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InvestSure: Inspired by the need for investors to manage fraud risks that can be unforeseen – Mbulelo Mpofana

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From left- Ettienne Myburgh (Easy Equities), Mbulelo Mpofana, Carly Barnes (Easy Equities), Shane Curran and Ignatious Nkwinika.

Based in Johannesburg and founded by Shane Curran, Mbulelo Mpofana and Ignatious Nkwinika. InvestSure is a new insurance product that insures listed shares bought on participating trading platforms, against losses arising out of the deceptive or misleading acts of management of the company. The insurance is offered on shares listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), with plans to insure shares in global markets in future. Investors can insure their shares as they buy them, as well as insure their existing portfolio. This product is a world first innovation, developed in South Africa and supported by global partners. In this interview with  Alaba Ayinuola  of Business Africa Online. Mbulelo Mpofana- Co-Founder & COO at InvestSure talked about the inspiration behind InvestSure, how they got funded and the future for their brand. Excerpt.

 

Alaba: Kindly tell us about InvestSure and the gap it’s filling.

Mbulelo: InvestSure is an insurtech startup that has developed APIs that enable share trading platforms to sell their unique insurance product. InvestSure has developed a world-first insurance product that provides shareholders protection against losses in the share price which are caused by management misleading and deceiving shareholders. The product is currently available on Easy Equities.

In the wake of the Volkswagen (VW) emissions scandal we noticed that the share price had dropped significantly, yet there was no recourse to investors who had invested in the company not knowing that VW weren’t all they made out to be. After that multiple similar events around the world prompted us to think that investors should have some kind of protection for these events.  Management fraud presents a difficult to manage and asses risk for investors (even sophisticated investors). It is often caused by deception on the part of trusted managers who are much closer to the business on a daily basis.

There was simply no accessible, simple and cost effective product to allow investors to protect themselves from the risk of being blindsided by management of the companies they invest in. We also think this product can make investing more accessible by simplifying the decision process and allow people to invest with more confidence, knowing they have this “sleep easy” cover.

On the tech side InvestSure provides a set of APIs that trading platform developers can use to integrate their insurance product seamlessly into their websites and applications. Once InvestSure’s technology is added to a trading platform, it enables users to easily buy insurance on their shares with a single click. The full process from buying to insurance to settling claims is fully automated.

 

Alaba: What was your startup capital and how were you able to raise it? 

Mbulelo: Entrepreneurs often talk about needing a bit of luck; we had our right at the beginning. We were very fortunate to partner with Hannover RE from a very early stage; the Africa region MD liked the product idea from the get go. They agreed to incubate and fund the founding team until we actually launched through their specialist insurance subsidiary Compass Insure. Compass is the insurer behind the product and is now also a shareholder in InvestSure. We also won R1-million at a pitch event run by AlphaCode, Merrill Lynch South Africa and Royal Bafokeng Holdings. The initial funding from Compass formed part of our recently announced R9.6m funding round.

 

Alaba: As a startup, what are the challenges and how are you overcoming them?

Mbulelo: We have been fortunate in many respects to have secured support from a multinational insurance giant at idea stage so our set of challenges are of a different nature than most innovative startups. For us the challenges included:

  1.  Navigating the internal processes of our partner companies; these can result in long delays and take up a lot of the founders’ time.
  2. Linked to the above, the other big challenge was the B-2-B aspect of the business, established companies move much slower than we were able to, especially on the IT and decision making sides, and this created some frustration for us as well as increasing time to market (and cash spent before getting to market).
  3. Managing the at time conflicting objectives of all partners and stakeholder to make the business relationship worthwhile for all parties, especially with a unusually low cost product like ours.  The insurance industry is still used to high distribution cost models.
  4. Client education, we’ve tried to make the product quite simple but there are still misunderstandings we find in terms of people getting what the product does, the value in it and how it’s different to things like put options.
  5. Awareness, spreading awareness of the product on a tight budget is always a challenge!

 

Alaba: What advice would you give potential entrepreneurs who intend to start a business or invest in Africa?

Mbulelo: There is a lot of advice from much smarter and successful people than me out there! I’ll stick to specifically insurtech were I have more experience and less has been said about.

Our advice for anyone trying to create a new product is to partner with an established player. This allows you the time to focus on the product design and development, rather than trying to deal with the insurance regulatory mine-field. You can always change direction once the product is established. It also allows you much easier access to flexible capital,  accessing their networks and relationships, instant credibility enhancement and tapping into internal expertise to name a few. I’ve found that more and more companies are seeing value in partnerships with disruptive innovators.

Investors in South Africa are much more profit focused and will look for shorter break even time frames over and above big opportunity. It is therefore important to manage costs down.

 

Alaba: What’s the future for InvestSure and what steps are you taking in achieving them?

Mbulelo: There is a ton of scope for us to grow in South Africa, we are looking to do this by increasing our penetration rate on Easy Equities (our first platform partner) and we are keen on signing up other trading platforms as well which will increase our accessible market.

We are also keen to take advantage of the uniqueness of the product by taking it to other markets; initially we are looking at Australia and the UK as markets with similar regulation and business culture as SA.

Alaba: How is your business contributing to the development of Africa?

Mbulelo: We are embracing the idea of “community” in the startup scene and engaging with many other founders as well as people who are interested. We have also actively sought to use our network to create opportunities for other startups e.g. at least one other startup has secured funding from our shareholders through our initial intro; quite a few others are in talks with them.

 

Alaba: What’s your view on the development of Africa InsurTech ecosystem?

Mbulelo: I think it’s small but high quality even compared to the US and UK. I see a lot of innovation around the intersection of hardware/devices and insurance in Africa and I think we can be a player in that space. I also think it’s growing especially as more corporate become open to collaborating and funding insurtech startups. Insurance has a very bad image and many insurtech’s are creating a fairer and more transparent version of doing things which I think will appeal to consumers more and more over time.

 

Alaba: How do you feel as an African entrepreneur?

Mbulelo: I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur so this is a dream for me. From an African perspective, I’m proud we could create something that has surprised even the global executives of a company like Hannover Re and bring a new insurance product to the global insurance market. Africans continue to innovate and create value though new products and business models so it shouldn’t be a surprise to people but for some reason it still is! Hannover Re South Africa itself is seen as the innovation sub for the group which is testament to the unique thinking and creativity in Africa.

 

Alaba: How do you and partners relax and what books do you read?

Mbulelo: Sports is a consistent passion across the team for sports, I more watch than play these days but Shane plays soccer like 2 or 3 times a week. We also like to travel and spend time with family. We tend to read a lot of business related books. I also like to read about politics and historical figures.

 

Alaba: Please teach us one word in your home language and your favorite local dish?

Mbulelo: Nkululeko- which means freedom in isiZulu, Freedom Day in SA is coming up on Saturday 27 April. Can’t pick an outright favorite but will mention two- Putu with Amasi and I also love Biltong.

 

Alaba: What’s your favorite holiday spot in your country?

Mbulelo: It changes over time but current would say rural KZN around the town of Port Shepstone and further down the coast. It’s really beautiful and still quite natural in parts. I also have family around those parts.

Also Read SMEs: Before you sign that deed of guarantee | Morenike Okebu

Bio’s:

Shane Curran- Co-Founder & MD

Shane is a Chartered Accountant (CA(SA)) who originally saw the opportunity to approach Hannover Re Group Africa with an idea for a new insurance product. He believes that investing in shares is crucial to enhancing one’s wealth over the long term, but that certain risks could seriously harm that long term wealth growth. In his personal time he enjoys soccer, reading, holidays and spending time with friends and family.

Mbulelo Mpofana- Co-Founder & COO

Mbulelo teamed up with Shane to develop this unique insurance idea after gaining 6 years insurance experience, covering most technical areas of the industry including actuarial, capital management and risk management. Mbulelo has an enthusiasm for entrepreneurship and loves finding pragmatic and practical solutions to challenging problems.

Ignatious Nkwinika- Co-Founder & CTO

Before designing and building InvestSure’s tech from scratch, Iggy gained over 14 years of experience as an IT Solutions Architect including over 6 years in insurance. He is passionate about technology development and finding innovative solutions within the insurance industry.

 

Visit InvestSure today!

 

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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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How This EdTech CEO Is Helping Africans Access Premium Tech Skills Relevant For The Future Of Work

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Eyitayo Ogunmola is the CEO of Utiva, a leading tech education startup in sub-saharan Africa and a technology education entrepreneur with more than 9 years experience in Product management, international development And technology leadership. In this exclusive interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, He talked about his entrepreneurship journey, the Utiva brand and how they are helping people transition into roles in the technology industry in Nigeria and Africa. Excerpts.

Alaba: Tell us about Utiva and the role you play?

Eyitayo: Well, Utiva is a one-stop-shop for everything technology education. What we do is help Africans learn premium technology skills and then create paths to helping people transition into roles in the technology industry. If you think about this inform of a mission, I’d say that ours is to help Africans participate in the digital economy and benefit from the value that
digitalization gives to us as a continent.
One of the ways to think about this is to think about the population of the African youths.

According to research, by 2030 Africa will have one of the largest populations of young people that are ready to work in the job market, about 600,000,000 of them. And what we do at Utiva is to lower the barrier to entry and learning for so many young Africans that want to acquire technical skills. And also help them access new jobs.

Within 2 years, we have developed learning programs in some very specific areas of digital skill training. From Product Management to Product design to Data Analytics to Artificial intelligence to Digital Marketing. Our focus is to make the learning programs so interesting and attractive for people to participate. That is pretty much what we do at Utiva.

Now talking about my own role, I am the Chief Executive Officer, so what I do is to lead the team, lead the practice, and to champion the organization’s policy the way the organization is structured. So I typically will report to the board, I am the person that pursues the investors, also the one cheer leading and helping the stakeholders to get attracted to the brand Utiva.

Alaba: What was your startup capital and how were you able to raise it?

Eyitayo: Now the interesting thing about Utiva is that we bootstrapped from the very beginning. We didn’t raise a dime. I pretty much used my own personal savings to run Utiva from day one. And as a social enterprise, I will say that we have benefited so much from impact investing or social impact financing in the form of grants to subsidise our training.

So Utiva has been a bootstrapper from the beginning, we so much believe in bootstrapping to a point before we start using other people’s money to run the organization.

Alaba: What are the challenges, competition and how are you overcoming them?

Eyitayo: Well in terms of competition, I will say that we pretty much do not always see ourselves as competitors in the education space, we love to see ourselves as complementors. But there are other amazing companies and organizations that are playing in our space. There are organizations that are niched and are focused on different areas of technology education training, so I may not be able to mention names here but I will say that there are great organizations that are focused on training in programs. There are organizations that do not do training, they just connect people to the job market, there are organizations that are focused on digital skills training, some are focused on providing internships to people that have been trained.

So what we do which is like the competitive advantage that we have is that we are a one-stop shop for everything technology skill training. From Data to Product to Design to Digital Marketing to Growth Hacking to Artificial Intelligence and this is a value proposition that makes our students get very attracted to Utiva. Because they trust us and the trust is pretty much built around the fact that we have built several digital schools and they know that yes we really know what we are doing.

In terms of the way we also overcome the competition, we built Utiva to be very affordable. We lower the barrier to entry for Africans and we do not believe that you need to break the bank to learn a technology skill and that is one of the areas of the competitive advantages that we have. Another one for us is the post-training values that we offer our students.

We have built 3 different models around our post training value. One is the virtual internship. What this means is that at the end of every training program, you have the opportunity to work on multiple projects in the form of virtual internship. The second one is access to job opportunities. Our students gain access to different job opportunities because we have a large network of employers that are hiring through us. And the third one which I consider to be an awesome value is the fact that we are lowering the barrier to entry for those that really need help, speaking of people with disability. We actually just launched a training program that gives 500 people with disability an opportunity to learn digital skills.

These are some of the many values that we offer that makes people want to be a part of our learning program.

Alaba: How does your organization measure it’s the impact?

Eyitayo: So, there are three major ways of measuring impact for us and we are quite very intentional about the way we measure impact. So think about it this way, we measure impact, first by measuring how we are helping you as a student close the knowledge gap. So from the beginning, we want to know what you know, then at the end of the learning program we want to know what you know. So we see the knowledge gap and how we have been able to close it.

The second way we are measuring impact is how you have been able to take the knowledge from the class to practice and we do that within the 3 months virtual internship, we look at how our students have been studying using multiple analytical strategy to evaluate how our students are working on multiple projects and how they are able to juggle these projects and most importantly how they are able to translate what they have learned from the class environment to the real work environment through that virtual internship.

The third one is what employers are saying about our students, that’s like ultimate value. We currently have a 65% transition rate into new jobs and beyond the transition rate, we also look at how employers are getting satisfied with the quality of talents that are passing through Utiva because it is not enough for you to transition, we also need to know how satisfied these employers are with our students.

So, these are the ways we are measuring impact. How you are transitioning to new jobs and the values that employers are getting from the quality of students that pass through our programs.

Alaba: What is the future for Utiva and what steps are you taking in achieving them?

Eyitayo: I am going to be very brief about the future for Utiva because for us at Utiva, we are still in the execution phase. Our focus today is to deliver quality training for our students. But the future of Utiva is to help other educators become successful. The education space is an amazing space to play in and one of the things that we are doing is that we are helping every other educator to become successful in the future.

Beyond being a company that offers quality training, and helping young Africans transition into new jobs, we also want to help other educators to become better so that we can scale the value for Africans, I mean we can’t do it all, how do we even train 600,000,000 young people alone? So we want to replicate ourselves in other educators. That is the future for us.

Alaba: How is your business contributing to the development of the educational sector in Nigeria and Africa?

Eyitayo: Yes, yes! So let me explain a little bit about that. Our contribution is to replicate ourselves, so the way we think about this is that we want to be successful, we want to build successful models, we want to build a successful learning approach. We want to be successful and we want to help other educators to be successful. We want to help other educators to learn the right andragogy and the right pedagogy to become successful.

For us at Utiva, success is built around how much we are helping other educators in the educational sector to become successful. It is in view of this that we launched a mini project which is like a startup incubator for educators. And right now we have about 10 of them that we are coaching and mentoring and helping to access funding abroad just to scale success and that is the way we are thinking about that.

Alaba: How is the government policy supporting startups and entrepreneurs in Nigeria?

Eyitayo: I would say that there are two ways to think about this right, there are so many government policies out there that are structured around providing support to lots of entrepreneurs in Africa, so I will give you an instance, the creative industry loan. The creative industry loan was a CBN initiative that was built to support Nigerian startups. Let me give you another example, the Vice President launched multiple projects to attract investors and also to make the entrepreneurial ecosystem quite very attractive.

However, the policy is not the challenge, what the real challenge is the access. Because most of these policies that the government put in place are there and also the programmatic intervention that the government put in place are there. Where the problem lies is that most African or most Nigerian entrepreneurs do not have the capacity to access some of these opportunities. You know the CBN interest rate policy supports startups, supports entrepreneurs. They are there, but Nigerian entrepreneurs need to be supported in such a way that when these policies are enacted, the barriers to benefiting from these policies are lowered so that we can access them.

Also, the government needs to create an opportunity to talk to entrepreneurs. Beyond just creating policies here and there, the government needs t o talk to entrepreneurs every time. The more you talk to entrepreneurs, the more you are able to understand what works for them and create structures that can really support them.

Alaba: What advice would you give potential entrepreneurs who intend to start a business or invest in Africa?

Eyitayo: The Advice I would give is to start. Start fast and learn fast. I mean you cannot over-prepare for entrepreneurship in Nigeria because it is a totally different ball game. But start and learn very fast. That is the advice I will give, and I would say that think more global, build a more global product. It’s ok to build products for a Nigerian market, but build a global product so that you can benefit from the global dynamics.

Alaba: How does it feel to be an African entrepreneur?

Eyitayo: I think it’s a mixed feeling. Sometimes you are excited because of the opportunity, because of the market, because there are problems and where there are problems there are opportunities
and that is exciting. Then another one is like as an African entrepreneur, you are fighting too many unnecessary battles. We can really build a successful or a super successful African entrepreneurship ecosystem or build a super successful business landscape for the African market if African entrepreneurs do not always have to fight unnecessary battles.

Like you fight battles with electricity, you fight battles with bad roads, you fight battles with bad employees, taxation. You are fighting multiple battles that the government is supposed to fight for you so that you can focus on your core which is building business.

Alaba: How do you relax and what books do you read?

Eyitayo: I travel a lot. Although COVID-19 has really taken that opportunity away from me, because travelling is my thing. Then I read a lot of books around internal navigation, around leadership. That’s one of the things I have been studying so much. Beyond just the motivational leadership books, I read some core books around internal navigation. So one of the areas of books that I have been exposing myself to is biography. I have been reading the biography of some super successful entrepreneurs and I will recommend that other entrepreneurs also start to study biographies of other super successful entrepreneurs. Thank you!

Also Read Pineapple TV: Delivering Positive Impact And Instilling African Culture – Carl Raccah

P R O F I L E

Eyitayo Ogunmola is a Technology Education Entrepreneur with more than 9 years experience in Product management, international development and technology leadership. He has lived and worked in 4 countries and also led at the VP level of a consulting company.

Eyitayo founded Utiva, a leading technology Education company in Sub-Saharan Africa that helps Africans learn tech skills relevant for the future of work. Prior to Utiva, He worked in the International development sector, working on USAID funded tech projects. And also founded PM Hub, a boutique for product development.

He holds a Masters degree in business strategy, leadership and change from Heriot-Watt University. He is a MIT Solve Entrepreneur, 2020 Facebook Accelerator Leader, Halcyon Incubator Fellow, Global Good Funds Fellow; Chevening Scholar, Atlas Corps Fellow, 2019 Unleash Talent.

In 2019, Eyitayo was nominated for Future Awards Africa 2019 under the Education category and most recently is his nomination for the Tech Times Africa Awards under the CEO category.

Visit Utiva

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Zahara Chetty: Equipping The Next Generation With 21st Century FutureSkills

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Zahara Chetty is the founder of the African Futures Academy who is committed to collaborating and exploring new ways of bringing FutureSkills to the next generation of young people in Africa, enhance their abilities to consciously co-create a lighter, brighter future together.  In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, She shared her entrepreneurship story and how she’s equipping the next generation with 21st century FutureSkills. Excerpts.

Alaba: Could you briefly tell us about African Futures Academy and the gap its filling?

Chetty: The African Futures Academy is all about creating spaces for the youth in Africa to explore themselves and the problems they want to solve to create more equitable, conscious futures for all. We are a movement, creating awareness and resources to enable the next generation to think about the future in ways that are different from the past that we inherited. We develop teaching and learning aids, programmes and materials to help equip the next generation with our identified 21st Century FutureSkills.

Our work is more about long term systems change than it is about startup culture. We want to create a sustainable business, but ultimately, we want to change the thinking culture in our society. We are collaborating with professionals in many different industries to create lasting impact and bring about change.

Alaba: What are the set milestones in terms of goals and impact?

Chetty: The objective is to get resources to influence and teach FutureSkills that are necessary for the Fourth Industrial Revolution to as many young people as possible. Because many of the kids in Africa, especially rural communities, do not have access to online learning and digital technology, the skills we need to transfer can be shared via many other media such as books and games that can be used individually and in the classroom. This is where we are starting and the content will be translated into various African languages as needed. June 2020 – December 2020;

• Launch AFA.

• Awesome Africans series awareness campaign.

• Workshops, Training October 2020 – May 2020.

• Development & Launch of FutureSkills Workbook for Kids in Africa June 2021 – 2023.

• Development & Launch of FutureSkills App and Board game projects.

Alaba: Can you tell us about your journey in entrepreneurship and edtech?

Chetty: I have been working in Education since 2004, first as a teacher and Head of Department and then I resigned to work in the Software industry, where I worked with education companies such as Pearson Education and ZAD Group in Saudi Arabia. I’ve also been researching trends and changes in the technology industry and noticed a disparity between what was happening in the world and how the education system is failing to prepare students for that reality. I started the African Futures Academy as a space to explore how we might address that gap for the next generation in Africa. We are not following traditional startup or silicon valley models.

We think Africa needs its own voice and uses its own cultural problem solving methods to build more equitable futures underpinned by sustainable business practices and an African philosophy. 

Alaba: What are the challenges faced in growing this brand and how are you navigating through in this dire time?

Chetty: I think anything new that doesn’t follow the traditional models of operation has to forge its own path, and that is always a challenge. We are not in competition, we are here to aggregate and collaborate efforts across the spectrum to get the maximum benefit for the people that matter the most. Our ethics and philosophies are core to our operations. We are about humanity centred design and practising what we preach. If we want the next generation to be people with visions of the future that are sustainable, prosperous and equitable, we have to lead by example. This often means going against current norms and expectations of how businesses and new ventures operate.

The edtech sector is currently booming and digital learning solutions have risen due to the global pandemic.

Alaba: How is your brand unique from competition?

Chetty: We create spaces and opportunities for exploring FutureSkills. Our online learning platform is just one of our channels with which we can reach the general population. We are platform agnostic. Our FutureSkills will be adapted for various scenarios and contexts e.g. books, board games, mobile applications as well as the online learning platforms and webinars or whatever type of technology is required or available in future. We believe that technology is just a tool to enhance human functioning. The tools might change as we venture into the future, but the intention to develop human potential will always remain the same.

Alaba: How do you see the future of edtech in South Africa and the rest of Africa?

Chetty: I think we need to move away from the idea that we can just take the broken model we have now and give it a digital flavour. Replicating the classroom experience online is a big no-go. We need trans-disciplinary insights into everything we design and build going forward, and the education system requires input from various collaborators across the spectrum in order for it to develop the right skills, values, attitudes and knowledge in its participants.

We also need to remember that this is Africa. We can’t just bring working models from other countries and implement them here. Infrastructure and basic human needs are not being addressed. We have to take that into account. Our ed-tech needs to be developed alongside and as a part of the social system in its entirety, not as a separate thing. The entire point of education is to enable the next generation to be fully functional and contributing members of society.

If society is changing so rapidly, we need to equip the next generation with new knowledge and skills just as rapidly. Somewhere along the way, it looks like we have lost the plot around human societies and how they function and we focused mainly on the technologies that we created. We need to bring back the balance between humanity and technology.

Alaba: Do you think e-learning is changing the life of professionals? How?

Chetty: e-Learning has been around for decades. Companies have been using it for training for many years. It’s nothing new. We’re actually moving away from traditional LMS’s to more social, mobile, micro and gamified learning. Learning is becoming ubiquitous. This is how it should be. Learning needs to become intrinsically linked to life experience itself. The idea that we have to sit in a classroom or take special time off to learn something is becoming incongruent with how we actually live and work.

We need to learn all the time, just by interacting with the world around us. I am looking forward to see how this unfolds with the use of new technologies in the future.

Alaba: How does your organization measure its impact and what is the future for African Futures Academy?

Chetty: We are seeking to influence a movement of change in the way we perceive education and skills to enhance the ability of the next generation to handle change and the Future of Work. Within the next 5 years, we want to reach 1 Million young people in Africa and equip them with FutureSkills competencies, using various channels and socio-cultural contexts.

By equipping the next generation with these core skills, attitudes and values, we will be able to create more opportunities for community-based problem solving, entrepreneurship and job creation using new technologies. We want a generation of changemakers who are not sitting around and waiting for the governments to fix everything for them.

Alaba: What would be your advice to aspiring entrepreneurs?

Chetty: I would say that we are at a point in time where you just need to be brave and forge new ways ahead. Now it’s not about looking for existing models and replicating them. We need new ways of solving old problems with positive, collective futures in mind. It’s not about playing it safe, it’s about experimenting with the new and being able to change things while you are building them. You have to be quick on your feet.

Alaba: How do you relax and what is your favourite tourist destination in Africa?

Chetty: I love what I do so I don’t feel like I need to take a break from my life. I incorporate as many things as I love into the work that I do and the life that I live. However, I love to travel and experience new places. I think every country in Africa has something unique to offer in terms of its culture, its
people and its practices. I am always fascinated by that when I travel anywhere. I think South Africa is one of the most beautiful places on Earth and Mpumalanga’s Panorama route is probably one of the best visual delights I’ve experienced.

Also Read: Lindelwe Lesley Ndlovu, African Risk Capacity (ARC) CEO Shares Goals, Disaster Risk Solutions and The Future

P R O F I L E

Zahara Chetty is a Polymath and works as an Educationist, Writer, Facilitator, Fashion Designer and Conscious Design Coach whose work integrates trans-disciplinary insights from various fields of Psychology, Anthropology, Computer Science, Education, Business Management, Strategy, Design and Spirituality. She offers an approach to Strategic Design that is integrative and holistic, helping CEO’s, entrepreneurs and organisations navigate complexity for more Human-Centred, Conscious Strategy and Effective Problem Solving.

Her unique methods provide guidance to deeper levels of self-awareness, moving from ego-centred perspectives on leadership, product design and business development, to a more authentic expression, service, and alignment.

She has been teaching, training and facilitating workshops since 2004, both in the classroom, in the boardroom and online. She currently works remotely with individuals and teams around the world to help them make the move towards co-creating more equitable futures for everyone.

As the founder of the African Futures Academy, she is committed to collaborating and exploring new ways of bringing FutureSkills to the next generation of young people in Africa, to enhance their abilities to consciously co-create a lighter, brighter future together. 

Visit: African Futures Academy

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