Anna Collard is founder and Managing Director of Popcorn Training, which promotes IT and information security awareness training using innovative, story-based techniques. Collard has been working in the information security field for 15 years assisting corporates across South Africa, Europe and the US keeping their information assets safe. Collard is a Certified Information Systems professional, an ISO 27001 Implementation & Lead Auditor consultant, and a business analyst. At one time a Visa/Mastercard Qualified Security Auditor. In this interview with Heath Muchena, Collard discusses leadership, information security, challenges women face in the IT sector, and shares insights on how to establish a successful career in the tech ecosystem.
Heath: How do you balance the need for technical security solutions with the potential friction it can create for businesses?
Anna: Security’s ultimate goal is to help business stay in business and is an enabler rather than a “restrictor”. This requires security to sit at the decision maker table from day one and not just be invited as an after-thought. Many technology trends, such as mobile, cloud, AI etc will only deliver the value if the solution has been built with adequate protection. It’s a bit like the analogy of the sports-car, it can only really race fast if it has good breaks.
Where it becomes difficult is when compliance or security starts to stifle business objectives. In those cases, the business needs to make the ultimate decision, which includes taking full responsibility for and accepting any risks highlighted by the compliance or security team.
Heath: How important is it to take a business-focused view of technology in your sector? Do you recommend a business first, IT/security second approach?
Anna: I believe in applying a risk-based approach to security. This means prioritizing security controls that help protect and enable the business’s critical business processes, rather than just following a compliance drive or the latest technology trend. Sun Tzu’s Art of War “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles” is a great analogy for this.
The first step in defending against cybercrime is getting to know both the possible threats as well as the organization’s weaknesses. Understanding what specific criminal motives might drive someone targeting your organization makes it easier to defend against. Think about the value of personal information you store, what opportunities exist to commit financial fraud or to extort a ransom payment? Who is the ideal victim within your organization and which channels might work best? What would the impact be? Questions like these allow you to identify and prioritize risks related to cybercrime.
Heath: How should IT leaders align their businesses with the need for security solutions?
Anna: The first step here is to raise awareness both amongst the IT leaders themselves as well as business decision makers and other executives about potential threats impacting their business processes. This will allow for more informed decision making when weighing up security versus functionality for example.
Heath: What’s your approach to providing information security guidance to organisations? How should risks be conveyed to boards who are not necessarily security experts?
Anna: As a security awareness company, we take internal awareness seriously. Every new joiner undergoes a rigorous induction training program, which includes all our policies and a lot of security awareness. We conduct frequent phishing simulations internally – meaning every employee will get at least one random simulated phishing email per week. People who fall for any of those have to undergo remediation training. Anyone who doesn’t take their remediation training within a week gets reported all the way up to the CEO.
In other organizations where security is not necessarily on the board’s agenda yet, I assisted in giving awareness sessions to the executives as a VIP target audience. This serves two purposes: Firstly, it raises the awareness level of the executives themselves, who are attractive targets for spear-phishing attacks. Secondly, it allows the Security team to get executive buy in and if lucky, even their involvement in further awareness campaigns across the rest of the organization. Having senior support is absolutely crucial in creating effective awareness, so this is usually the first step before starting anything else.
Heath: What KPIs or metrics do you use to measure the effectiveness of an information security program?
Anna: Measuring effectiveness of an overall security program should include different metrics for different audiences; as for example management may not necessarily understand the context of technical metrics such as vulnerabilities found, whereas they may be of value to the IT team. The metrics I’ve seen used in practice include:
- Heatmapof current threats and how the Security rates their confidence to defend against these (i.e. DDOS attacks, Advanced Persistent Threats etc.);
- Risks identified vs remediated;
- Audit findings % complete;
- Security standards assessments and health checks (i.e. against ISO 27001 standards or ISF framework or similar);
- Security Incidents and time to resolve / mitigate;
- Technical metrics, such as phishing, spam and malware blocked (in numbers), vulnerabilities found;
- Human behavior metrics.
Heath: How do you keep up with the latest security issues and methods?
Anna: I subscribe to cyber security blogs by experts such as Brian Krebs, Stu Sjouerman, and Bruce Schneier. I also follow many interesting thought leaders on LinkedIn. I’m also fortunate enough to be part of a few industry WhatsApp groups where latest news or incidents are shared. As part of our content creation process I need to research latest scams, threats or technology trends.
Heath: Is Africa ready for the exponential nature of the change and impact of the 4IR? How should ICT leaders foster this change and ready their organisations and consumers for the fast-paced change presented by technologies?
Anna: The KnowBe4 African Cyber Security Survey 2019 has shown that African’s are not prepared for cyber threats. Since security is a prerequisite for any of the new technologies that will take us into the 4IR, more work needs to be done to not just address the security skill shortage on the continent (we only have about 10000 security professionals across the whole of Africa) but to also educate the public on the potential pitfalls and risks they are exposed to, ranging from sharing too much information to being aware of mobile malware and social engineering attacks.
Heath: Women in the technology ecosystem are definitely in the minority, so why did you decide to pursue a career in tech?
Anna: I got into the cybersecurity field coincidentally, I was lucky to get a student-job at Siemens while I studied economics in Munich, Germany. They paid better than waitressing and I enjoyed the diversity and learning opportunity. Siemens also allowed me to write my thesis on the importance of information security from a business perspective back in 2001, when security was still very much a nice area.
I generally love learning new things and security requires you to learn every day as the landscape changes all the time. It’s such a fascinating field as security touches literally all the technology domains as well as the physical and human factors. There are many exciting opportunities for women in cybersecurity because of its overarching applicability.
Heath: What are some of the biggest challenges that women who want to venture in the world of technology face today?
Anna: Women sometimes tend to be less assertive as well as doubt themselves more than men do. I see this often in interviews, women too quickly highlight their shortcomings, whereas male counterparts display more confidence in tackling new challenges, even if they are not qualified yet.
As employers, we need to be aware of these subtle differences and encourage women more to take risks and trust their abilities. I always tell women who have self-doubts that if they mastered how to apply a smoky eye from watching it on YouTube, they can learn anything. Security might be complex, but it’s not rocket science and there are many areas in the field that are really interesting.
Heath: What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about working in the tech sector as a woman today?
Anna: That it is a male dominated industry. I know many successful women in the tech sector and it’s an exciting field to get into for young girls and boys alike. Women, especially mums, are generally great jugglers- a skill that is needed in a demanding industry. This is a bit of a generalization, but a lot of women have great communication and creative skills, something that is absolutely key in running security awareness programs, project or change management programs.
Empathy and listening skills, another typical female trait comes in handy when trying to communicate technology or security to end users, upper level management or executives.
Heath: What influences your leadership style and what values are important to you?
Anna: I love learning, research and innovation and I’m not a typical people’s person. This makes me a more distanced leader as I leave my team to do what they do best. I strongly believe in hiring great people and giving them the freedom to become high performers by providing the vision and some guidance but not interfering in the way they do things. Unless they need assistance of course.
Heath: Who are your role models for women in tech?
Anna: I once was lucky enough to sit next to Cathy Smith, CEO of SAP Africa on a flight. She really inspired me to remain authentic. We don’t have to be highly extroverted and loud alpha type personalities to be good leaders. Being soft-spoken, calm and relying on our female intuition is an often-underestimated superpower. Cathy reminded me of that, it was a very inspiring conversation for which I’m very grateful for.
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Darlyn Okojie on entrepreneurship and building Memo Africa
Darlyn Okojie is a serial entrepreneur and business expansion expert. As the Co-Founder & COO of Memo Africa, Darlyn is responsible for the day to day operation process while building a team to create a Tech solution to People Management. She founded Memo Africa with Ademola Koledoye to create memorable moments across the world. Darlyn Okojie has a past experience of building a business spanning three countries, raising capital and ensuring that the word about the service reaches the right audience. Her First Business, Rugs and Floors Africa, currently operates in three countries, Nigeria, Ghana and Rwanda. In this exclusive interview with Alaba Ayinuola, Darlyn speaks on her entrepreneurship journey and vision is to make Memo Africa the go-to automated system for People Manager: “Future of Memo Africa”. Excerpts.
Alaba: To begin, could you briefly tell us about your background?
Darlyn: I spent the early part of my childhood up till my youth in Benin City. I attended all levels of education down to university where I studied Accounting at the University of Benin. My upbringing has made me extremely loyal to my city. After I completed my higher education in 2014, I got my first ever job at Lamudi (Popularly Known as Jumia House) in 2015. While at Lamudi, I worked as a key account manager in an online marketplace firm. A year later, I moved to Cars45 to spearhead the company’s efforts in building and maintaining relationships with strategic partners. Throughout my career, I have been involved in various aspects of people management, even through running Rugs and Floors from January 2020. At the moment, I’m focused on building Memo Africa.
Alaba: What inspired you to go into entrepreneurship and the problems you plan to solve?
Darlyn: An impactful model to me is my father. I didn’t realise he had that effect on my entrepreneurship life until I looked back on how much I have been able to achieve career-wise. He showed me the only way to gain success is through hard work and dedication. His tenacity and energy in delivering is extraordinary. There have been countless times where I’ve found myself wondering how he gets the energy to go even through obstacles. A quote from a book by Shakespeare, Macbeth, pops into my head whenever I think about my dad. “I am tied to a stake I cannot fly, but bear-like I must fight the cause.”
The life of an entrepreneur is quite fast-paced, there’s no time for breaks and no option to quit, you just have to keep going. It reminds me of something my mum always says, “Person, nor dey Live life go back”. Good or bad we need to keep moving forward in life or in business. I believe my motivation stems from the ability to keep going and building.
Alaba: Memo Africa is one of the startups you co-founded, what sparked the interest? How does the platform work and who are your target audience?
Darlyn: Memo Africa was birthed by various challenges both my co-founder and I faced throughout our work life. From my first job to my current ventures, I have seen how people managers handle welfare related issues in organizations and it inspired me to create a solution that makes their work seamless. We notice that people struggle to remember important dates when it comes to the lives of their employees and it is key because it makes the employees feel valued and appreciated. But dates like birthdays, onboarding and orientation processes, sendforths, and many others dates are lost in transition.
Memo Africa is a simple solution that people managers can use to automate welfare packages to be delivered to both remote and on-site teams across the world. We believe this technology solution will boost business productivity as the team members feel motivated and cared for while saving people managers time to focus on more critical issues.
Alaba: Since you launched, what are the challenges and successes?
Darlyn: It would be best if we start with the positive aspect of the business, the success. At the moment, we have acquired clients both from Nigeria and Ghana, and signed three companies into our system. We have achieved these while facing various economical challenges like Inflation, exchange rate and cross-border payments issues.
I also noticed that small business owners and other entrepreneurs face these challenges which is why I recently started recording my journey on my Medium account.
Alaba: What’s the future of people management? Do you see Memo Africa as part of the future?
Darlyn: The future is Tech! The world is evolving to become digital and automated. It is important to ensure that regardless of where people work from, they are treated with the same respect and dignity as they would be if they were working from a traditional office space. Memo Africa is the technology solution born to connect the people in an organization through our automated management system of celebrating them. Staying connected to and creating memorable moments for your team is the best way to keep them motivated while working.
Alaba: Where do you see Memo Africa in the next 5 years in terms of market and expansion?
Darlyn: We have a large vision set for Memo Africa and are ready to take the action to grow and scale up the Tech StartUp. Currently, our most viable product which is our website is up and running. We are planning on developing the Mobile App version to increase the accessibility and personalisation of the system. We expect to become the go-to platform for all people’s welfare across Africa and in the world. Our tentacles are set to expand into many African countries. We are open to acquiring more clients, partners and Investors.
Alaba: What fuels your passion and how do you relax?
Darlyn: Aside from the rush of the non-stop cycle of developing businesses, I find myself passionate about finding and implementing solutions to create value in people’s lives. You can find me locked on Netflix to unwind after a busy day or exploring the different countries in the world.
Alaba: Lastly, your advice to young women who want to launch into entrepreneurship?
Darlyn: My number one advice to young women who are launching or building their business is that your key to success lies within you. Everything you need to succeed is in you, your thoughts and action shapes your future. As long as you can think it, you can absolutely do it. You need to study and understand your potential, strength, weaknesses and limits. I believe self awareness is the most powerful tool to achieve anything in the world.
I would also say you shouldn’t believe you can only grow & scale up alone, it’s okay to have mentors and role models. These people have walked the mile. All you need to do is find someone who has successfully crossed the path you are hoping to pass. You would be surprised by the number of people ready to guide you or refer you to the next life challenger.
Eno Eka: Creating Her Dream Life in Canada
Eno Eka is a business analyst and consultant based in Calgary, Alberta. An award-winning career coach and keynote speaker who has been recognized for helping more than 100,000 professionals in 90+ countries kick start their professional careers. She is a business analysis content developer and course instructor at the University of Manitoba. Eno is the CEO of Eny Consulting Inc. and the Founder of Business Analysis School.
In 4 years of arriving in Canada, Eno has touched the lives of thousands of immigrants in Canada. She has curated mentorship and coaching programs for immigrants to Canada which have sought her recognition and awards globally. Eno is an embodiment of service as she volunteers with several non-profit organizations to help immigrants to Canada integrate successfully and become gainfully employed.
Eno volunteers as a mentor with Calgary Region Immigrant Employment Council (CRIEC) and sits on the Board of the IIBA Calgary Chapter as Director of Education. She also volunteers at the Calgary Drop-in Centre and Calgary Dream Centre. She is a Giving Back Sponsor for the Women in Need Society (WINS). Eno Eka is the host of the Livestream Podcast, Fireside Chat With Eno where she shares valuable insights on job search tips and strategies for new immigrants.
Her awards and achievements include:
- Forbes 30 under 30 nominees 2020, Education Category.
- Alberta Top 30 under 30 recipients 2021.
- Calgary Top 40 under 40 nominees 2019 and 2020.
- Universal Women’s Network, Winner 2019 Award for Mentorship.
- RBC Women of Influence 2020 Award Recipient.
- Top 100 Black Women to Watch in Canada 2020 Award Recipient.
- Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 award Nominee 2020 and 2022.
- RBC Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Awards Nominee 2020.
- Alberta Women Entrepreneurs Nominee 2021.
- Immigrants of Distinction Awards Nominee Finalist 2021.
- 2020 Tällberg/Eliasson Global Leadership Prize Nominee.
- Top 8 Female Business Analysis Influencers To Watch in 2021-Globally Recognized & Featured by the IIBA.
- Women of Impact Awards Nominee 2022.
- Women Empowerment Awards Nominee 2022.
- Campaign Ambassador for the United Nations and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
- Host of the Global Business Analyst Online Meetup.
- IIBA Global Corporate Member.
- IIBA Endorsed Education Provider for all IIBA certifications.
- Authorized Training Partner for Agile & Scrum through ScrumStudy
Oumnia Boualam is helping African and Arab Women “do business better”
Moroccan Oumnia Boualam is an experienced Business Growth Expert and the Managing Director at Brussels Global Review (BGR). She helps Arab and African female entrepreneurs and coaches get clarity, build a personal brand and grow a successful business online. Currently, Oumnia oversees several advisory reports on key economic trends in the Middle East and Africa, helping businesses and investors get key information for their decision making process. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola, Oumnia Boualam talks about her corporate experience and her passion for Arab and African female entrepreneurs. Excerpt.
Alaba: To begin, could you briefly tell us about yourself and Brussels Global Review?
Oumnia: Growing up I was very shy and introverted. I never felt comfortable socialising and even dreaded going to school in Morocco (which is where I am from). That completely changed once I moved abroad at 18 to study then work in international sales and marketing. I used to work for a very demanding company selling High Ticket advertising in Emerging Countries. This meant I had to live in various countries (9 in total) and conduct on average 300 meetings per year. While this was an exhausting job, It allowed me to learn how to become adaptable and sociable in the business environment. When the pandemic started I decided to move away from this environment and start building my own business focusing on Sustainable Development and helping Africans and Arabs “do business better”.
I moved to Brussels and co-founded Brussels Global Review. We produce Sustainability reports on the MEA region for an audience of EU decision makers (here in Brussels). In parallel we have 2 signature online programs designed to help African and Arab professionals develop their digital skills, communication and confidence.
Alaba: Could you briefly share some of your experience as a corporate leader, your highs and lows?
Oumnia: Highs: Being able to see how many people I help through my social media content. Lows: Having to deal with toxic corporate culture, lack of support and judgments as a young African, woman entrepreneur.
Alaba: What is your greatest professional accomplishment to date?
Oumnia: I am most proud of the program I have created: The Digital Boss Academy. It’s going to help so many young professionals in Africa and the Middle East to leverage the digital economy to earn more.
Alaba: What are some of the strategies that you believe have helped you grow as a person?
Oumnia: I wouldn’t call it a strategy but more of a personality trait: Curiosity. Being curious and not always following outdated methods and strategies just because that’s what is being said or that’s the way it’s being done. I also strongly believe in learning from life experience rather than having prestigious degrees and that is a crucial skill in Business.
Alaba: Can you share your thoughts on Gender Inclusion in Africa and the Arab entrepreneurship ecosystem?
Oumnia: Not enough is being done to change the mindsets. There can be new regulations, new programs and so on. But if the mindsets of both men and women don’t change in terms of really considering equal opportunities for both genders then we will make very slow progress. Women are still expected to have kids and get married before having a career in our society. Some women founders are being asked what will happen to their business once they start a family. We also don’t have enough success stories to inspire and empower women to follow their dreams.
Alaba: Kindly walk us through a typical day as an entrepreneur and how do you relax?
Oumnia: Every day is different for me because I tend to get bored with routine activities. But one thing remains the same every single day from 06.00am to 09.00am I write and create content. This is the time of the day my brain is most active and also as a natural introvert I feel much more comfortable when things are quiet so I can be deeply focused.
Alaba: What advice would you give to any woman who wants to launch into entrepreneurship?
Oumnia: Starting a business is not as hard as you think if you’re willing to learn. The hard part is to overcome your fear and mindset blocks. That requires a lot of personal development work and it’s not comfortable to go through it.