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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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Meet Seipati Mokhuoa – CEO Southern African Women In Leadership (SAWIL)

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Seipati Mokhuoa – CEO Southern African Women In Leadership (SAWIL), Gender Equality Advocate and Strategist. She believes Self-leadership is the foundation of excellence. Her organisation supports and enables seasoned female professionals to realise their true potential irrespective of age, race, religion, background, etc. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola, Seipati talks about her entrepreneurship journey and how she’s leading the transformation and gender equality initiatives across Southern Africa with SAWIL. Excerpt.

Alaba: Could you tell us about South African Women in Leadership (SAWIL) and the gap its filling?

Seipati: SAWIL is an organisation established in 2014 for women in leadership as well as aspirant leaders. The membership composition is made up of supervisory, management, senior leadership and executive roles within the Southern African Leadership framework. We’ve spent the past 5 years doing research and understanding some of the underlying influences, legacy issues and overall lack of appetite to address the vast and incessant gap which exists in terms of skills retention, leadership development, executive coaching, gender parity and equality in the workplace. A global phenomenon we feel we are more than equipped to address through our campaign #SAWILVision2030.

We support and enable seasoned professionals (women) to realise their true potential irrespective of age, race, religion, background – each woman’s contribution still remains critical to the relevance of our ‘present-day’ society and the advancement of the African economy.We also have golf days, where the social (and therapeutic) aspects of golf is discovered. This pastime is a wonderful tool to encourage networking and opens the pathways to endless opportunities.

Alaba: Have you always been entrepreneurial? What sparked your interest into founding SAWIL?

Seipati: Yes, definitely! My late dad was an entrepreneur. I remember back in High school I used to negotiate with him to take some of the stock from his businesses to sell at school and he profusely repudiated no matter how many times I tried. His argument was that it would distract me from my school work. However, in Grade 10 – two of my favorite teachers (Business Management and Biblical Studies) put money together and bought boxes of “champions” sweets and sent me on my entrepreneurial journey. The agreement was that it would be our little secret because they saw and understood the entrepreneurial hunger in me. We did this until Grade 12 (Final Year of High School) – and oh, I passed both subjects with distinctions.

The birth of SAWIL was a mere response to the challenges I faced as a young Woman in Leadership in one of the most untransformed regions of our country post-Apartheid. My first leadership role was at the age of twenty four, 10 years ago. I think it’s safe to say I was one of the Guinea pigs of Leadership transformation in the organization, more specifically in our division. The top performers, even to this date – are white males. Seeing the lack of women in boardrooms as I climbed the corporate ladder opened my eyes to a sad reality with reference to gender parity and equality in the workplace. So, I began my research. As a result, the solutions we offer at SAWIL are both research based and lived experiences.

Alaba: Recently SAWIL Golf was confirmed as the official host of the international women’s golf day representing Africa. How do you feel and can you share more on this?

Seipati: I am obviously ecstatic about this amazing opportunity to showcase and represent our beautiful continent but due to the unfortunate Coronavirus outbreak, we might have to postpone to a later date. The #WomensGolfDay is a global event where women from all walks of life come together to play golf on the same date at over 900 locations worldwide. SAWIL Golf applied to be the Africa host and as God would have it, we were approved.

What makes it even more significant is that the event is usually hosted by Golf clubs. We don’t own a golf course, however, we are the fasted growing women’s social golf club in SA and that makes us stand out. So if there are any investors out there keen on funding Africa’s first female owned golf course – call me?! I have the perfect spot! (Giggles)

Alaba: If any, what challenges have you experienced as a woman in business?

Seipati: To be honest, I haven’t really had it as tough as most African entrepreneurs do. I only left my job in late 2018 and was smart enough to make some good investments which basically take care of my month to month needs. I do however fully understand some of the biggest challenges most entrepreneurs in the continent face such as access to funding and markets hence, we as SAWIL, are in the process of launching a fund to assist women entrepreneurs in the continent to take advantage of the level playing field that is 4IR.

Alaba: What are some of your biggest achievements since you launched SAWIL?

Seipati: Our decision to expand to South African Development Community (SADC) and the warm reception thus far. SAWIL Golf was launched in 2018 but has become a great pillar of the organization. The launch of our research based solution under #SAWILVision2030 and the inaugural launch of Southern African Women In Leadership Top 30 rising stars.

Alaba: Why do you think it’s important that we make equality a priority and what would women bring to the table that you think the world needs now?

Seipati: Research suggests that women in executive positions and on corporate boards can have a positive impact on a company’s performance, that diverse C-suites tend to yield higher margins, bigger profits, and better total return to shareholders.

At SAWIL, we are cognizant of the new wave of leadership that is illuminating the world: they are young, bold, smart, fluid, disruptive, global citizens who have mastered the art of collaboration. As part of the #SAWILVision2030 campaign, rather than using traditional models, we invite women to be part of a new, more collaborative approach to leadership. Rakhi Voria once said “While we may be individually strong, we are collectively powerful.”

In this age of disruption, we cannot continue to sit on the side-lines and wait for someone to invite us to the table. I want to encourage women today to take their power back and start putting their money where their mouth is. There’s a generation of young women rising. They are fearless, intelligent, bold, entrepreneurial and overall global trendsetters. But even these women do not yet fully own their power.

Women continue to be discriminated against and their contributions undervalued, they work more, earn less and have fewer choices about their bodies, livelihood and future than men. But what if we realised our power and influence and used it accordingly and where it matters most?

#SAWILVision2030 is a decade long campaign calling on all women to be at the forefront of creating women empowered workplaces, where equality, diversity and inclusion are not mere conversations in boardrooms full of white males, a few men of colour and a woman here and there. We need to put our money where our mouth is. Be intentional about where you bank, buy your car, house, which medical aid you use, which insurance company you’re with, where you buy your phone(gadgets), clothes, food, which service provider you are with, schools etc.

This is a call for all women to take action. What most companies have done very well is to appoint just enough women into entry level jobs, mid management and somewhat senior management but decision making roles are locked and the glass ceiling only has a few cracks here and there. Ours is to shutter it!!! The time for women to stand together is now.

Alaba: As we celebrate the International Women’s Day 2020, what are your expectations?

Seipati: My expectations are the same as the past decade or longer. We need more women in decision making roles. Corporate or business must step up and make gender parity or equality, diversity and inclusion part of their strategy. Our economies depend on it!

Alaba: What’s the future for SAWIL and what steps are you taking towards achieving it?

Seipati: To be at the forefront of leadership transformation and gender equality initiatives across Southern Africa. We have the strategy and are ready to serve. What we need is for the private sector to open its doors. We will not stop knocking until we see change.

Alaba: How do you feel as an African entrepreneur?

Seipati: I am very excited at the prospects of the future. There is an uprising happening. Young, woke African entrepreneurs are emerging everywhere and they are ready to maximize on the opportunities the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) presents. We are no longer just beneficiaries. We are innovators, disrupters and pioneers!

Alaba: Kindly give a piece of advice for aspiring female leaders reading this.

Seipati: Self-leadership is the foundation of excellence. Take time to invest in yourself. Growth and change are constants on this journey, so practice patience and compassion at all times. Remember, no one is going to hand you anything – get up, grind and get what’s yours. We don’t get what we deserve; we get what we ask for. If there is no seat at the table, create your own table.

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

B I O G R A P H Y

Seipati Mokhuoa is a seasoned professional with over 10 years’ experience in the Financial Services industry. She built her way up in the banking sector as a teller, multiskilled consultant and builds her way up. And later transitioned to the Insurance sector where the vast majority of her responsibilities involved providing leadership and strategy in terms of the execution of the larger organization’s strategy, sales and productivity, budget control, people management, stakeholder relations (internal and external), operational support, innovation, infrastructure, HR and IT.

In 2018, she took a bold step to change careers and began to position herself to take full advantage of the opportunities presented by 4IR. A passionate strategist and innovator by nature, the digital marketing space appealed to her and presented various opportunities she believes will shape and change the face of marketing in the African continent.

Seipati is a serial and passionate social entrepreneur who believes that the “future of work” is going to unlock greater opportunities for young African entrepreneurs and innovators. Currently pursuing a Masters/Msc in Innovation and Entrepreneurship, she aims to encourage and empower more young people to take entrepreneurship seriously and take advantage of the opportunities that lie ahead.

Photo credit: Tendai Mhlanga

Clothes supplied by: On Point By T Fashion 

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Erica Tavares: Passionate About A Greener, Better Future

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Erica Tavares is an Environmentalist, Co-Founder and Executive Director at EcoAngola. A 100% bootstrapped startup increasing awareness of the civil society, local government and policy makers regarding local and world environmental problems, conservation and sustainability whilst trying to creatively find realistic solutions to tackle these problems. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, she shares her sojourn in to climate change advocacy, social entrepreneurship and EcoAngola journey. Excerpt.

Alaba: Could you briefly tell us about what sparked the launch of EcoAngola?

Erica: EcoAngola was founded by me and two other Angolans, Paulo Pizarro and Leonardo Pizarro. We did not know each other until the day I received a call from Paulo, days before graduating from my Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Biology. He shared their idea about launching a philanthropic project that would promote environmental conservation and sustainability in Angola, which immediately raised my interest.

He explained that they had been looking for partners for quite some time but were unsuccessful. Although some people expressed interest to join the initiative, none of them actually had the energy, time and passion to develop the idea of EcoAngola from scratch, because it was time consuming and without any immediate return. They were looking preferentially for a young and enthusiast person, with a background in biology or an environment related field, because none of them had much experience or further understanding about the subject, besides being conscious about the world ecological crisis we are currently living and the critical environmental problems in Angola.

Being born and raised in Angola, I have always been connected to nature. After concluding high school, I then decided to study biology, and that was the start of my journey through environmentalism. Studying biology and environmental science, made me extremely aware of how important initiatives such as EcoAngola are to make a positive change in developing countries.

So, EcoAngola was really the kind of organization that I have always imagined myself working with but never thought that I would be part of it so early, as Executive Director, and that it would grow so fast and become so relevant, as it is right now.

Alaba: What is the main focus of your startup and the gap it’s filling? 

Erica: Angola is a resource rich country, with vast land and diverse ecosystems. However, the country faces various environmental challenges, such as deforestation, desertification, draught, soil erosion, loss of biodiversity and pollution. The climate change, population growth, poverty and lack of environmental education programmes, aggravate the problem and accelerate the degradation of the ecosystems, with serious economic, social and environmental consequences.

The main focus of EcoAngola is to increase awareness of the civil society, local government and policy makers regarding local and world environmental problems, informing and educating about environmental conservation and sustainability whilst trying to creatively find realistic solutions to tackle these problems. We write articles on relevant environmental topics and publish them on our website (ecoangola.com) and social media.

We also organize events and campaigns such as beach cleanings and reforestation. We promote discussions involving experts from the public and private sector, within the Angolan community, so that we could start finding solutions that are best adapted to our reality and that could serve as a basis to develop new national environmental policies. We also noticed that there was no collaboration between existent environmental organisations, so we started supporting and collaborating with other environmental organisations and related initiatives, building bridges between all of them, and working for the common good.

Unity is very important if we want societal change to happen, particularly because the country is so big and the initiatives are so few that it is easy to assume that nothing is being done and a lot of these initiatives actually die due to insufficiency of collaboration in our society.

Alaba: How are you funding your startup?

Erica: So far, we have been mostly funded by ourselves. Human capital is actually the biggest treasure we have, and the volunteers who continue to join our organisation are the ones catalysing the fast growth of EcoAngola. There is an incredible amount of ideas that we could implement and that would have a great impact, but we have now prioritised environmental education and awareness initiatives, because they build the foundation of consciousness and drive the change of mindset and attitude.

We started recruiting volunteers, most of them young university students, who do not have much working experience, giving them some exposure and the opportunity to contribute and be part of the EcoAngola team. I usually say: “we are growing together”. Our campaigns and events are normally supported and funded byvarious organizations that collaborate with us. For example, for our first beach cleaning campaign, each partner organisation made a different contribution, from water, to gloves, bags, the trash collection and disposal.

We will soon be able to receive donations and funding for our events, campaigns and projects, but we also stand to our values, so will not accept funding from companies that consistently damage the environment and promote green washing. Financial support will help us to expand our project and have a much broader and bigger impact.

Also Read: Volunteering For An Inclusive Future

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

Erica: One of our biggest challenges is definitely funding, as this limits us on the implementation of our projects. In the short term, we are prioritizing the ideas and projects that need the least financing and that can have the greatest impact.This has worked well so far and has made EcoAngola progress and grow faster than we anticipated.

Another challenge is the difficulty to recruit and maintain volunteers motivated because there is no financial motivation and no immediate results.

To motivate our volunteers, we give credit to their work, offer certificates of appreciation and give recognition for their dedication to EcoAngola. I feel that the progress of EcoAngola itself has been a self-motivation for the entire team of volunteers working with us. We also try to constantly show some of the positive changes that are already happening as a result of the collective effort of our volunteers.

Lastly, we noticed that most people assume that EcoAngola is an enormous, well-funded organisation because of our mobilization and online presence – but we are not. We have a small executive team, a team of volunteers that help to coordinate our campaigns, events and activities, and a group of volunteers that write articles on relevant topics.

Alaba: How does your startup measure it’s impact?

Erica: We measure our impact from the feedback we receive about our articles, events and activities, through the number of people visiting our website and engaged through social media, the growing number of people that want to join our Green Movement (environmental awareness initiative), the growing number of people and organizations that want to work or partner with EcoAngola, and through the societal and governmental behaviour change we notice.

We have also noticed an increase in the amount of similar initiatives and the changes that happen with the people who join us. There is more hope and therefore, more energy that transcends society and makes us believe that we are causing a positive and material impact.

Alaba: What is the future of EcoAngola?

Erica: I am a dreamer and I consider myself to be farsighted. I imagine EcoAngola expanding to all of Angola with several environmental and social projects being developed. I believe that we can have a great impact in the future of Angola and Africa, especially when it comes to tackling pollution, poverty, biodiversity conservation and climate change.

We are starting with the foundation of development, which is education, but we aim to really influence public policy and build a more sustainable and ecological way of thinking for the entire nation. For our Green Movement, we aim to reach at least 100,000 people in the next 2 years. It will be a long process, but the hardest part is behind us already, which is to start.

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

Erica: By raising environmental awareness in Angola, I strongly believe that we can give an example to other nations that sustainable development can be a reality. It is hard to do it, especially because the Angolan economy is based on oil and gas production and exports, but I believe it is feasible and realistic. We are considering expanding the EcoAngola project to other African nations, starting with the Portuguese speaking first.

We need to leave the theory and start practicing, adapt the challenges that we face with our reality, and implement creative and sustainable solutions. We have enough information and understanding about what the ecological crisis can do the life on earth and a base of sustainable actions that we can use to change that. So, we need to act, and we need to act now.

Alaba: How do you feel as an African social entrepreneur?

Erica: I feel very proud of myself for taking the first step and being bold and fearless. I really appreciate the support and trust that our volunteers have on me. I admire everyone who joins us in this wonderful project, because that means that just like me, they have hope and they do believe that we can make the world a better place. It has to start with us, otherwise, who will do it?

This is one of the questions I ask myself, when things get harder. I imagine how the future will be, if we continue to make Angola a more sustainable and fair country to live. I am actually the youngest one in the Team, I am only 22 years old and they believed in me since day one, and have given me the chance to show what I am capable of doing. This boosted my confidence and I believe in myself and I believe in us more than anything.

One of the best feelings ever is to watch change happen and this makes me believe even more in EcoAngola. It is always a good feeling when I am able to mobilize and recruit new people into volunteering, and when I can show them that we can all do better, even if there is no direct reward given to us. Little by little, step by step we can do greater things, together.

It has been a challenge to do all of this, while I am still studying far away from Angola, and also working to sustain myself.

Alaba: What is your advice for government, social entrepreneur and investors in Africa?

Erica: My advice is that we need to build solid bridges of communication and participation between government, social entrepreneurs, investors, research institutions and civil society. There is so much that needs to be done and so many things with a huge potential that could help us bring positive changes, such as ecotourism, for example. We need to leave the word ‘potential’ behind and we need to use that potential for the good, for growth, for sustainable prosperity.

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

Erica: At this moment I am studying a Master’s in Ecology and Evolution, I work part-time at a restaurant, and I am a mobilizer for ReGenesis, a platform and community for global support in local actions through art activism- so it has been really challenging to manage my time with my professional and student life with my relaxing time. But I am the type of person that believes in balance. I maintain my physical and mental health stable. I used to read more sci-fi books, but now I am more focused into motivating myself because of the challenges I face daily.

I am currently reading the book ‘Originals’ by Adam Grant which was a Christmas gift – it has been an easy read because I have actually been connecting a lot with the theory shared in this book, especially the part about believing in ourselves. Because I am doing a Master’s in research, I spent most of my reading time reading research papers which I find interesting and mostly fascinating for new discoveries in the world of science, particularly ecology.

B I O G R A P H Y

Erica TavaresEnvironmental Biology graduate, currently studying a Master’s of Research in Ecology and Evolution. Passionate about people, nature and science, particularly because they provide us tools to understand the world. Using the knowledge I am gaining for fair biodiversity and human rights.

My mission is to raise awareness about environmental exploitation and degradation, promoting sustainability and environmental conservation. To accomplish that, I have co-founded and now direct EcoAngola. I am also a mobilizer for ReGenesis, a platform and community for global support in local actions through art activism.

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Women in Tech: Interview With Anna Collard, Founder Popcorn Training – A KnowBe4 Company

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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. 

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

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