Lessons from Mark Zuckerberg’s visit: Check your bias

mark zuckerberg

So by now everyone knows that Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg was in Nigeria and Kenya just recently to “inspire 200 developers”. There’s been so much buzz on that visit and we are clearly not over it yet.

Zuckerberg-walking-with-Seni-and-Nad

Here’s what we observed from not just Zuckerberg’s visit but also from the buzz around it.

Tech isn’t just for guys

Gone are the days of thinking being a tech girl translates to nerdy looks and oversized T-shirts associated with the halls of engineering schools. You know, we can actually have smart, independent women who get hot and heavy with electronics on a daily basis —and come out with some heat of their own.

THOSE GUYS DOING BIG THINGS IN TECH? THEY AIN'T BETTER THAN US, GIRL! | made w/ Imgflip meme maker

Remember how in school, your course of study wasn’t just a matter of personal preference? It defined how intelligent you were. The geeks were all in the sciences while the not-so-brainy ended up in the social sciences. The course you read was as important as the clothes you wore, or the slang you used. But not anymore. Anyone, and we mean just anyone, can thrive in the tech world!

So, here’s the thing, ladies. It’s okay to declare membership to that social group and be hip. We need more tech girls and we’ll be cheering them all the way.

Defining people by their colour is not cool!

There has been a lot discussion over skin tone. Over the weekend, after Mark Zuckerberg’s visit, the colour fights got worse on twitter between Nigerians and Kenyans.

These days, the one-time ubiquitous ‘black is beautiful’ mantra has been overrun by the light-skinned Instagram sensation. While everyone still claims that blackness is the gold standard for African women’s skin, others would insult a black woman for being too dark. Sneaky. We are officially over it.

WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY 'YOU PEOPLE'? YOU BLACK LIKE ME | made w/ Imgflip meme maker

How about we start making women (and men alike) comfortable in the skin they were made in? The last time we checked we were all black!

In all fairness, you can’t be chilling at the background all the time

Your perspective changes right around the first time you’ve worked at a place for a while and seen a Psychology graduate changing oils at a factory.  You chuckle or cringe at the strangeness of it and realize, “Wait a second! He probably even earns a salary higher than people who have MBAs!”

giphyYou may need to start redefining when and how you reach mega-success. That means making your passions profitable. It may even mean skipping school to pursue a dream. Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs all did it, you know.

Forgoing a traditional corporate career may pay off —but remember it also takes discipline, hard lessons, and responsibilities at an age when most of us are still figuring out which of our photoshopped pictures to post on Instagram.

Ideal business location has over 1,000 other meanings

We are not here to say location isn’t important or anything —but it is there only for ambience. Andela, the tech company Mark Zuckerberg visited is definitely not located in the highbrow areas of Lagos. It’s at the Co-creation Hub in the suburbs of Yaba!

Zuckerberg-arriving-Andela

I bet you didn’t also know that in June, for its first lead investment, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan’s fund led a whooping $24 million into Andela! So, the location may not be what you’d expect but so what? Zuckerberg found them anyway.

In conclusion, all the stereotypes that made sense years ago and kept us busy doing nothing to better our lives as Africans? Forget them. We know better.

Evelyn Namara: Don’t wait until you have the perfect product

Evelyn Namara is bomb-ass in just about every way. When she’s not breaking ground in tech innovation in Uganda, she’s helping women start successful businesses. We totally get why she was called a “fearless influencer of society”. 

 Evelyn is the founder of Vouch Digital, a technology start-up building a verified digital voucher
system that helps simplify the distribution of aid for international aid agencies as well as
government programs. Her system helps eliminate fraud and corruption in the distribution of
goods and services for cash-based programs, but before that, she worked for Beyonic Limited and Solar Sister.

She is an Acumen East Africa fellow and also an IDEX fellow (January 2015 class) where she spent six months in India as part of the fellowship program working for Wings Learning Centres.

Here, Evelyn shares her passion for tech and entrepreneurship with SLA and lets us know her top five tips for start-ups.


What is one thing about Evelyn Namara that the world should know?

I keep a counsel of close advisers who I go to when I need advice and guidance on anything.

It is important for everyone to have a counsel of trusted friends who can genuinely give you guidance and also truthfully rebuke you when make terrible decisions. I have found that these people have helped me stay focused on my goals and have encouraged me when I have felt like giving up.

Tell us about Vouch Digital

Vouch Digital was born out of a need to find a solution to fight fraud and corruption in the distribution sector.

After realizing that most systems that deliver aid to end users lack efficient systems to track transparency and efficacy, I started working on our product. Our product is a verified voucher system that simplifies the distribution of aid to different program beneficiaries.

Beyond distribution, we are working on mapping beneficiaries who receive aid and do not have an identity by giving them digital identities through our system. The digital identity system allows these beneficiaries to access other goods and services such as financial services.

@vouchdigital was born out of a need to find a solution to fight fraud and corruption in the distribution sector. Click To Tweet

What needs to be done to increase the number of women in IT?

STEM studies should be encouraged from the grassroots. Girls, as well as boys, should know that the choice exists for them to take up technology as a career from an early age.

I believe that once we introduce STEM studies early on and put gadgets in the hands of girls as they grow up, there will be no need to “increase women in IT”.

We have a problem now because some outdated education systems allow girls to believe that some courses are not meant for them. That there are some simpler and feminine courses that girls should take up and unfortunately technology is not one of them.

Let’s focus on building capacity for the younger generation and open up opportunities for girls to live up to their full potential.

Besides that, we need to encourage more forums that are building capacity for women in IT. One of such forums is AfCHIX which continues to impart skills development in young women in ICT.

AfCHIX gives girls an opportunity to be better at their skills and thus compete favorably for jobs. It also links them to opportunities to attend conferences such as the Grace Hopper Conference which is one of the biggest women in technology conference that brings together thousands of women from all walks of life in the technology sector.

As someone who helps women start businesses, what are your top five tips for start-ups?

I draw my lessons from my start-up and I will share those with other start-ups.

  1. Research the field you want to serve adequately. Carry out your baseline studies and understand your field. Know the other players in the field and find a way to make your start-up stand out in terms of product offering. It’s your uniqueness that will give you an edge.
  2. Don’t wait until you have the perfect product for you to hit the market.  Prototype early, test your prototype with potential customers and iterate. You learn a lot when your product is in the hands of customers and this allows you to work on early modifications before bringing out your final product.
  3. Have a target market and work closely with them. Most start-ups are not very clear on who their target market is and this creates ambiguity in building your solution. Work on knowing who your target customers are so that you build specifically for them.
  4. Build a pull of partnerships, these are key in giving you longevity. With the right partners, you can scale your start-up easily. Find those that complement your vision and work together to push your product or service.
  5. Build the right structures. This is key if you are looking to build your start-up to scale.

You were an IGF Internet Society Ambassador in 2015, tell us about that.

Internet Society invests in Next Generation of Internet leaders. Through its Next Generation Leaders (NGL) programme, Internet Society helps Internet professionals between the ages of 20 and 40 develop their leadership potential in technology, business, policy, and education.

NGL participants gain a unique opportunity to advance their professional growth and build the experience and confidence they need to drive development in their own local communities and the larger Internet ecosystem.

The Internet Governance Forum Ambassadorship Programme lies under the NGL curriculum and gives an opportunity for Internet professionals to attend the IGF and participate in the dialogue that shapes the Internet ecosystem.

I applied and was accepted as a 2015 ambassador and the experience was enriching. Stand out topics for the 2015 IGF were Connecting the next billion, Net Neutrality and Zero Rating, topics that are relevant to the African continent. My interest as a member of civil society was on following and contributing to the discussions on connecting the next billion because we still face a challenge of connectivity which is hindering Innovation.

What is the best compliment you’ve received?

I was once called a “fearless influencer of society”. That’s the best compliment I can ever think of.

Service for society means a lot to me.


 We want to know about women in your communities doing amazing things! Tell us about them here.

Lillian Achom: Using technology to revolutionise report cards in Uganda

Say yes if you recall the days of paper report cards in primary and secondary school. It may not have been a big deal to some, but to Lillian Achom the inadequate procedures of schools cost her to enter university a year late.

Information Systems was a new one for us. Yet there are even brilliant entrepreneurial ideas in the education sector. Lillian is one woman tapping into this is. Lillian is an Information Systems Professional that provides university information to students in and out of Uganda.


Tell us about your startup. What societal challenges do you hope to address with it?

Throughout my primary and high school, we used to be given hard-copy, class results to take to our parents. However, by end of the year two or even year one, there would be no records of all the previous results for comparisons with current results. As a result, it was difficult to rule out where my strengths and weaknesses were in the different subjects.

When I joined Advanced Level, at the time for applying to join university, we were given information about the available universities courses, their entry requirements among others. I was seeing these for the first time so everything looked new to me.

Besides, my performance in my subject combination at A level was way below the entry requirements I was seeing. The lack of prior knowledge of university entry requirements and poor choices I made affected my studies. I never got admitted in any university that year. However, I managed to join a tertiary institution one year later.

What I experienced years back in my high school are what the majority of students are still experiencing today.

  1. Schools use manual systems to provide information about public universities to students.
  2. Students receive hard-copy performance results. Some students make changes and provide wrong results to their parents.
  3. Very few parents are able to keep track of the student’s results slips from previous years and monitor the child’s performance as the paper reports get misplaced.
  4. Some students or parents have to travel long distances to respective universities in order to access information on admissions to universities.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Information System, I had the passion to startup something and put it out there for people. The above was what motivated me to focus on building an Information and Students Performance Evaluation Tool, GradeScore.

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What does GradeScore do?

GradeScore is an online platform for evaluating high school students’ performance as they work towards joining university courses of their choice. It allows easy access to crucial information about all universities in one portal. Information such as minimum entry points for each course at university and subject requirements for each course at respective university.

The platform is also aimed at providing an electronic version of students’ performance records. This is accessible privately by the student or his/her parent/guardian.

Would you say you’re fulfilling your passion?

Yes I am. To me, the input from users (teachers, students and parents) and the subscriptions are some of the indicators that there was indeed a gap and the product is much needed.

How do you go about achieving your business goals?

We involve the users, students, teachers and parents, who have greatly contributed to what the system is to-date. Also, we are in partnership with Education Secretariats who recommend our product to the schools.

One of the challenges we have experienced in schools is where the teachers in charge of career guidance feel that the project will render them jobless. We managed to bring them on board when we explained that the system is for them to use. It actually simplifies the work guidance counsellors do, the existing manual system is tedious and time consuming.

What has been the best moment of your career so far?

When I got a scholarship to upgrade my Diploma in Information Technology to BSc Computer Information Systems at Africa University, Zimbabwe.2

You mentioned you volunteer. As a volunteer, what advice will you give other young women looking to start volunteering?

Volunteering is not for people who place importance on financial gains. There are lots of passive benefits attached to it.

It should not been seen or treated as if you are doing the organization a favor. Once you commit to volunteering your service somewhere, put in your whole because you just never know who is watching.

What is your favourite life quote?

This is one of them, “Keep away from people who try to belittle your dreams. Small people always do that, but the really great ones make you feel that you, too, can be great”. It’s from Mark Twain.


Want to see women you know featured on SLA? Tell us what amazing things women are doing in your communities here.

Nisha Maharaj: Women in tech are admired, go and make things happen!

nisha mahaj woman in tech

Technology innovation is a buzz word across the continent. More investors are rewarding ideas that are disruptive and can be used to make meaningful change in people’s lives. Yet looking through lists of top African tech companies, you may need help finding the women. Enter Nisha Maharaj, the founder of Niche Integrated Solutions which sets up strategic partnerships and innovation platforms in South Africa.

Nisha readily dishes info on the South African tech scene and what it takes to succeed as a woman in tech.


What is the tech scene like in your country? Are there many women in it?

South Africa is advancing in the tech arena, but we can still learn from the tech leaders out there in the rest of the world. My context is to lead some of the best technologies in the world to Africa and vice versa. I also want to lead some of the best of South African technologies to the rest of the world.

Women in technology is always a subject of debate, yes there are many women on the forefront of the tech scene but I still find myself walking into a boardroom of 20 men and 1 woman. That one woman being myself. We need to make a serious effort to change this status quo!

Did you face any obstacles when you started your company? How did you overcome them?

Funding is always a challenge when you start off, new markets , new clients –always stressful. It takes perseverance to get through it and determination coupled with a good business plan is what sets you out from everyone else.  In a way, an entrepreneur learns best the hard way. You simply never give up –that should always be the motto.

I was lucky, I have friends amongst the global leading technology partners in the world and this has helped us close a few multi-million dollar deals in a very short space of time.

Your company is 100% women owned, is there any particular reason for this?

We are 100% black owned, 100% debt free, we have made 100% turnover as compared from one year to the next. The reason we are 100% women owned is simply because we are trying to show the world that women can be leaders in the technology arena as well !

What does it take to establish a successful technology business in Africa?

You need to make a thorough assessment of the technology innovation, critical studies and research on application. Then you need to be sure about your market. Having the best technologies in the world is pointless if you don’t have the right marketing strategy. The take to market and entry point is a critical success factor and if you can get this part right, success is inevitable.

If you could make a 30 second speech to young African women, what would it say?

I would say that Africa is an oyster of opportunity –technology is the one thing in life that will never remain constant. There will always be a demand for it. Women should be more courageous to take on this context of technology. Whether you are a sister, child, mother, grandmother, you don’t need to be a genius to own a technology company.

You simply need to have the business acumen to do well at it in order to thrive. Women in technology are admired, go out there and make it happen!


If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here

Asmau Ahmad, Plum Perfect CEO: Lessons on building a business in tech

asmau ahmed tech business

The She Hive made its way to NYC and it held no punches! Guest speaker Asmau Ahmad, CEO and founder of Plum Perfect, showed us that building a business in tech requires strategy, confidence and persistence. Trained as a chemical engineer, Asmau understands the importance of being both precise and thorough. Asmau’s Plum Perfect is a mobile technology that allows the user to submit a photo selfie, it then analyzes the content of that photo to recommend makeup products that work for your complexion.

During She Hive NYC 2016, Asmau shared with us how she navigated her path within the tech industry.

Here are some lessons we can take away from Asmau’s journey.

Be flexible

Your ability to stay alive as a startup is directly correlated to your ability to pivot quickly. This means that you need to learn what is moving very quickly and move directions. Do not get too emotionally invested in something that clearly isn’t working.

If you have been working on something that needs to be revamped, just make the necessary changes. You can either grow fast or die slowly, the choice is yours. If your startup does not have the funds to market itself, partner with bigger brands and let them do the marketing.

Data is king

Use data tracking tools that allow you to see how your users interact with your technology, Google Analytics and Mixpanel are some resources Asmau suggested. Listen to your users, read all of their reviews and make adjustments accordingly.

Your most enthusiastic customers and your most angry customers will be the ones who give the most feedback. Feed off the energy of your most enthusiastic customers and give them what they want.

Conversely, solve the problem of the angry customers and give them what they want too. You want to get to a happy zone with as many customers as possible.

Reach out to investors

Asmau said that she focused on mostly women-led investors to help push Plum Perfect forward. It’s important that you find investors that fall in line with your business interests. Choose one revenue model that you want to focus on, state what you want clearly and simply.

Investors need to know that you are well informed about the product you’re pitching. Know your numbers when presenting, what has been your ROI thus far? How much do you need to carry out your next endeavor? Get investors who not only give money but also invest time into your project.

Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. You do not always want to be the one with the best ideas in the room.

There are some instances where an investor will not take you seriously unless you have an MBA degree, it is validating for them. Asmau’s takeaway is that business school is not mandatory for running a successful business. If you have a viable business model and can think logically you can run a business.

What you can learn about leaps of faith and other career lessons from Isis Nyong’o Madison

isis nyong'o madison

Isis Nyong’o Madison is a tech entrepreneur, investor and influencer in the African entrepreneurship scene. Aside from being named as one of the youngest power women in Africa, she is a principal at strategic advisory and investment firm Asphalt and Ink and previously served as the Vice President and Managing Director at InMobi and Google’s Business Development Manager in Africa.

With numerous nods, including several acknowledgements from Kenya’s Business Daily’s Top 40 under 40 Women, Isis Nyong’o Madison is someone all young African women need to look up to. We went through some of her interviews and learnt a few career lessons.

1. Take a leap of faith

Kenya in recent years has been touted as the hottest tech hub of Africa but in 2002, this was not the case. Isis chose to come back to Kenya against the advice of a career officer at Harvard in order to pursue tech opportunities in the market.

 Even if the steps you want to take in your career do not look like the correct ones to others, you need to be able to critically review advice from others and draw your own conclusions. Coming back to Kenya was a leap of faith for Isis and it has paid off.

isis nyong'o madison

2. Take a chance on you

While she was still a student, Isis flew out to London on her own dime, to meet with MTV Africa head Alex Okosi. This is because she felt that she was the right person for the job. Taking a chance on yourself means not giving up on an opportunity you think suits you no matter the obstacles.

3. Make a decision and stick to it

To achieve anything in life, clear decisions need to be made. Once you have decided what direction your career should take, it is important to stick to it. Isis has said in numerous interviews that there are no quick wins.

Success takes time; you need to give yourself time. Isis has declined higher paying jobs in her career that did not meet her own personal goals of challenging work, responsibility, and growth.

4. Build/create/do something worthwhile

It is not enough to just focus on moving up the ranks, you need something to show for it. It is just as important to build a track record or building something on your own or within a company no matter what role you are in. This is definitely something that can be said of every role Isis has held.

Isis Nyong'o Madison

5. Be confident

No one is going to hand it to you. You need to go after the career or promotion you want. Once you have taken the time to build something worthwhile, do not be afraid to show it.

Use it as a portfolio to show just what you have accomplished and make it hard for anyone to pass you up for or question your promotion. Isis has been asked several times by people with more seniority than her whether she can do the job and her response as always been yes. You’ve shown you can do it, now prove it.

6. Be open to learning

You can never learn anything enough and Isis knows this. Take every opportunity you can to learn something new. As Isis puts it, “learn about new ideas, build a new skill or deepen your understanding about a subject you are already familiar with.”

7. Be committed

After it’s all said and done, Isis truly does commit to her work. In an interview with Forbes Africa magazine, Isis said about her former firm, “As we are a global organization (InMobi), there are often conference calls in the middle of the night and early hours of the morning. InMobi never sleeps.”

To grow your career, you should be willing to give that level of commitment to your career.