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Women in Tech: Interview With Ellen Fischat, Founder Story Room and Inspiring Fifty SA Ambassador

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Ellen Fischat is the Founder Story Room (Pty Ltd)

On inclusive digital transformation, effective business networking, women empowerment and diversity in tech

Ellen Fischat is the Founder Story Room (Pty Ltd) , a boutique innovation consultancy. She was the first managing director for The Silicon Cape Initiative and has previously held positions which include Business manager for Propella Business Incubator, the NMU Incubator in Nelson Mandela Bay and the Enterprise Development Manager for the SEDA NMB ICT Incubator. Ellen has a focus on social enterprises and technology and is involved in the mentorship of technology start-ups and volunteers in various community outreach programmes that focus on personal development, digital literacy and increasing employability of marginalized young women through STEM initiatives. Here are excerpts from an exclusive interview with Heath Muchena of Business Africa Online.

Heath: You are an advocate for the advancement of women in tech; what advice would you give to women looking to break into a predominantly male field?

Ellen: I would encourage women to not over think their desire to work in any male dominated field. It’s important that they find allies or mentors to help them navigate a male dominated environment, if they feel uncomfortable or not seen or treated as an equal. The highest paying jobs are the ones in male dominated environments and we should not allow our fear to take those opportunities away from us.

I’m not saying it’s an easy task, but we sometimes don’t realise how many other women are watching us, in support and admiration. Sometimes you just have to be your own hero.

Heath: As a speaker at the upcoming Women in Tech Conference in Cape Town on the importance of building a business network. Can you please share a few key takeaways?

Ellen: Building a successful venture is essentially about the ability to build strong, loyal and reciprocal relationships. Building a strong network is key to having access to information and opportunities. And when we are informed, we are able to make the right business decisions. The workshop will focus on sharing some of the lessons I have learned on how to establish these relationships and how to maintain them but also nurture them. No woman is an island.

And it’s not only about who you know, but actually who knows you. So, the more your name and work is raised in discussions in a positive light, the more credibility and trust you accumulate.

Heath: Has networking played a role in you achieving your career objectives?

Ellen: I have spent years networking full time. There was so much I needed and wanted to learn about business. That I made sure I was present wherever the networking happened. I also wanted to understand what the cool kids had that I didn’t. I also learned that when people see you on a regular basis, you establish rapport, then the networks start viewing you as “one of them”. It is more likely then, that they assume that you are trustworthy and are willing to engage with you. It doesn’t always mean that your presence leads to true collaboration, but it’s also a process to discover who you want to be associated with and work with.

I am a natural connector. I always see the benefit of connecting people with each other. So networking is a very important part of my business, but more importantly I focus on making deposits into my network, as opposed to only making withdrawals. Most people hate networking and it really is hard work investing in the people around you not knowing what the return will be. But practice makes the skill and art of networking easier. In fact I now prefer to attend networking sessions on my own, so that I am forced to engage with others, than stick to the people I already know.

Heath: What is that one advice for tech companies getting started with diversity and inclusion?

Ellen: That they need to accelerate the process that’s if they have even given the matter serious consideration. I would encourage senior executives and managers to speak to their existing minority groups of “diverse” staff and take their lead from them, as to how the company could execute more effective actions to recruit more diverse talent.

Diversity and inclusion should not be a negative and begrudged process in any 21st century organization. Rather it should be a welcomed and intentional execution of organisational strategy.

Heath: What would help women in tech become not only successful business leaders but effective motivators and change leaders?

Ellen: I think that female leaders have these aforementioned traits or represent them. But I do believe that we need to make these successful business leaders and effective motivators more visible and be more intentional about celebrating their successes. People can’t be what they can’t see. We need more visible role models. And women need to stop questioning their value and seeking external validation. It’s a recipe for disaster, rejection and becomes a negative self-fulfilling prophecy.

Heath: What influences your leadership style and what values are important to you?

Ellen: An intrinsic belief that we are honored to be viewed and acknowledged as leaders. It’s a huge responsibility that should not be taken lightly. And as leaders, the onus is on us, to serve the people we lead and are responsible for. I personally strive to surround myself with people that know more than I do, so that I am always learning from them and not the other way around.

Our role as leaders is not to shine in our own light, but to be the bearers of light, so that others in turn can shine, grow, thrive and become leaders in their own right. I consider mutual respect, integrity, empowerment and honest communication as the most critical values required for any successful environment and culture.

Heath: What institutional and societal changes need to be made in order to empower business women in South Africa?

Ellen: Statistically, as far as employment of women in senior government positions is concerned, we aren’t doing half bad in comparison to other continents. So that box is ticked. We do however fail dismally as a society when it comes to cultural rights of women and their physical safety and emotional wellbeing. South African women are subjected to high degrees of domestic trauma and are often the sole financial providers for their families and children. As long as the personal, physical safety and wellbeing of women is not drastically improved, then one has to wonder what the influence and impact is of women in a business environment. It’s hard to imagine that cultural and societal beliefs are left at home, when people go to work.

So, I have little faith that we are seen as equals in a business environment, if we are not recognized as such in our personal environments. The safety and influence of women will only be truly effective if we are acknowledged as equals in all areas of society and business.

Heath: How can we encourage more women and young girls to consider careers in tech?

Ellen: I think women and girls need to be more exposed to the wonderful and important work female business leaders are doing. They should be stimulated to maintain their curious minds and to contribute towards discussions and solutions, without fear of being professionally and sometimes socially ostracized for this. We should raise our girls to be confident in their abilities and encourage their leadership and not taint them as being “bossy” and “unfeminine”.

We should encourage our boys and men to treat girls and their female colleagues as they would want their mothers and sisters to be treated. And that’s why I believe that the mission of Inspiring Fifty SA is so important and should receive greater support. We aim to make female role models in tech more visible and celebrated because “if she can see it, she can be it”.

Also Read: Interview: Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy For Girls Executive Director, Gugulethu Ndebele On Girls And Leadership

Visit: Ellen Fischat

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Shaun Duvet on The Unit Group and the Impact of COVID-19

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Shaun Duvet, Founder and CEO at The Unit Group (Source: Unit Group website)

The impact of Covid-19 is changing the way organisations operate and do business about the world. The entertainment industry is not exempted as it’s adjudged the second affected industry after the aviation, travel and hospitality industry. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola, Shaun Duvet the Founder and CEO of The Unit Group shares his brand story and the Impact of Covid-19. Excerpt.

Alaba: Could you tell us about the Unit Group and the gap it’s filling since you launched?

Shaun: The Unit Group was established  in 2017 as the holding company for my various business interests which include: COCO, GoldBar and Souk (my venues), Ultra South Africa, Corona Sunsets Festivals, Anything Goes, AG Virtual, Bella Bookings, Salute, Jet Black & Paradise Springs. These businesses cover all functions of entertainment marketing, management, hospitality, sponsorship and eventing from design, to staffing and artist booking, to production and everything in between.

The gap we launched The Unit Group to fill was that of a true understanding of marketing in the entertainment space. So many brands want to play in this space because the audiences are so receptive and the engagement so high, yet so few of them truly understand it. We felt that we had the marketing know-how, and a deep love and knowledge of not only this space, but the global players within it. 

Alaba: What services does your company offer?

Shaun: The services offered range from throwing small corporate events to festivals for 50, 000 pax; to sponsorship strategies, virtual events; to full spectrum design, photography, videography; artist, model and staff bookings; marketing, and PR strategies and much, much more. 

Alaba: How has the market responded to your offerings?

Shaun: We have seen a huge uptake in clients that previously came to us just to make the party happen, now asking for marketing, creative and strategic advice. AG Virtual, which launched this year, has also seen the likes of AFI (African Fashion Week) approach us to do their full virtual production.

Alaba: The steady rise of South Africa’s entertainment industry has  increased competition in the country. What’s your company’s advantage?

Shaun: My 20+ years of experience and my years behind the decks. I live and breathe music and entertainment which enables me to understand what the market wants and keep abreast of global trends. I also have incredible teams in place that keep our work fresh and relevant, and the machine in constant motion.

Alaba: Kindly share some of the challenges faced, especially in this dire time and how you overcoming them? 

Shaun: The challenge of this year is obvious – no events, no DJ’s, no dancing! That’s our life blood. We have managed though to stay busy by diversifying what we offer and working more strategically. Helping brands activate within the highly connected urban youth market in an authentic and resonant manner. Some of our venues are also still operational, and the festivals and events teams are taking some much-needed down time before the parties start again, which we know they will do with a renewed energy when we’re out of the current COVID crisis.

Alaba: Technology is disrupting the entertainment industry across the globe. How’s your company adapting to the use of technology?

Shaun: As mentioned, we have launched AG Virtual which is doing well. But we have always been at the forefront of event and entertainment technology in our work. Our audience demands it. 

Alaba: How does your company contribute and set new standards in the South African entertainment industry?  

Shaun: I regularly write and speak on industry channels and give back to the industry that way. We also ensure that we are constantly raising the bar with the work that we do, meaning that more people around the world sit up and take notice which will ultimately benefit the whole industry.  

Alaba: What’s the future for the Unit Group and are you post COVID-19 ready?

Shaun: We cannot wait for life to return to “normal”. Down time was nice, but we’re rested now and it’s time to work! 

Alaba: How do you relax and what keeps you going? 

Shaun: I have 3 young kids so relaxation is scarce, but they certainly keep me going

Alaba: What advice would you give to entrepreneurs and investors coming to South Africa?

Shaun: Come! Don’t be afraid. There is risk, yes, but the rewards are also so great. We live in such a special place and I really believe in the future of this country.

Also Read Closing The Gender Gap: An Interview with Dream Girl Global (DGG) Founder, Precious Oladokun

B I O G R A P H Y

Shaun Duvet, CEO and Founder of The Unit, South Africa’s leading entertainment-based holding company, a combination of enterprises, individually built to make brands better. Shaun is also the CEO and Founder of Anything Goes, the branded entertainment agency, aligning campaigns, properties and music tours with international brands and artists across the continent.

He is the co-Founder and Director of ULTRA South Africa, which brings 50,000 dance-music revellers together every year to see some biggest names in eEectronic Music. He is the partner and producer for Corona Sunsets Festival South Africa, which over the last 5 years has seen over 40,000 fans join together across three cities to celebrate the sunset.
He is a co-owner and operator for COCO, one of SA’s premiere nightclubs, think celebrities, Ibiza-style go-go dancers, Hip Hop MCs, and a parade of sparkler-topped bottles, this alongside it’s sister GoldBar, an elegant bar annex to COCO.

Shaun Duvet is a board member and proud supporter of Bridges For Music, a non-profit organization that utilises the power of music to uplift communities through creative education. Recently, partnering with Defected Records on a new imprint Sondela Records all of whose profits will channel back directly into the charity.

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Viola Labi: The multi-hyphenate creative strategist building an eco-luxury fashion brand in Africa

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Viola Labi is a multi-hyphenate creative, premium retail Strategist and Founder of WOVEN, a design-led fashion enterprise.

With over a decade of experience and a proven track record in the global luxury retail space, Viola has worked with renowned international brands such as Burberry, ZARA, Loewe, CELINE and Valentino and has caught the attention of media powerhouses such as Vogue Business, Essence, Forbes, BBC and CNN International, as one to watch.

Born in Canada with Ghanaian parentage, Viola is culturally plural and holds reverence to fashion’s interaction with humanity; asserting that it permits people, irrespective of their cultural and social affiliations to unite. It is this fundamental belief and her relocation to Ghana that inspired WOVEN, a ground breaking brand which seeks to herald a new direction for eco-luxury retail on the African continent.

Viola said, WOVEN was birthed from a personal journey to Northern Ghana. “I witnessed my own reunification to elements of rich Ghanaian culture through textile creation at the diligent hand skilled Artisans. Despite language barriers and unfamiliar grounds, I felt at home. I spent more time with women creating textiles and found myself being stitched together in areas I didn’t know needed mending, areas like self-identity and purpose.”

Cowry Basket (Image Source: WOVEN)

“Looking back, I guess you can say we weaved symbolic exchanges of knowledge and cultural practices and this inspired me to creative WOVEN. Although the entire assortment of products are literally woven, the company name speaks to a higher purpose of coming together as Humanity.” She said.

Also Read Closing The Gender Gap: An Interview with Dream Girl Global (DGG) Founder, Precious Oladokun

The Brand’s mission is to actively work towards uniting the fashion value chain into a cohesive whole by showcasing the creative talent that pervades throughout the African continent; while emanating the diversity of culture, history and skill, much like yarn being formed into a unique tapestry. 

Cowry Basket (Image Source: WOVEN)

WOVEN has the honour of partnering with 150 esteemed Artisan weavers in Ghana to create sustainable, functional, home furnishing products. It’s design principles and execution promote inclusion and seek to disrupt fear-based stereotypes by creating products, made in Africa, that are par with those of global standards.

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Emalohi Iruobe, An Attorney and Founder of Tribe XX Lab Empowering Female-led Startups

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Emalohi L. Iruobe Esq. is an attorney, adjunct professor and social entrepreneur. She is the founder of Tribe XX Lab, the first and only co-working, wellness and incubator space exclusively for female entrepreneurs and female led startups and companies in Lagos. Tribe XX Lab offers an open-plan office, private offices, events, networking, yoga, a nap room, conference room, reference library, pop up restaurants and wellness retail.

The fundamental idea is to create a place where women are able to present a professional front for their business as well as network, get training, access to funding opportunities and help each other. With a general focus on self-care and balance, the space also partners with brands that retail wellness and selfcare products in order to meet the other often overlooked core need of women in business-wholeness.

Prior to founding Tribe XX Lab, Emalohi was an adjunct professor of Business Law, Business Research Methods and Legal Analysis and Writing at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, USA for several years before moving to teach Business Law and Data Management at LIM College in Manhattan, New York. Afterwards she taught Expository Writing at Rutgers University in New Jersey, USA before founding Aimanosi Lingerie; a dynamic brand focused on promoting body positivity and selflove in African women. She has a Bsc. in Finance and Banking from Lincoln University, PA and a Juris Doctor from Villanova University.

Before delving into full time entrepreneurship, she practiced law in Pennsylvania and New
Jersey working in Commercial litigation, as well as working as the Manager of Project Implementation in the Kwara State Public Private Partnership office in 2013. She comes with over a decade experience in entrepreneurship, law, education and business.

About Tribe XX Lab

Tribe XX Lab is a civic space for complex conversations, critical contemplation, learning and action to prevent all forms of violence and oppression against women and girls. The goal of their work is to change the perceptions of women and their role in society as well as lead conversations and interventions that PREVENT violence against women and girls in the first place. They do this through the use of digital and social media, conversations, XX-CEED Virtual festival, game theory and art.

Through their work, they are particularly looking to provide support to survivors of Gender-based violence, promote greater public engagement in preventing violence against women, increase public awareness of the intersectionality of oppression women face, create social projects that encourage the extermination of rape culture.

Since inception, they have successfully carried out several survival supports programs, prevention panels and have received a grant to prevent gender-based violence against women and girls in universities in Nigeria as well as provide psychological support to victims of GBV in institutions of higher education from Oxfam/Voice.

Emalohi also launched ‘I GO TALK’ ​a​ ​Nigerian​ ​Pidgin​ ​phrase​ ​which​ ​simply​ ​means​ ​I​ ​will​ ​not​ ​be​ ​silent,​ ​I​ ​will​ ​tell​ ​on you.​ It ​came​ ​in​ ​as​ ​a​ ​crucial​ ​response​ ​to​ ​the​ ​sexual​ ​violence​ ​that​ female students ​ in Nigerian​ Universities face.​ ​This​ ​is​ ​a​ ​clarion​ ​call​ ​from​ ​victims,​ ​survivors,​ ​and​ ​women​ ​in​ ​general​ ​to​ ​the​ ​perpetrators​ of ​sexual​ ​abuse​ ​and​ ​to​ ​the​ ​general​ ​public,​ ​that​ ​they’re ​here​ ​to​ XXterminate, silence ​and​ ​provide​ ​support​ ​to​ victims.​ ​This​ ​is​ ​a​ ​motivation​ ​for​ ​victims​ ​of​ ​sexual​ ​abuse​ ​and harassment ​amongst​ ​University​ ​students​ ​to speak ​up​ ​and​ ​also​ ​a​ ​mode​ ​to​ ​create​ ​awareness for ​students​ ​on​ ​their​ ​rights​ ​in​ ​line​ ​with​ ​the recently signedd​ ​Sexual​ ​Harassment​ ​bill.​

After ​the​ ​BBC​ ​Documentary,​ ​Sex​ ​for​ ​Grades​ ​rocked​ ​the​ ​whole​ ​of​ ​Nigeria​ ​in​ ​October​ ​2019,​ ​the​ ​long​ cloaked ​truth​ ​about​ ​the​ ​oppression that ​young​ ​women​ ​face​ ​in​ ​the​ ​hands​ ​of university ​lecturers​ ​started​ to ​come​ ​to​ ​light.​ ​For the ​longest​ ​time,​ ​young​ ​women​ ​seeking​ ​higher education ​have​ ​been​ ​preyed​ ​upon​ by ​several academicians ​high​ ​in​ ​power​ ​and​ ​have​ ​been oppressed,​ ​victimized,​ ​and​ ​helpless.​

Also Read Closing The Gender Gap: An Interview with Dream Girl Global (DGG) Founder, Precious Oladokun

Starting from the 25​th​ of October to the 31​st​ of October, they are kicking off the first edition of I GO TALK Youth Summit, the largest gathering of university students across the country to build collective power and voice in the fight to end Sex4grades and sexual harassment in Nigerian Universities.

Tribe XX Lab is laser focused on promoting gender equality, deliberate living, transformative leadership and community development through the design and delivery of trainings, workshops, seminars, collaborative partnerships and data gathering.

Visit: Tribe XX Lab & I GO TALK

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