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4IR in Africa: Technology Innovation, Women and Young People at the Fore

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Kate Krukiel is Managing Director of Sera Afrika based in Nairobi, Kenya. Her work with the United Nations at Microsoft, driving policy through data across Africa with Sera Afrika and facilitating the newly formed UN Digital Solutions Centre for shared innovation across the UN family, has spanned the Middle East and Africa, focusing on private and public sector partnerships, non-profits, the UN and civil society groups to break down political, social, and language barriers in creating lasting technological change in emerging markets. In this interview with Heath Muchena of Business Africa Online, Kate explores tech, women empowerment, business leadership and work-life balance, amongst others.

Heath: Africa has the largest concentration of young people in the world. How can private-public partnerships and policy help youth take a right-first approach to digital transformation and how should businesses in Africa define a digital transformation process?

Kate: With young people representing over 65% of the population in Africa, we should focus on them for opportunities for digital transformation and growth. It’s exciting to note that we can leapfrog ahead exponentially in business areas from finance, mobile access to Agtech, opening new markets, new jobs and new job types. Given current technology constraints in Africa, we need to focus on access to affordable connectivity to access such e-services and enable new and growing businesses to participate online. Africa still has the most expensive Internet access on the globe – and this must change.

Heath: Is Africa ready for the transformative change the 4IR brings and the impact on businesses across the continent? How can private-public partnerships and ICT leaders to foster this change?

Kate: Of course! Africa is ready for a giant leap into accelerating growth. It countries and tech counterparts have the resources to do this. But there are a few barriers to getting there, including more maturity in technology infrastructure and skill development in these new areas of innovation. While there has been progress in eliminating the digital divide (people with no access to smart devices and the Internet), there is much more to be done there.

Connectivity, trade and collaboration between countries, accurate policies to allow this growth are just a few areas that need advancement. The majority of consumers are youth who are under-skilled without relevant jobs available in the digital economy. For this we need to work with governments and organizations create new types of jobs, build capacity and modernize fragmented policies to enable this growth.

Heath: What do you think is the best part of being a woman leader in the tech industry and what advice would you give to women looking to break into the tech field?

Kate: Being the only woman in my computer science university class at Mary Washington College to moving into a world where I’m working with 95% men, it’s all I know. I am lucky in that I was raised with strong and supportive male figures who gave me a good foundation for this field. 

The best part of being a woman leader in tech is knowing that women have the inherent characteristics of collaboration and inclusion. Mapping these female strengths to technical capabilities and digital innovation and knowledge makes me unique.  The second-best part is, at this time, knowing that I am and must be a role model for other women moving into this career path.  We don’t have enough women in tech as thought leaders and movers and shakers! 

I mentor my staff, my teams and interns but also, I choose to create open dialogue and spaces for fellow women to get guidance – this is incredibly important.  My advice? – get mentors.  Surround yourself with strong women and men that possess skillsets and characteristics that you need.

Heath: How do you maintain work-life balance and what are your views on goals, timelines, and measuring success?

Kate: Work life balance means something different to everyone you ask. We have different times when we’re productive or not – we have different priorities in life and at work. To me, having flexibility in my days to do things like avoiding the traffic or going on walks to clear my brain are important. 

I’m a morning person and the first thing I do is make a list, for the week (on Sunday) and for each day. That keeps me on track with timelines, to set clear goals, long term and short, but also know my own balance. I’m a big fan of having events, launches or a moment in time to mark progress and this offers milestones for commitments and results. I’ll be at my desk at 6 a.m. and be on a walk at 9.

Heath: How important is it to be exposed to all areas of the business in order to be an effective leader within your Sera Afrika business?

Kate: Incredibly. From the very basics of using advice from Oprah Winfrey to always ‘sign your checks’ (transparency) down to understanding the different leadership styles my directors have and how they differ and augment mine, to sectors we work across and to the talent that we possess.  Every organization is a machine of moving parts and I don’t need to understand the deepest aspect of each, but general knowledge core areas of business is key.

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

Kate: I need to be me – which means I need humour in each day, I need transparency and honesty, passion and hard work.  I’m a very flexible leader in that I don’t need my team to be in the office when I am but allow them to work in the best method and manor for each of them, as I do too.  This creates trust, as we work hard and value each other.

Most important? Value our commitment to growing and changing lives.  At the end of the day, if we aren’t having fun while trying to change the world, we are doing something wrong.  The Kate you see at the office will be the same Kate you see on the weekend.

Kate Krukiel

Heath: In your experience, what is the key to developing a good team and how do you manage performance?

Kate: One thing I learned years ago during my first management role is that you must know what motivates members of your team in order to build a good relationship. Knowing their passions and strengths, at work and out of work.

I don’t agree that work and personal life should be separate. I found out one of my interns is an artist (as well as a wonderful lawyer).  When we needed art for our office, I called her. Now our office is full of personal touches. For managing performance, setting clear objectives, understanding work styles and allowing employees to have ownership and flexibility, plus having regular check ins.

Heath: How far has Sera Afrika gone with its digital transformation?

Kate: As a policy tech start-up, we’re able to begin from a different place. In addition, having a leadership team that has been entrenched in technology for a collective 70 years, we fully understand the power but also the enabler that technology must be in changing the lives of Africans.

Visit: Sera Afrika

 

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Logistics

Digitalization in logistics – A user’s experience

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Geraldine Mamburu, Founder & MD PDQ Logistics (Source: Geraldine Mamburu)

In some cultures, children are sometimes named after events that would have taken place close to or during their birth.  Jokes around naming children Quarantine Buthelezi, Social-distance Moyo, or Pandemic Ndlovu, were circulating in 2020 and made for a good laugh, however, one couple in India took this a little too seriously and named their twin boy and girl, Corona and Covid.

Looking back, I do not recall ever coming across a proposal to name children after any of the variations around the word digital, after all, every second Point of View that was being released was around digitalization and digital transformation. It got me thinking, and realised that a lot of these terminologies are thrown about in the corporate space, but what does this actually mean to the end-user? How does the user interact, make use of, and appreciate digitalization?

Being in the logistics space has found me interacting with a lot more digital platforms over and above e-commerce, social media, and the all-so-dreaded-virtual-meeting platforms. My favourite most convenient app (which is currently the best thing ever since sliced bread in my books) has got to be Truck Fuel Net (TFN). TFN offers a cloud-based, real-time software management solution that helps me manage all my on-road refuelling and driver spend needs. Given that the bulk of operational costs in road freight is fuel, one must have their finger on the pulse and be on the constant lookout for the best price, over and above monitoring driver efficiency. The TFN Management system helps me decide, where, when, and how much the driver can refuel.

Sidebar – I’ve been driving a Ford Kuga 1.6 AWD for a few years (NB: No fire starter jokes allowed) and for such a small engine, that car can chow fuel – I’m talking 11 – 12km/100! I never used to fill up because it was painful watching all that money go down the drain. When I filled up the truck for the first-time round, let’s just say I needed to sit down because I felt a little dizzy.

Every day, we transport goods worth millions of Rands. It goes without saying that the safety and security of the driver, the goods we carry, as well as the trucks themselves, is of paramount importance. TFN’s solutions enable us to run a cashless operation. In the road freight sector, cargo, equipment, and increasingly drivers, are all targets for criminals and if we can take one incentive out of the equation, the better off we are.

Whilst on cashless operations, I would like to give SANRAL a standing ovation. Now, now, before your eyes roll all the way to the back of your head, let me just say that we might have qualms as “Gautengers” about how they went about the e-toll saga, but their app is such a lifesaver! With an e-tag fitted on the vehicle, I can manage my account quickly and securely. The app works in real-time, allowing me to be kept informed of my spend on vehicles. And lo and behold when I do forget to top up (because …you know …admin), I immediately get a notification the moment my funds are depleted, allowing me to top up immediately whilst the truck is still on route, contributing to a seamless operation. Well done SANRAL. Sometimes the government does get it right …sometimes.

The South African logistics sector contributes about 12% towards the GDP, according to Stellenbosch University and the World Bank. Of that percentage, approximately ¾ is attributed to road freight alone. With such modestly generous figures, it’s encouraging to see various organisations come up with digitally inspired solutions to cater to this industry.

This brings me to my most used platforms, Car Track and Tracker. I can only assume that before the advancement in technology, one must have had to have a great deal of faith, composure, and trust. Not to say that we no longer require these skills, but the ability to log onto these apps and be able to get real-time updates on the exact location of a customer’s goods in transit certainly prevents a blood vessel or two from popping (in the event that you cannot reach the driver.) As for Google Maps, it goes without saying, that this is the backbone of my interaction with these tracking platforms.

There are a bunch of other digital platforms such as Linebooker that I am still to explore as the business continues to grow. However, it’s been interesting to know that before we start thinking self-driven trucks (think of that one scene from Terminator, were the machine is operating the truck…but I digress) and other seemingly complex technological advancements aimed at this industry, there are still digital channels that make the day to day operations in logistics that much easier.

What other digital platforms are you using or have you heard off that have made a world of a difference in the logistics space?

Article by: Geraldine Mamburu, Founder & MD PDQ Logistics

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Technology

Three African-American Female Engineers Who Changed Our World

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Image source: Pexels

The fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) produce innovation that drives us forward as a species. Despite the fact that women and people of color have often been at the forefront of new discoveries, their representation within the STEM fields is historically low.

As culture progresses in understanding toward the value of a diverse workforce, those seeking out the future leaders of STEM are reaching out to underrepresented populations – specifically, women and people of color. One such outreach is ‘Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day’, a global campaign established by the National Society of Professional Engineers.

The event, which takes place this February 25, is run by teachers, volunteers, and STEM professionals, and includes engaging engineering-based learning activities that encourage young women to develop problem solving skills and indulge their interest in science and engineering.

The road to their future success was paved by the intrepid women who came before them, including these three remarkable African-American female engineers:

  • Kimberly Bryant: Seeking to create an inclusive technology learning space for young women of color, Ms. Bryant created the not-for-profit coding camp Black Girls Code. As of late 2019, the organization has 15 chapters, and Ms. Bryant has been recognized as a White House Champion of Change for Tech Inclusion as well as one of 2013’s 25 Most Influential African Americans in Technology.
  • Dr. Patricia Bath: An early pioneer of laser surgery for cataract treatment, Dr. Bath was the first female member of the Jules Stein Eye Institute, the first female African-American surgeon at UCLA Medical Center, and the first female leader of a postgraduate ophthalmology training program.
  • Alice Parker: A housewife from New Jersey, Mrs. Parker developed and filed a patent for a gas-powered central heating system inspired by cold coastal winters. Her filing came before both the Women’s Liberation Movement and the Civil Rights Movement, a remarkable achievement for an African-American woman during her time.

More stories of African-American female engineers and  female leadership in engineering can be seen here:

To discover more about Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, visit NSPE online.

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Press Release

North Ladder Secures $5 Million Series A Financing Round To Accelerate Global Expansion

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North Ladder Team (Source: Siddharth Sudhakar)

North Ladder (previously called BuyBack Bazaar), a UAE based secured trading platform for pre-owned luxury assets and electronics, today announced a $5 million Series A funding round led by regional venture capital firm BECO Capital. The new investment will help the company scale up its technology platform, enhance customer experience and pursue further geographic expansion.

The homegrown start-up also revealed that it will begin operating under the new brand name North Ladder effective immediately, representing the company’s strategy of charting new markets and supporting individuals across the globe in their endeavour to elevate their financial situation. The disruptive and innovative technology platform is the first of its kind, providing access to verified buyers of second-hand goods and instant cash. North Ladder currently enables users to sell electronics such as phones, laptops, tablets, and smart watches, as well as luxury assets including watches and cars, with a unique option of buying it back within a few months.

The Series A financing builds on an exceptional year for North Ladder which saw rapid growth of its clients, network of buyers and corporate partnerships. To date, the platform has witnessed over 15,000 transactions in the UAE, with over 85 different nationalities served while earning an impressive 4.9/5 customer satisfaction rating. In 2021, the start-up is looking to establish its presence in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States, with a focus on scaling the platform significantly in the next 18 to 24 months.

“North Ladder has demonstrated tremendous success with its unique model of helping customers access immediate funds against their assets. The provision of a seamless and trusted digital platform for the sale of pre-owned goods has immense socially transformative potential at a global scale. We are excited about partnering with them to take their services to the next level,” said Dany Farha, CEO & Managing Partner, BECO Capital.

The company recently appointed Sandeep Shetty, former Managing Director of the core ride hailing business at Careem, as Cofounder and Chief Executive Officer of North Ladder. Prior to Careem he also led the digital transformation program at Emirates NBD and has held leadership positions at McKinsey & Company and GE Capital across India, the United States and the Middle East. Sandeep joins the leadership team of co-founders Pishu Ganglani and Ricky Husaini who together bring years of prior global start-up, financial services, technology and operations experience.

“Our exciting partnership with the region’s leading investor BECO Capital gives us the opportunity to scale operations in the UAE and expand to other strategic markets, with the mission of meaningfully impacting people across all strata of society,” said Sandeep Shetty of North Ladder. “Our global auction brings professional buyers from around the world to compete and provide local customers with the best prices and no hidden surprises.”

Since its launch in 2018, North Ladder has been recognized as one of the “Top 5 innovative start-ups in the MENA region” by PayPal backed accelerator, Village Capital and awarded as an Innovator by Entrepreneur Middle East.

 

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