, products, and stylists, was recently selected for the prestigious Y Combinator accelerator program in Silicon Valley, an honor founders Priscilla Hazel, Esther Olatunde and Cassandra Sarfo don’t take for granted.
“It’s been a great experience…I learned that what I’m going through in my startup is the same thing someone in another country is going through – bootstrapping, looking for money, trying to get users, or coming up with value for your users. It’s the same issues that many startups around the world face…And now I have a network of people to ask for support,” says CEO Priscilla Hazel.
“I love the fact that by working on something that we are passionate about and is at the same time very personal to us as cofounders, we are creating value for black women all over the world.”
Current MEST student Stella Ngugi notes how influential it’s been to work with changemakers and tech stars like Priscilla: “Sometimes you don’t know what you’re missing until you get it. I didn’t know the true value of women tech makers until I came to MEST. There’s no denying the snowball that is women tech makers; we are driving change throughout Africa, moving fast and paving a way with no boundaries.”
Outside of their startups, the MEST ladies are going even further to encourage more to follow in their footsteps. Former Entrepreneurs in Training (EITs) Linda Ansong, Angela Koranteng and Lady-Omega Hammond have been leading the way in STEM subjects since university. After swapping stories about the incredible gender division they saw in school, they decided to get serious.
It was exposure to strong, successful women in STEM that encouraged these ladies to pursue their passions from the start, and they wanted to ensure the next generation of African women could find the same exposure.
They hunkered down in a MEST classroom to decide how best to approach the issue, and very quickly, STEMBees was born. This non-profit is now filled with smart, successful, buzz-worthy women who offer computer literacy training and career exploration for future female changemakers in Ghana.
Lady-Omega, who is also the CEO of Ampersand Technologies Ltd, believes that change is already happening. “I believe awareness around the potential of a woman being maximized outside the home is growing more each day. It’s encouraging to see men around us becoming more supportive and women being role models and actively engaging with other women, young or old. This changes mindsets and gives us women the opportunity to grow to our fullest potential.”
These female tech entrepreneurs are breaking barriers with force. But so are many of our male colleagues. According to Cassandra and Priscilla, it’s important that we don’t attribute too much of our success to gender alone.
“Everyone can go into the technology field, whether female or male,” Cassandra says. “It’s just about your drive, your passion. If you have a passion for something, you can achieve it. It doesn’t matter your sex – everyone can do it. I’m doing it, so believe it.” After all, the keyword here really is equality.
Thanks to these #MotherlandMoguls in Ghana, general interest in technology from young girls has drastically increased since the program was founded in 2008. Girls from the community are seeing the number of African female founders from MEST being recognized globally, and as a result are seeking some of that tech startup glory for themselves. Here are some #humblebrags from the women of MEST:
Anne Amuzu, CEO of MEST-incubated Nandimobile, was named one of Forbes 10 Female Tech Founders to Watch in Africa. The Tress team, led by female entrepreneur and CEO Priscilla Hazel, raised $150,000 USD from Y-Combinator before even graduating from the MEST program and was named one of 5 African inventions to look out for in 2017 by the BBC.
Female-led Beavly has raised $40, 000 and created more than 200 job opportunities for people on their platform.
These are great first steps, but we’ve got a bridge to finish building. What are you waiting for?
Imagine working at Google and trailblazing your very own dance fitness sensation. That’s what founder of Bam Bam Boogie, Bami is doing.
In less than a year, this Google marketing specialist and fitness entrepreneur has run fitness classes in Brazil, London, Vegas, Texas, Toronto, and Dublin. Talk about major multi-tasking and creating a global operation from a ‘side hustle’.
SLA contributor Abiola caught up with Bami to find out just how the heck she has achieved all of this in such a short space of time, and how this is only just the beginning.
Tell us about Bam Bam Boogie (BBB) and how you got started
Bam Bam Boogie is an Afro-Caribbean-inspired dance workout that pairs traditional fitness movements with authentic Afro-Caribbean dance styles to the beat of contemporary afrobeats, dancehall, reggaeton, soca, and hip-hop. We foster an environment of diversity and inclusivity: anyone and everyone is welcome at Bam Bam Boogie.
It all started following a rough time I was going through at the end of 2015. I’d just returned to the UK after my first ever trip back to my ‘homeland’ Nigeria, and although it was an amazing experience, I had a strong sense of emptiness. While ‘going back’ helped me see where I came from, there was still something missing and I couldn’t work out what. Something felt like it just didn’t fit. So after some soul-searching, and that took the form of working out. But being at the gym was so mundane, and it felt like you needed to look a certain way to fit in.
And that’s how BBB was born. I wanted to create a space where people who may not feel 100% confident in the gym, can workout, be free and have fun while doing it. So that’s what I did, and very quickly, it became the most popular Googler-led class at my work gym. (Googler is Google-speak for someone who works at the firm!).
How did you get your firm to support the BBB movement, and keep supporting it even a year later?
We started as a diversity initiative to generate awareness, celebrate cultures and break down stereotypes in the workplace. That was our USP and it helped me to get buy-in and continued support from my firm. I only had to convince a handful of important people and from there the news spread like wildfire. There’s nothing like word of mouth. Very soon other teams and managers were asking for Bam Bam Boogie conferences and team events!
It’s a fun and easily accessible way to start an important conversation and I think that’s why the firm is so supportive. It strongly reflects their “bring your whole self to work” perspective.
What have been the highlights in taking BBB from some classes in Ireland to around the world?
It’s always amazing when I take BBB to other countries and people find out that I live in Ireland. They look puzzled, first they think, ‘where is that?’ and second, ‘there are African people there?’ It makes me proud to be able to represent the diaspora through BBB.
I loved taking the class to Toronto because that’s where I grew up and become heavily involved in Afro-Carribean culture. Everyone back home was super proud and supporting, and #TeamBoogie Toronto wish they could do classes weekly! I also loved doing it in Vegas because – it’s Vegas right? Everything that happens in Vegas stays in Vegas so I guess that’s all I can say about that workshop!
Finally, Sao Paulo was a major highlight because it was my first time in Brazil. The energy was amazing Brazilians can really move – they even taught me a move or two! I loved explaining the concept to Afro-Brazilians because they were so impressed to see someone who looked like them bringing their passions to the corporate world and thriving in both aspects. It’s a moment I’ll never forget.
How do you get so many diverse collaborations and how have they helped your brand?
I’ve been able to do this mainly through my network and very open personality. Yes, BBB is a brand, but it is an extension of my personality. I have made this very clear from the start, so within the first 30 seconds of meeting someone, I have already told them about BBB. This helps a lot with word of mouth because it means I’ll always be top of mind. I also I seek out opportunities for myself using social media. I’ll search up relevant hashtags for example “#ukurbanwear” and I will slide into their DMs to see how we can add value to each other’s brands. I like to support brands I believe in especially if they have an ethos that supports Afro-Caribbean Culture.
These collaborations have helped add credibility to my brand as when people see these interviews, blogs, and videos they get to see the entrepreneurial side of BBB. The fact that it’s not just a dance fitness movement but a community used for empowerment and support.
How do you balance a high-powered corporate career with entrepreneurship?
Balancing the two is never easy, and some weeks it feels like a 50/50 split in dedication, other times it feels like 110/110 and I’m burning out at both ends. But if you’re passionate you just have to keep pushing. My top 3 tips would be:
Calculate how many hours you have in a day and break it up according to daily/weekly priorities. For example, I know that from the second I wake up I have 16 hours in my day (8 for work hours, 2 for travel time, 3 for eating). That leaves me with 3 hours so then I assign myself a 3 hour task of 3 x 1 hour blocks throughout my day to get it done.
Use your “spare time” to listen to relevant audiobooks. During my lunch and daily commutes I try my best to listen to an audiobook or podcast related to personal-development, whether it be the latest of #AskGaryVee Podcast or an Inspirational Audiobook. This gives you the drive and knowledge you need to get through the toughest of times.
Share your passion with your peers but don’t overshare. Let your colleagues know what you’re up to so they can support you in your endeavours. Bear in mind that they are a key part of your network and will be understand when you can’t make team events because you’re working on something. But be careful not to overshare, though, because not everyone has the same entrepreneurial passion and they could find it overbearing.
What’s most challenging about being an entrepreneur?
The most challenging thing and what most people won’t tell you about is the loneliness. Because social media is so carefully curated to only show the glamorous parts of our lives, it’s easy to forget the grit and elbow grease that it takes to make things a success.
There are periods of time where you need to isolate yourself from friends and family to get work done. I’ve missed out on countless social events and vacations in order to save money or work on a particular project that needed to be completed by the deadline. A wise woman once told me that “there is a price to pay for everything in life” and as an entrepreneur, you pay that price many times to make your vision a reality.
What would you say to someone who has an idea but isn’t sure where to start?
Do a bit of market research (but not too much that it demotivates you), the easiest way is to do this is to use your network to find someone who is in the industry you want to get into. Ask them relevant questions about their journey and any advice they would give their former self.
Listen attentively, take notes, set yourself one actionable goal from this meeting and achieve it within the next 7 days. It sounds cliche but “just do it”. Let go of what people may think of you, 9/10 times they are just projecting their own fears onto you. You’ve got this!
If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here.
You are a young woman, you are innovative, you have many ideas and you just launched a tech startup! Now, you need to get funded to take your startup where you want it to be. You have applied here and there and even made submissions and connections to venture capitalists but you are yet to make any headway and you know the survival of your startup depends on some fresh cash injection.
It’s not getting any better because the statistics on Venture capital funding do not favour women founders. You see your business drifting into the number of un-funded women startups and you desperately need answers.
Hi babe, are you there? If this is your experience as a female startup founder or entrepreneur, take a deep breath, you are so not alone. It’s no news that Venture Capital funding gender gap swings against women big time as male startup ideas get funded at a 16 to 1 ratio compared to those of women.
According to Venture Capital database Pitchbook, Venture Capitalists invested $52.2 billion in male-run start-ups while female-run startups received only $1.46 billion in 2016. This figure paled in comparison to the other years in the last decade causing us to wonder if funding for women-run startups will ever get better.
And why is this so? Do male ideas rock while female ideas suck? What do female founders need to do to get their start-ups funded in a male-dominated tech startup ecosystem which tilts towards men statups?
Here are 10 things women founders can consider doing to get desperately needed cash to push their start-ups to the next level;
1. Learn as fast as male founders
As a female founder, how fast do you learn? Are you comfortable with the things you know year in, year out or do you push your learning barriers to exhaustive levels? When it comes to male founders, we have seen them take drastic steps to get their startups going even if it takes pushing learning boundaries over and beyond their usual capacities.
Then a Mckinsey management staffer, Eliam Medina undertook a one month crash course to learn how to code to get the first iteration for his free wills and legal service startup, Willing, up and running. And it is no surprise that more guys learn to code than girls. Data from Girls Who Code shows that computer science learning among women has reduced from 37% in 1984 to 18% presently. And when it comes to venture capital funding, one thing is clear, strong technical teams with a major bias for a technical founder is a good first step to knocking on VC doors for funding and getting their attention.
Learning also traverses reading about other startup ideas like your life depends on it and using the successes and failures of other startup founders to your advantage. Who best is adopting this technique to create exciting startups than male startup founders, from 99designs to 99taxis, 99bitcoins, etc.
Nikki Durkin, founder of defunct startup 99dresses has definitely seen men transform her failure into breathtaking successes which are also foundational to catching the eyes of investors. As female founders learning about one new idea a day can boost your strategy direction which gives investors the impetus to go with your call.
2. Have an idea arsenal and pick the best
Consider why you started your startup in the first place. Was it out of your own need or a real need? While this may be tough to evaluate, candidly, it is best to have an idea arsenal. Your idea arsenal should be full of ideas which not only resonates with you but ones with real and researched needs with an addressable market size.
Go beyond the scope of ideas for start-ups meeting only the needs of women. While this is not bad in itself, the venture world is run by men and they sometimes get lost when it comes to women specific ideas and don’t know why they should be investing. From this collection you have created, pick the best and launch it first.
By the best, I mean the one with the most validation from prospects, possibly millions of people who will find this startup useful to them on probably a daily. This means that people can pay for what you have launched and the possibility of this is exciting to any venture capitalists.
Far from what most people who go into tech may think, creating a successful startup is not a Disney fantasy tale. The best startup founders did not necessarily hit it big on the first idea they launched. To put it in clearer terms, a lot of them ran with more than one idea.
Stackoverflow founder, Joel Spolsky and his team had Trello and FogCreek up and running alongside. He opined that by chasing multiple ideas at once, anyone of them could succeed into the big leagues. Female startup founders need this perspective and be ready to fail fast like most of their male counterparts.
This is because, no matter how lucrative an idea may seem, the time may not be right for its mainstream demand. This happened with all the devices created prior to Apple’s iPod and that should be the target of any female founder who wishes to be trolled with funding instead of actually chasing after it.
4. Spy for the extraordinary
Venture funding, no matter how scarce they may be to female founders, can never shy away from the extraordinary startups run by women. Why is this? We have been ushered into a world of constructive and collaborative disruptions across industries all over the world, mostly spearheaded by technology.
From Uber to Airbnb, Snapchat, Convene, and Spotify, we have seen tech ideas break the rules. While these extraordinary startup ideas are mostly male dominated, women who can spy for the extraordinary will definitely break the funding bank.
This is exactly so for Ubeam, the wireless power startup that transmits power to charge electronic devices using sound that happens all around us. Founder, Meredith Perry thought this up back in college when she realised she always forgot to charge her laptop and imagined a world where devices are charged through the air.
Imagine the dive from angel investors and venture capitalists which generated $28.5 million in four rounds, the extraordinary is tough to resist even by the toughest nuts of investors.
Accessing funding for startups is more like a popularity contest and men are beating women hands down in the networking game. It is no news that the venture capital landscape is male dominated hosting only 7% women. But what may be news is that male founders who have launched a successful startup before can easily acquire funding they need for a brand new one.
This is because they are most likely dining with venture capitalist already who probably have board seats on their acquired or existing startups. Therefore, female founders need to get into the game because their startups depend on it.
From dinners to conferences, personal introductions, online connections to both male and female VCs, finding angel investor circles, seeking audience with funded startup founders, and affiliating with globally relevant communities, associations and clubs, the next handshake can be the key to open your funding door.
23-year-old Zimkita Nogela, founder of RoundSquare, is passionate about entrepreneurship, social development and mental wellness. RoundSquare is a boutique studio founded in 2015 based in the heart of East London. The studio crafts cutting edge ideas into delightful software and provides marketing strategist to software-based tech companies.
The company’s functional practice areas include UX design and development, strategy, process, app analytics, and growth. RoundSquare’s mission is to help clients create, manage and grow their visions, nurture their brands and provide an unrivaled user experience. Besides being mostly occupied with running RoundSquare and her accounting studies, Zimkita lives on books and enjoys rambling about life and food on her blog.
In an interview with SLA contributor Jeanette Nkwana, she shares her lesson-filled journey with us.
What gap did you spot in the market that you feel Round Square fills?
We provide proper targeted marketing for software based companies and affordable software development.
Tech people are amazing at crafting awesome code but not communicating what their creation does in a way that speaks to their prospective users, as well as that getting any type of software from as small as a website to complex intranets or apps tends to cost an arm, this is where we come in.
What skills does it require to service your clients and how did you acquire these?
I actually studied and am studying accounting which might seem odd being in the tech field and all. I learnt coding and design online (perks of being a curious being).
Both of these skills not only build a proper business but service our clients well. Again, all this is a team effort and having the right team with diverse skills from an array of industries adds and enables us to craft the work we do.
How do relevant technological advancements or innovations impact on your business model?
They impact it tremendously and more often than not positively. We are for all things innovative and love incorporating the newest tech in both our work and the running and growth of the company.
What are 3 marketing strategies that start-ups can try out?
It is vital to develop a vibrant, content filled social media presence. It is one of the strategies we use ourselves.
Partner with organisations who have the same or similar interests as your own to drive both sales and marketing reach by leveraging on each others already established networks/client bases.
Lastly, (and yes I might be a bit biased) get a delightful website/app that speaks to both your current and prospective clients/customers.
What is your vision for RoundSquare and how do you plan on forging closer to realizing it this year?
My vision is for RoundSquare to be a leading global tech firm both in software development and software marketing.
I think my main focus this year is getting over the start-up slump and mindset and going for the big project I’ve been a bit hesitant to go for. In addition to this, developing a great company culture and team to attract top talent is another focus for this year.
If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here.
Sandra Myambu is currently a Portfolio Programme Analyst at Dimension Data where she is involved in delivery and support of global, strategic projects. She is also the MD for Masana Social Innovations. During her university years, Sandra joined Enactus as Project Manager then Vice President. She also volunteered as a Skills Development Trainer and Project coordinator at an NGO.
When Sandra began working for Dimension Data, she still wanted to continue having an impact to society. By seeing the number of graduates increase in parallel with youth unemployment, the idea for Masana Social Innovations was stimulated. Sandra found out from various research exercises that many graduates lacked skills that deemed them employable, especially in the ICT sector. This is when she started Masana Social Innovations to uplift young people.
Sandra shares with SLA contributor, Anelisa Kasper her challenges and motivators of starting Masana Social Innovations with a full-time job.
How has your journey/transition from corporate to entrepreneurship been like?
As I’m currently still in corporate and have recently started with Masana, my transition into entrepreneurship hasn’t been hard. Masana’s aim is to use technology innovations to enable the civil society, corporates and state entities to deliver sustainable social solutions to communities. This will be achieved through bridging the skills gap in the ICT industry with a key focus on women, through the facilitation of various skills development programmes.
This doesn’t mean it will be easy for everyone, as experiences vary from one person to the next. I haven’t had to transition as much. The most important thing was to find a balance between my corporate and my entrepreneurship venture. I have always been involved in entrepreneurial activities so juggling my job and my new business is familiar territory. There have been serious adjustments, where Masana and my job are demanding at the same time. What has helped me keep the balance was to be able to effectively manage my time. As I am the MD of Masana, it’s easier to manage my work and assign work to myself that also ensures that my job does not take major strain.
What have been your hardest moments, and how have you overcome them and still overcoming them?
I have big dreams and aspirations for Masana as a social enterprise, and not just as an NGO. Articulating my vision for the organisation has been one of the biggest challenges to date. What I’ve learned from trying to explain that vision is putting it into smaller goals, e.g. this is where Masana is going this year in order for it to get where Masana ultimately needs to be.
Articulating the vision to people will still be a problem in the future because Masana is trying to use innovation to drive real social change. The issue is that people are still not ready to invest in social innovation or community programmes. The hope is that reaching out to more people in smaller scales and trying to explain the vision will help in increasing the buy-in.
One of the major challenges that Masana is still experiencing is getting the right buy-in from the right people. It takes time to establish those relationships and to most importantly, maintain them. Common ground and common interest are key in getting buy-in from investors for your business.
What keeps you going in making sure you make Masana Social Innovations an even bigger success?
It’s about knowing how whether small or big the initiatives Masana has, they are valued and they have a real impact on young people and the community. Recently, Masana hosted Africa Code Week in October. During the code week, Masana trained over 600 young people on basic coding skills. In addition, 60% – 70% of the participants were women. The programme had a big impact, and has opened up more women to coding, even if it’s starting at basic coding skills.
The initiatives that Masana holds have had a big impact. Not just to impart people with coding skills which are essential, but also to make people realise that technology is also essential. The success of a business can also be determined by the technology you choose to run your business with.
Uplifting young people is a motivator for continuing with my entrepreneurship venture. My target market has been young people from under-serviced communities and previously disadvantaged areas. Uplifting young women who do not believe they can get the same opportunities that our male counterparts receive. Most importantly, to uplift these young women in believing that they can do well in the world of tech.
Who have been your biggest supporters through your journey? How have they been supportive?
My biggest support system is my family, my friends and a few of my colleagues. I have also received support from mentors in my professional and academic life, and conferences. Those mentors have played various roles in different stages of my life. My mom and sister have been the most supportive where I’m able to bounce off ideas with them.
What has also helped has also been surrounding myself with friends that are also entrepreneurial and who have similar interests.
Attending the #SheHiveJoburg event this November, in that short period of time, meeting amazing, young black woman who are also visionaries and have aspirations of their own. Those ladies have become key individuals in my networks.
What are your plans to ensure that Masana reaches a bigger audience and brings value to more people?
Masana is still at it’s very beginning stages. So far, we’ve successfully implemented the Africa Code Week initiative. A SAP Skills Development programme is in the works. It’s important that we also become more present, especially in the digital space. Growing digitally will, in essence, help in reaching bigger audience.
We’re also targeting learners from matric, so that they know about Masana and get acquainted with our skills initiatives. We’re working towards ensuring that the skills that school-leavers get are not only from university, but we also provide programmes that will make learners employable.
A quote from Shonda Rhimes from her speech at Dartmouth University; “The most interesting, happy, creative and engaged people are the ones who are doing”. Ditch the dream, and start doing. You don’t have to start when you have all the resources, or the right connections, or in the right space. You just need to start. Start small, start messy but you just need to start. Eventually you’ll get used to the idea that you are working towards something and all the right resources and networks will come.
At Masana, we don’t have all the right resources but the important thing is that we have started and people are showing interest in our initiative.
Want to see women you know featured on SLA? Tell us what amazing things women are doing in your communities here.
It’s always great to see our African sisters take on non-traditional fields such as technology and engineering. One such woman who has literally made technology her niche is Kagure Wamunyu.
The 27 year old is the current head of logistics and operations at Uber Kenya. Kagure is changing the way women lead in the tech industry by following her own path and refusing to take no for an answer. She has carved her way into the industry meticulously with not one, not two, but three degrees under her belt.
Kagure quickly returned to her beloved home-town, Nairobi to use her knowledge and expertise in improving the transport and urban planning industries, two things she is very passionate about.
Diana Odero, our SLA contributor had a great chat with Kagure to find out what it is that keeps her motivated to do what she does and why she believes in always paying it forward.
Word on the street is that you were Uber Kenya’s first full-time employee. How did you bag that role coming straight out of uni?
I was recruited to join the organization during my last year as a postgraduate student through LinkedIn. I think what they really liked was the fact that I had picked a particular course and specialized in it throughout my academic career and work experience.
All my research projects were transportation planning based and I mostly focused on Nairobi so I knew the topic and the area very well. Reading up on Nairobi gave me great knowledge on the industry there, which I used during my interviews with them and that resulted into me getting the job.
Your road to Uber has been quite fascinating. An internship at the UN just before joining the company, a Masters degree from UC Berkeley and you also completed two degrees concurrently in college —all funded by scholarships might we add…
How did you manage to study abroad for over five years and what would you advice young girls striving for the same to do?
I was fortunate enough to go and study in the US with the help of Zawadi Africa Education Fund, a program that provides scholarships to bright young girls who show leadership potential. I discovered Zawadi Africa while in high school and I think my taking initiative to actually want to be part of the program got me the scholarship I needed to go for further studies.
Then, I was awarded a scholarship by Meredith College where I studied Mathematics and Civil Engineering. I think figuring out what it is you want to do in life, early in life, is key in helping you achieve your goals. I knew what I wanted to be and I saw that this school in particular would allow me a chance to do a dual degree so I took the opportunity.
Being in school for five years as opposed to the traditional four meant a lot of balancing and multi-tasking on my part but every minute was worth it.
As for my Masters, I applied the same method, I looked for schools that had the course I wanted, looked up scholarship opportunities within those schools and applied. I was never scared or apprehensive about either application, I just saw an opportunity and went for it.
There have been instances when there was public opposition from your taxi drivers about changes within the company such as drastic price cuts.
How did you handle this public conflict?
For me, it’s very important to believe in what I do. It’s very important to believe in the impact the work that I do has in my community, in my city and in my country. It helps that my background is in urban planning so I have a holistic view in terms of what is going on.
When you believe in what you do, most of the time you have to set the misconceptions straight. When people are talking negatively about the work that you are doing or the impact the company has, more often than not, it’s always about misinformation or miscommunication.
I handled this public conflict through telling my story, as it is very important to set the record straight, first and foremost. Tell things from your perspective and believe it as you say it. I always see opposition as an opportunity to grow, it gives me a reason to dig deeper into my work and see what the problem is and explain to them exactly what I meant by my decision.
What tips do you have for those interested in joining the technology/urban planning field?
For those interested in this field, and this is especially to the women; we always feel like technology is all about coding and programming which by the way, I can do neither. There are so many other things you can do in the world of technology and it’s just a matter of taking the leap.
Be good at what you do now, be good at what you have chosen. Be it communications, urban planning, legal studies or engineering. Should you decide you want to be part of the technology sector, know that these companies need all these different functions to work. So if you have perfected your niche, whatever field it may be in, you will be able to find opportunities in the tech world.
At the same time, find out what it is the tech companies look for, research on which direction the field is moving towards and improve and groom yourself for that role.
In May earlier this year, we announced a partnership with Sidian Bank for USD$100 million in financing for the drivers within Uber. I had been involved from the very beginning of this ground-breaking deal, from concept to crafting and execution to eventually closing said deal.
I’m very proud about it because this vehicle financing goes to the drivers. Drivers are traditionally paid about $200 per month, making it very difficult for them to access a traditional loan. With this deal, they would be able to access a loan of about $13-15,000 with zero down payment and at the market rate they wouldn’t have to pay a premium.
The impact that this is having on people’s lives…I’m very proud of that. It’s gratifying to see the drivers becoming entrepreneurs and small business owners.
You recently organized a luncheon in honour of the women drivers at Uber. Why was it important to you to celebrate them?
The field of transportation for a long time has not been a field for women. This is something that I’m very passionate about changing while I’m working in this industry. Uber does offer safe, reliable transportation so it allows the women to take on the job, when they never thought they could before because they didn’t have a guarantee of safety.
In addition, Uber provides women quite a bit of flexibility in that they can drive whenever they are free to drive instead of being restricted to a fixed schedule. The women at Uber chose to join our unconventional way of doing things because it not only provides them a second income but it allows them to still work their full-time jobs, tend to their families and work with Uber at their convenience.
Women who are looking to build themselves and are doing so by being a part of this group is something exciting to see. I would like to see this all over Kenya, so this is why I chose to celebrate them.
Lastly, what mantra do you live by?
I live by two mantras. One was beautifully said by Ory Okolloh during a speech I attended; “Doing what you love has a formula: To do what you love, you have to be excellent at what you’re doing right now”.
I really believe in that because if you do really well wherever you are right now, it opens up opportunities that you may never even have imagined.
The second is; “Be like a duck, just dive in and kick really hard to stay afloat because sinking is not an option”.
You may be faced with various challenges in your life that make you think; ‘Oh gosh, what did I just get into, this is way above my depth, I don’t think I can do this…’ But you know what you should say instead —‘I’m going to try my hardest, I’ll tap into all the resources I have, use my network and figure out how to handle whatever difficult situation may have been thrown my way.’
Want to see women you know featured on SLA? Tell us what amazing things women are doing in your communities here.
You know the famous Shakespeare quote: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, some have greatness thrust upon them”? I am obsessed with hearing stories of how those who achieved greatness did it.
Rebecca Kanoerera Munyuki is a great example of a woman who simply refused to accept average. She resolved that if it was possible to achieve greatness, she was going to be one of the ones who achieved it.
I sat down with her to chat about her inspiring journey.
You truly have humble beginnings. You started as a childcare giver, to working as a call centre agent, and then working for an international company.
During your time at IBM South Africa, you held various management and key leadership roles. You ran their ‘Deal Hub’, then moved to marketing, covering multiple software technologies for Middle East, Africa and Turkey.
Not to mention you served as chairperson for IBM Women in South Africa network group. What went into realising your personal greatness?
Firstly, it is important to say that I actually don’t have to have it all figured out. Sometimes I stumbled into success. That’s not to say that I didn’t prepare and bravely accepted the opportunities that came and continue to come my way. This is what worked for me.
If I had to give three keys of what got me here I would say:
While you are figuring things out, make sure you stick with things and finish with excellence. You never know where opportunities come from.
Mentors anchored me. You need people to encourage you and keep you accountable.
Look for tangible models of how to get where you want to go. Even if you think you are doing something that no-one has done before. There is always someone out there who can model, if not your exact career path, at least a set of skills you will need to get there. This is why I am so insistent on women and Africans telling their stories. There is always something that someone can learn from you.
When I left Zimbabwe and spent some years in America, I certainly didn’t know I’d be where I am now. Studying ICT was never in my plan. I always tell people not to ‘despise the day of small beginnings’ (which is from verse from the Bible and a useful thing to remember).
One thing I admire about your journey is: it wasn’t linear. We see you now as a woman who has been successful in the tech space, but tech wasn’t your background.
How did you chart a course in a space that I feel can be very exclusive?
Keeping an open mind has been critical for my development. Thinking of your career opportunities in silo’s can limit you. After working for a bit, I realised that I wanted to enter the tech space.
When I decided this, I didn’t only look for jobs in tech. I also seized opportunities that were tech-adjacent. For example if you want to work in tech, don’t just apply to traditional IT firms. Consider companies that may have a tech department and try get in there.
You told me the story of a time when you were up for promotion. What should have been a great moment became a nightmare.
Approval was held back because someone preferred a different candidate. After going through reviews and interviews, you were appointed.
Your career journey was obviously not smooth sailing. How did you handle workplace opposition, and not take it personally. Also how do you continue to work with people who may have been difficult or who doubted your capabilities for a role?
I have a philosophy for the companies I work for: They are my client and I am theirs. Ultimately I need to contribute to the success of the business results. In leadership and collaborating with colleagues and stakeholders, find a way to work towards a common goal no matter how diverse we may all be.
While I can’t convince everyone to like me or believe in me, I make it a point to deliver. Also, in my case it was important to keep perspective. While there were people against me, I had mentors, team members and senior leaders who were incredibly supportive.
Recognize the difference between potential and being capable. Potential is an intangible measure of the capacity you have inside to do a certain thing. Capability is usually measured by the tangible things you have already done. In trying to win people over, don’t just tell them you have potential. Show them why you are capable. Use past accomplishments to show you are capable, even if it’s a big step up. Also have willingness to learn and a teachable attitude.
When taking up oversight of a team of people who are potentially hostile, be extremely deliberate in creating a new culture.
Have one on one meetings; even if you are the leader, realize you are the new person. Do proper introductions, and get acquainted with the team.
Learn the culture first before you change it; only impose ideas once you understand the context.
Create systems and protocols to live by; make sure these processes are company standard to cut down on arguments.
Never hide issues; Be deliberate in addressing things as and when they come up.
Dealing with others’ criticism is tricky, but often we can be our own worst critics, right?
You took an unconventional route to get into the tech space. Were there times where you didn’t feel qualified for promotions you received?
Oh yes! An example is when I was looking to get into a more senior position, so I set out on my personal development plan to grow into it. I planned the skills and reviews required. I was being extremely conservative so I figured it’d take 3 -4 years.
In the 2nd year an opportunity arose; fortunately I had completed the requisite courses. I applied and was interviewed. Funny thing is after being told that I got the job, I backed down! I asked my boss to give me another year to ‘get myself ready’.
I was ready, I just didn’t trust myself. As women we need to develop the utmost confidence in ourselves and our abilities.
Thank goodness that boss refused to accept my excuses and coached me on the topic of confidence. There are ways to get confident; constantly develop and learn, get a mentor, and when you do fail just learn from your bruises.
Many people reading this would want to see their careers have global reach. What tips can you give on growing your capacity now, in order to be well positioned to be effective internationally?
Make it a priority to understand the culture of the companies you are targeting. Always be visible and network in circles that have a global vision.
Also, plough into relationships that will help further your career. Have a vision without boarders and dare to take a risk.
You are now an IBM alumni after 10 years. What has moving from different companies and roles made you realise about yourself as a leader?
The biggest thing you want to avoid is feeling that anyone or any brand owes you and avoid an entitlement mentality. We all should go in with a mentality of having an assignment to fulfill for the business and people.
It’s about influence and impact. I have learned to see my purpose beyond titles; the goal is to always expand my skill set, and influence. Leaders lead from within, regardless of their position.
Follow Rebecca on Twitter and Instagram where you can keep up with her speaking engagements. She also regularly shares great life tips under the hashtag #RebeccaTalks.
Experience is the best teacher, they say. For Ijeoma Oguegbu, not-so tasty pastries from a store lead her to think of ways to improve training and skill acquisitions in SMEs. From there, Ijeoma co-founded Beavly, an online marketplace connecting people to top professionals in their sector for knowledge-sharing.
In this exclusive chat with SLA, Ijeoma shares her dream of African women tech investors and offersers her advice for other young women going into the tech sector. The keyword is patience and preparation.
What gap were to trying to fill in the African market with Beavly?
The idea came to me through an experience.
I bought some terrible snacks from a recently opened pastry shop close to my house. Feeling deep concern and worry for the lady who had obviously made a huge investment into becoming a business owner, I pondered why she didn’t have the necessary skills or employees to make better pastries.
This sparked my passion and interest.
After further investigations, I discovered that despite the popularity of informal learning, people still experience pain and difficulty in discovering training offers from professionals. This is an age old tradition, yet problem is, offers are often publicized through ineffective ways such as social media, newspapers and classifieds.
I got together with my co-founder and then we came up with a solution —Beavly. The aim? Disrupt the informal learning industry in Africa and facilitate skill acquisitions in small industries.
How long did it take to build up and what was the process?
I took us approximately 5 months to build and launch the first version of the platform.
We went through a validation process, using interviews, survey and some cold calling to validate the problem hypothesized. Feedback after validation, encouraged us to go ahead and create a solution. Also, it greatly opened up huge insights into what kind of value we could create for both sides of our users —professionals and trainees.
Not longer after, we were invited to take part in TheSFactory program in Chile; giving us access to $15,000 equity free grant. A startup accelerator focused on empowering female entrepreneurs; and powered by the renowned Start-up Chile. At the end of the program we launched Beavly, on February 6 in Nigeria.
Beavly is an online marketplace that connects people to top professionals, to learn alongside them in their workplace. People get inspired, gain practical knowledge and hands-on experience; all through interacting physically with the professional .
Our target users care about brand value, in relation to trust, satisfaction and quality of service. As we were just starting out we had to put in extra effort, to make the first few connections and build a reputation.
Also, we were a team of two with a lot of tasks to handle and roles to fill. Nevertheless, we were able to scale through and maximise our capabilities. Sometimes you realize through experience that constraints often drive innovation.
How receptive is the tech space in Africa to women in the sector?
Through both my experiences at the MEST Africa program in Ghana and being an entrepreneur in Nigeria —I would say it has been supportive.
With the recent hype to encourage women in technology, massive opportunities have opened up. It has made it easier to approach people and perhaps, shed just enough light for us to flourish.
Though, I still get the typical reaction of awe when I introduce myself as a software developer. Admiration is being given to women who venture into this space.
According to you, what needs changing in the tech scene in Africa?/ What can be done better?
It would be great to see a rise of African female tech investors.
I’m talking venture capitalists, angel investors, and huge investment funds managed by women. Raising investment for a startup is hard, but it’s even more challenging if you are a woman and from Africa. You have a lot more to prove.
I love what Kathryn Finney is setting out to accomplish using Digitalundivided, after having a particularly interesting experience while raising investment.
We need more people like this popping up in Africa; and a greater number of programs like the SLA Accelerator and TheSFactory for women to shine. I believe it will expand opportunities to raise funds and most importantly build relationships to share contextual knowledge particular to Africa.
Also, I strongly feel there should be better support from the government to encourage tech innovation whether inform of partnerships, setting up more tech hubs or grants.
Any advice for other women going into the sector?
Stay focused and undeterred towards your goals. Building a startup is hard work, most times you don’t start reaping real benefits for say 3-5 years. During this time you have to find ways to keep your passion and motivation alive; master the art of patience.
Prepare for rejections and setbacks. Take a learning outlook, and utilize them to create hacks that work to improve yourself.
Startup life is a rollercoaster, gender limitation or not, it depends on if you can hold on for the long haul and reap the great benefits.
Want to see women you know featured on SLA? Tell us what amazing things women are doing in your communities here.