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Impact of Tech on Education and Business in Africa: Interview with Rapelang Rabana, Founder Rekindle Learning

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Rapelang Rabana is the founder and chair of Rekindle Learning, a learning tech company that explores the role of technology and the latest learning pedagogues that improve learning efficiency and reduce time to competency, ensuring higher workforce productivity and enabling young people to be more employable. She is also a board member of Imagine Worldwide which seeks to demonstrate that children, with personalized technology in their hands, can become literate and numerate with little to no adult instruction. Here are excerpts from an exclusive interview with Heath Muchena of Business Africa Online.

Heath: Obviously you have a passion for education. How did you conceive the idea of Rekindle Learning and what informs your vision for the business?

Rapelang: The first time I started thinking about learning tools that could adapt to how we learn and support our learning until we demonstrate mastery, was in high school at about 15 years of age. Back then it was more of a frustration with the process of education and the inefficiencies that plague it and until a few years ago I didn’t know that it would actually become a business.

Heath: Can you also share the initiatives you’re involved with at Imagine Worldwide?

Rapelang: Imagine Worldwide has undertaken the ambitious goals of proving the efficacy and impact of autonomous learning – the role that smart applications can play in enabling young children to become literate and numerate. While such technologies have been in use for some time, the body of evidence on results, over time, is limited. And in order for such programs to gain traction, government support and more funding, the impact needs to be statistically proven. This is the mission of Imagine through its research in Malawi and other countries, with children in school, out of school and those that have never been to school.

Heath: Is Africa ready for the exponential nature of the change that 4IR will bring and its impact?

Rapelang: Without addressing the skills challenge, the African continent will not be ready for exponential change. My view is that we need to focus on how we develop people to be adaptable and responsive to change. We need to evolve education and training to build the underlying functions and capabilities that enable adaptability.

Heath: Many jobs are threatened by redundancy in the next wave of industrialisation, however, existing jobs are expected to go through step-changes in the skill sets required to perform them. How should businesses or government facilitate relevant skills and knowledge acquisition to unlock future opportunities for workers?

Rapelang: Organisations can be very proactive in mapping out the capabilities and competencies required in future. There are innovative startups that are designed specifically to partner with corporates to develop the pipeline of data scientists or software developers, but retraining existing staff and training up young people in the right skills. But this requires a long term outlook, and most companies only decide to act too late.

The reality is that senior leadership is not adequately incentivised for the long term, and skills development and retraining is a long term play. Given the short term incentive structures of most companies, it remains significantly easier to simply retrench and automate when the time comes.

Government can better assist but moving much faster on the recognition and accreditation of new competencies. Right now, the SETA’s are not keeping up with the new skills demand. Yet, at the same time, companies’ skills development levies and tax rebates are tied up with the SETA process, so companies are not able to use these incentives towards addressing the new skills required

Heath: What can you tell us about your experience as WEF’s Young Global Leader and your role as a Member of WEF’s Global Future Council on Entrepreneurship?

Rapelang: What I came to appreciate about such opportunities is that there are billions of people in the world and to have been able to sit down with a group of like-minded people that have been so expertly filtered – and who are brilliant in everything they do – gave me the chance to jump into conversations that just hit right on target in terms of what I was thinking, where I needed input, where I needed support.

These are people who think as big as you want to think. The beauty of the experience was working with such high-level people and yet everyone’s guard is down and you are able to engage very intimately, very honestly. I also loved the fact that the agenda is open as it’s ultimately a self-managed community trying to pinpoint what we wanted to contribute to this agenda and what we as young leaders of the world can do and how we can use our individual brands, networks and voices to lobby and push for change.

The platform the forum offers is also invaluable to me in trying to grow my business endeavours and effect the change I so desperately want to see on our continent.

Rapelang Rabana

Heath: What are some of the initiatives you’ve worked on or currently involved with?

Rapelang: As part of the Global Future Council on Entrepreneurship, we have just released a report where I focused my attention on more effective ways to deliver entrepreneurship education and training.I was also part of the Thabo Mbeki Foundation working group on education where we also produced a report on interventions required in education and shared our thoughts with Thabo Mbeki at a Heavy Chef.

Heath: Digitisation is more than just a technology trend. What immediate action can companies take to keep up with the pace of change? How can IT management create a sense of urgency to achieve responsiveness from the business? 

Rapelang: Not all parts of an organisation are ready for change and to drive innovation. It’s important to identify the pockets of potential innovation in a large organization, that have the right culture, progressive leaders, and the digital skills to run projects and give them room and resources to focus on priority projects, beyond business as usual. You can only start the journey with small focused teams that over time build momentum that spill over into the rest of the organization, but you need to give them room to germinate.

The biggest mental block that dilutes the focus and sense of urgency to digitise, is that people still separate addressing the business challenges from the digitization strategy, almost as if technology or innovation is a nice extra that we will get to. As if there is the ‘real business’ and the ‘technology stuff’. Until people across the organization actually see digitization as fundamental to solving their business challenges, there won’t be an urgency.

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

Heath: Africa has the largest concentration of young people in the world. How can the youth take a right-first approach to digital transformation and technology? How should businesses in Africa define a digital transformation process that serves the needs of its growing pool of consumers on the continent?

Rapelang: The kinds of innovations that are going to serve and address the needs of the consumers on this continent, will be the kind of ‘new market’ innovations that Clayton Christensen talks about in the book, Prosperity Paradox. These are innovations that are simple and affordable, target underserved markets, create new value chains, new jobs and bring in a whole new segment into the economy. Startups like SweepSouth, LiveStock Wealth and Yoco fall into this category.

These kinds of startups are digital natives, and the term ‘digital transformation’ is moot in that context.The reality is that established businesses, mostly focus on sustaining and efficiency innovations that improve their current product and services, and reduce their operating costs. These kinds of innovations enable the established business further optimise around their existing core business, which makes business sense and very rarely is a shift to a new market successful because the business is optimise for a different context.

To serve the growing pool of consumers of the continent, we need to ensure that innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystems are working, so new startups with new market innovations can thrive. Corporates can participate by investing in those but ensure they continue to operate independently so they optimise around the new market they are serving.

Rekindle Learning

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Trueflutter – Matchmaking App for singles of African descent: Interview with Trueflutter’s Co-Founder, Dare Olatoye

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Trueflutter’s Co-Founder, Dare Olatoye

Trueflutter is a matchmaking app built for single Africans on the continent and in diaspora, in search of committed, fulfilling relationships. An online community of Single Africans in search of something real, make genuine and authentic connections. The App takes you beyond surface appearances with the use of audio bios to hear what a person sounds like and what’s important to them even before you connect. In this interview, Alaba Ayinuola speaks with Trueflutter’s Co-Founder, Dare Olatoye on his experience growing a Matchmaking brand, successes and challenges in Africa. Excerpt.

 

Alaba: Could you briefly tell me about yourself, business and the gap it’s filling?

Dare: My name is Dare Olatoye, I’m the co-founder of Trueflutter which is a matchmaking app for Africans on the continent and in diaspora

Alaba: What’s the inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for Trueflutter?

Dare: My sister got married for the first time when she was 47 years old. She met a great guy and they have a beautiful family. The interesting thing is that the person she married lived just 15 minutes away from her and had also been searching for a partner for many years.

Thinking about that, I realized this was a problem that technology could solve, which is why my brother and I set out to build Trueflutter.

Our vision is to provide a platform where single Africans can easily connect with highly compatible partners.

Alaba: What makes your brand USP stand out and how has the market responded to your products?

Dare: The major challenge people have with online dating is that most of the profiles have sparse or superficial information. Our platform helps you get a much deeper insight into a potential match with the use of Audio Bios and responses to carefully thought out prompts.

Alaba: How long has Trueflutter been in business?

Dare: We launched the MVP in September 2018 and had over 15,000 users sign up. That helped us gain valuable user insight which we built into the current version that was launched in January 2021.

Alaba: What are the key initiatives for the success of the business and great accomplishments?

Dare: To us success simply boils down to assembling a great team at Trueflutter and building a great community around the product. This means the most important thing we can do is listen to our users and ensure our product continues to evolve based on their feedback.

Alaba: Kindly share your most difficult moment in business and what did you learn?

Dare: Our founding team has always been very goal driven and when we set targets, we drive ourselves incredibly hard to achieve them. We had set a goal to launch the new platform on January 8th 2021 and had all our promotional partners ready to go.

However we experienced a serious setback in timelines with our development and ideally should have postponed the launch date, but we literally worked 18 hour days to still meet the timeline.

Unfortunately we launched prematurely, with quite a number of bugs on the platform. We have since resolved these but that premature launch meant we lost many of the early adopters of the platform. The major lesson is that it’s okay to release a product that is not yet perfect, with the caveat that users know it is still on beta (just like what Clubhouse did). Public launch dates should only be set when the platform has been stress tested by thousands of users and you know the user experience will be flawless.

Alaba: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected Trueflutter’s growth and/or the user experience?

Dare: I think online dating is one of those few industries that thrived because of the pandemic. We saw an 820% spike in activity on our platform and a 270% increase in organic downloads. Our voice and video call features are also now used by more people with duration of calls at an all time high.

Alaba: What’s your favourite feature of the App so far?

Dare: Hands down it’s the Audio Bio feature, which also lets you reply with a voice note to users you like. People don’t actually realize how much your voice says about you, and when they listen to someone’s audio bio, it helps them easily decide whether or not they want to connect.

Alaba: Where do you see your brand in the next 5 years?

Dare: As the primary platform where single Africans on the continent and in diaspora meet.

Alaba: How do you feel as an African entrepreneur?

Dare: I am incredibly proud to see what my peers on the continent are doing. Despite the challenges of funding and infrastructure, we are beating the odds to build incredible products that are solving real problems. And the rest of the world is sitting up to take notice.

Alaba: Finally, what advice would you give entrepreneurs and investors in your industry?

Dare: To entrepreneurs, I would say every challenge is teaching you something. Every investor that walks away from your pitch meeting without investing, does so for a reason and if you find out why, it will make you better prepared for the next pitch.

Every customer that leaves a bad review is communicating a problem that thousands of other users are also experiencing, so you shouldn’t take it personal but embrace the feedback with gratitude.

For investors looking at the online dating space, few people realize how profitable it could be until they start diving into the numbers. But they also need to realize that it’s a long game, and like most consumer tech products, needs to be approached from the perspective of a long term investment. Trueflutter has been very fortunate to attract these kinds of investors.

 

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Prudence Ramotso: The South African entrepreneur who turned her love for shoes into a brand

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Prudence Ramotso, Founder and CEO of PRUDENT (Source: Prudence Ramotso)

Prudence Ramotso is a South African young lady who is passionate about fashion and envisioned a different kind of a brand that cares about customers and offer high quality products services. She decided to follow her dreams by creating the brand PRUDENT. A brand with designs inspired by African names, Prudent Shoes is a South African Shoe Brand established in 2019 and manufactured by one of the best and finest stylish shoe makers in Italy. In this exclusive interview with Alaba Ayinuola, Prudence shares her entrepreneurship journey, the gap her brand is filling in the industry and the future. Excerpt.

 

Alaba: Could you briefly tell me about yourself and your brand?

Prudence: My name is Prudence Ramotso, I was born and raised in the Vaal (Sebokeng). I love shoes and fashion , I am ambitious and goal driven. I realized there was a gap in the South African female footwear when I was shopping around for shoes back in 2016, my entrepreneurial spirit couldn’t let this to rest. After my research in 2019 PRUDENT shoes was born, we offer what was missing in the market which is good quality shoes at affordable prices and shoes that have characters from the African names that are engraved on the outsoles.

Alaba: What inspired you to go into entrepreneurship and start Prudent?

Prudence: The rate of unemployment in South Africa increases daily and knowing that I have the ability to make a difference and create jobs in the future inspires me everyday. I took my love and passion for shoes and turned it into a brand that fills the gap in the female footwear industry. It started in my bedroom on my cell phone. I left my full time job as a financial advisor for an insurance company and gave birth to PRUDENT shoes in 2019 and I never looked back again.

Alaba: What makes your brand USP stand out and how has the market responded to your products?

Prudence: Our shoes are made of high quality material and attention to details (better workmanship). Our insoles are glued and stitched on, with our unique style names engraved on the outsoles. Like the brand name says PRUDENT, you take prudent steps when walking in our shoes, which means taking careful and calculated steps you think for the future.

The market response is very good, customers are happy with the quality and saying the shoes make them comfortable. Most customers say the shoes speak to them laughing.

Alaba: Any challenges so far since you launched early this year?

Prudence: The challenges we have is reaching a big scale of the market and getting the brand out there.

Alaba: In what way do you think the South African government can support entrepreneurs?

Prudence: Government must encourage localism, encouraging customers to “buy local” is a pillar of regional development strategies. There are products that are not manufactured in South Africa due to lack of suppliers, however they are South African brands and they make us a competitive country. Also, the government should give small businesses a real advantage in procurement policies and the process must be clear, protective and accessible to all small businesses.

Alaba: Where do you see your brand in 5 years?

Prudence: I see my brand growing and being the trusted female footwear brand in South Africa and in 10 year recognized globally. Also, as a brand helping fight the high rate of unemployment.

Alaba: How do you feel as an African entrepreneur?

Prudence: Being an African entrepreneur feels amazing at the same time is hard and exciting. We are 6 of the 10 fastest growing economies as Africa and the ease of doing business in Africa is improving to an extent that a good number of countries including South Africa, Ghana, Mauritius and Tunisia now outperform China, India, Brazil and Russia, we can say our future is bright as AFRICAN entrepreneurs.

Alaba: A little piece of advice to young and budding entrepreneurs out there?

Prudence: Believe in yourself and your dreams, it is true your network is your networth. Be persistent and never give up, start where you are with what you have and go for it. If you can imagine it , you can do it!

 

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Babusi Nyoni, the Zimbabwean Powering Africa’s Digital Health Economy with Sila Health

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Babusi Nyoni is the co-founder and CEO of Sila Health, a global social enterprise that helps people everywhere access healthcare on any mobile device. Sila Health provides last-mile health care access across Africa using chat platforms and machine learning, creating comprehensive datasets to advance regional healthcare. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola, Babusi shared the Sila Health journey and the vision to provide healthcare access to Africa’s most economically vulnerable. Excerpt.

 

How It Started

I started Sila Health in 2019 as an AI-powered health service after my mother fell ill in the Zimbabwean city of Bulawayo. Complications related to a relatively manageable condition (megaloblastic anemia) had gone misdiagnosed several times in the city’s under-resourced public health institutions, nearly costing her life until she sought private care.

Unfortunately her story is one of many across Africa where doctor-patient ratios are an average 1:5000 and low income levels mean quality healthcare is out of reach for many even as the continent’s internet growth and mobile payment adoption rates continue to outstrip the world. I saw an opportunity to connect millions of uninsured patients to healthcare providers on existing chat apps while helping them manage and find information on easily treatable conditions instantly on our platform just as my mother does.

Today we help thousands of Africans and their governments affordably bridge health gaps at scale and we are connecting the continent’s growing telemedicine industry to its first billion customers.

The Problem

Africa’s digital health infrastructure is not built to scale as millions struggle with accessing basic health and medical care through traditional methods. Currently online health advice is inaccessible to most of the region’s inhabitants as many online health-solutions are data-heavy and are not built with the context of the African user in mind while players in the healthcare ecosystem lack the real-time data insights needed to contain the spread of preventable diseases.

Additionally, Africa’s telemedicine industry is growing at a slower rate than its global counterparts. Many surveyed telemedicine platforms struggle with recruiting quality patients due to the high costs of acquisition. Existing patient management platforms lack the features needed to provide comprehensive and scalable patient aftercare.

The Solution

The Sila Health user-facing product is a chatbot that enables individuals in low income countries with limited access to healthcare and the internet to instantly obtain health advice that can help them significantly improve their health. If the automated interaction proves insufficient a user can make an appointment with a trained healthcare services  provider via phone. Our services require very little internet data, therefore are accessible to our target group and our integrated COVID-19 module that helps people see if they show symptoms of being infected with the COVID-19 virus.

Our chatbot is accessible via Facebook chat, WhatsApp and SMS. These platforms are very popular among our target groups and are accessible on the lowest data plan tiers. By having our product accessible via these platforms the user is able to have access to medical information with very little internet data costs. Other medical chatbots require expensive app-downloads and are generally inaccessible to users with low-incomes. Our product is built for low to middle income households first, and for that reason has gained significant  popularity with a 5/5 star rating and over 50% month over month growth. 

Data Product

Sila Trends, our data product, enables NGOs and governments to obtain real-time data on reported symptoms in the areas they preside over. Where currently health data is hard and expensive to access, our tool enables our clients to: 

  1. Quickly recognize breakouts of infectious diseases, which is crucial for a quick and informed response. 
  2. Follow general health trends real-time to better evaluate health policy. Understand what works and what doesn’t.
  3. Predict the future demand for health equipment and medication by locale.

Telemedicine Product

Lifeline, our data product, helps telemedicine platforms struggling with acquiring quality users by handling the triage process on WhatsApp, Messenger and SMS and referring only high-intent users to partners. Lifeline provides doctors with critical context on a patient’s history including their profile, reported symptoms and triage result. We also provide environmental context on common symptoms in the patient’s location powered by our analytics product, Sila Trends. This saves your practice time and money. Lifeline helps practices across Africa achieve the following

  1. Increase practice revenue by 12% 
  2. Reduce administrative costs by 30% 
  3. Increase quality of care by 5% through improving outcomes.

Prepaid Cover Product

HealthPass is a prepaid product that allows Africans living in the diaspora to pay for and provide world-class healthcare for their loved ones back home. Smarter than medical aid, fulfilled by verified healthcare practitioners, HealthPass members enjoy pharmacy perks, free delivery and more; all from less than the price of a Netflix subscription.

Benefits include: 

  1. Guaranteed medical & dental cover, members can explore a world of benefits with the HealthPass network of verified providers.
  2. A virtual pharmacy wallet that enables sponsors to automatically manage and pay for prescribed medications at no extra cost.
  3. Free country-wide prescription delivery for all members with medicine delivered directly to each doorstep.

B I O G R A P H Y 

Babusi Nyoni is the co-founder and CEO of Sila Health, a global social enterprise that helps people everywhere access healthcare on any mobile device. He uses emerging technology to develop sustainable solutions for communities in the global South. He founded Sila Health after identifying an opportunity for artificial intelligence to fill the institutional voids created by poor healthcare systems in developing economies. Babusi has a strong passion for new ideas that will change the lives of those around him and is a firm believer that African innovation will shape the technological zeitgeist worldwide.

Other Current Responsibilities;

His is an Innovation Consultant to UNHCR (Switzerland); helps drive innovation to assist and protect millions of refugees, returnees, internally displaced and stateless people. Technology Advisory Board Member at Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (UK); He advises the UK-based global foundation on Artificial Intelligence implementation at scale. Technology Advisory Board Member at UNDP Africa Leading the 4th Industrial Revolution Technical Advisory Group(UK); he provides technical advice and guidance for the Africa Leading 4IR portfolio of activities.

 

 

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