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.
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.
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.
Women in Tech: Interview With Anna Collard, Founder Popcorn Training – A KnowBe4 Company
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.
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Women in Tech: Interview With Tina Fisher, Co-founder & Growth CMO SnapnSave
Focus on economic empowerment digital innovations, diversity in tech and business leadership
Tina Fisher is the co-founder and growth chief marketing officer for SnapnSave. A seasoned business woman with extensive experience in pharmaceuticals, healthtech, financial services, and marketing services. Fisher’s exceptional knowledge of strategic marketing including product positioning, brand plan development, growth hacking and launch excellence within B2C and B2B sectors positions her as a leader in the space. Here are excerpts from an interview with Heath Muchena of Business Africa Online, author and founder of Block Patrol
Heath: Do you consider SnapnSave an economic empowerment technology and do you think we have enough customer-centric innovations dominating the tech industry?
Tina: We do consider SnapnSave as a tool to aid in economic empowerment of consumers. SnapnSave helps supplement and increase consumers’ purchasing power by making groceries more affordable. Every little bit helps in a country where the cost of bread has increased 200% more than inflation. Basic food items are becoming unaffordable and SnapnSave can help consumers’ money stretch farther by getting 5-25% cashback on items. Every little bit helps.
I don’t think that there are enough customer-centric tech innovations helping consumers with the increased cost of living.We welcome and would love to partner with other organisations that help augment and supplement the average South African’s income – the more in this sector, the better. There are plenty of fintech businesses in South Africa, but how many actually have an impact on consumer economic empowerment? On pay day there are still very long lines at ATMs and banks with people taking out their monthly wages in cash. Clearly not enough has been done to enable the average South African to manage their money digitally.
Heath: How important are PPC, SEO, social media, email, and newsletter marketing in driving growth for digital businesses?
Tina: The channels a business uses to drive growth should depend entirely on how the purchaser and/or the end user of the business consumes information. Good marketing practice dictates that you market your service or product using the channel that your intended audience or customer uses to consume information. Based on this, not all channels will be relevant, nor the best use of resources. Too often businesses rely on channels such as PPC to drive demand generation, however, its not the most efficient nor most cost-effective channel.
For SnapnSave, we’ve found that social media works best for growing our business. The best advertising is a user recommending our businesses to their friends and family. Our growth has come from customer retention and putting an emphasis on keeping our customers happy so that they endorse it to others.
Heath: At SnapnSave do you build your software in-house or do you outsource?
Tina: Our platform has been built in-house.
Heath: Women in the field of technology are definitely in the minority, so why did you decide to pursue a career in tech?
Tina: Since the early 00’s, I have been passionate about how tech can have an impact on consumer behaviour. Living in London during this time, I saw the impact that digital vouchers had on my own purchasing and shopping behaviour. This is how the idea for SnapnSave was born.
Heath: As one of the speakers at the Women in Tech event in Cape Town, do you think the public benefits from having female leaders to identify with the problem of equality and diversity?
Tina: Absolutely. Its not just about highlighting the lack of women and diversity in tech, but also to highlight the fact that we need more products and services geared towards women and other diverse populations. Overseas investors are looking to grow businesses that have an impact on society, and I think this is where tech is going to take us. It is going to create opportunities and solve problems for those that need it the most.
Heath: As someone in a management position, how have you found it best to promote and nurture women in the workplace?
Tina: I work with and mentor women just starting their careers and try to give them a sense of confidence that their voice should be heard. I try to show them that their different point of view is a blessing and gives them an edge up on their colleagues.
Heath: Do you think there is a diversity issue in the tech sector? Has it affected you in any way?
Tina: There needs to be more businesses and investors focused on supporting and growing companies that improve and enhance the lives of South African women and underrepresented population. Too often I am the only woman in the room having to convince a mostly male panel the impact that SnapnSave can have on a family’s life and the fact that the majority of South Africans are living hand to mouth and struggle to make ends meet.
The trend overseas is to invest in businesses that not only make profit, but also have a social impact. Given the difficulties that we have in South Africa, its important that we create and grow businesses that can have an impact on society. Having a more diverse pool of tech founders will create businesses that solve problems for a wider portion of society, thereby creating the norm that more businesses should have an impact on society.
Heath: What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about working in the Tech sector as a woman today?
Tina: The biggest misconception is that in 2020 the tech sector is diverse enough and we don’t need to focus on it anymore. Teams made of up diverse members i.e. different genders, races, cultures, backgrounds, etc foster the best environment for creativity. By looking at the same issue from different perspectives, creates the best possible situation to solve a problem.
Heath: What influences your leadership style and what values are important to you?
Tina: My team influences my leadership style. You can’t manage everyone the same way, as not everyone needs the same type of guidance or structure. Above all, I value passion and the desire to do a good job as essential traits for our new hires. Employees may not have had experience or education, but if they have the desire to do good work, then that attribute will make them an essential member of the team.
Heath: How important is it to be exposed to all areas of the business in order to be an effective leader within your business?
Tina: It’s really important to be exposed and involved in all aspects of the business which then helps inform your decisions, especially in a small business. If you understand other functional areas such as finance and operations, it allows you to make better decision on the direction of the business.
Women in Tech: Interview With Ellen Fischat, Founder Story Room and Inspiring Fifty SA Ambassador
Ellen Fischat is the Founder Story Room (Pty Ltd)
On inclusive digital transformation, effective business networking, women empowerment and diversity in tech
Ellen Fischat is the Founder Story Room (Pty Ltd) , a boutique innovation consultancy. She was the first managing director for The Silicon Cape Initiative and has previously held positions which include Business manager for Propella Business Incubator, the NMU Incubator in Nelson Mandela Bay and the Enterprise Development Manager for the SEDA NMB ICT Incubator. Ellen has a focus on social enterprises and technology and is involved in the mentorship of technology start-ups and volunteers in various community outreach programmes that focus on personal development, digital literacy and increasing employability of marginalized young women through STEM initiatives. Here are excerpts from an exclusive interview with Heath Muchena of Business Africa Online.
Heath: You are an advocate for the advancement of women in tech; what advice would you give to women looking to break into a predominantly male field?
Ellen: I would encourage women to not over think their desire to work in any male dominated field. It’s important that they find allies or mentors to help them navigate a male dominated environment, if they feel uncomfortable or not seen or treated as an equal. The highest paying jobs are the ones in male dominated environments and we should not allow our fear to take those opportunities away from us.
I’m not saying it’s an easy task, but we sometimes don’t realise how many other women are watching us, in support and admiration. Sometimes you just have to be your own hero.
Heath: As a speaker at the upcoming Women in Tech Conference in Cape Town on the importance of building a business network. Can you please share a few key takeaways?
Ellen: Building a successful venture is essentially about the ability to build strong, loyal and reciprocal relationships. Building a strong network is key to having access to information and opportunities. And when we are informed, we are able to make the right business decisions. The workshop will focus on sharing some of the lessons I have learned on how to establish these relationships and how to maintain them but also nurture them. No woman is an island.
And it’s not only about who you know, but actually who knows you. So, the more your name and work is raised in discussions in a positive light, the more credibility and trust you accumulate.
Heath: Has networking played a role in you achieving your career objectives?
Ellen: I have spent years networking full time. There was so much I needed and wanted to learn about business. That I made sure I was present wherever the networking happened. I also wanted to understand what the cool kids had that I didn’t. I also learned that when people see you on a regular basis, you establish rapport, then the networks start viewing you as “one of them”. It is more likely then, that they assume that you are trustworthy and are willing to engage with you. It doesn’t always mean that your presence leads to true collaboration, but it’s also a process to discover who you want to be associated with and work with.
I am a natural connector. I always see the benefit of connecting people with each other. So networking is a very important part of my business, but more importantly I focus on making deposits into my network, as opposed to only making withdrawals. Most people hate networking and it really is hard work investing in the people around you not knowing what the return will be. But practice makes the skill and art of networking easier. In fact I now prefer to attend networking sessions on my own, so that I am forced to engage with others, than stick to the people I already know.
Heath: What is that one advice for tech companies getting started with diversity and inclusion?
Ellen: That they need to accelerate the process that’s if they have even given the matter serious consideration. I would encourage senior executives and managers to speak to their existing minority groups of “diverse” staff and take their lead from them, as to how the company could execute more effective actions to recruit more diverse talent.
Diversity and inclusion should not be a negative and begrudged process in any 21st century organization. Rather it should be a welcomed and intentional execution of organisational strategy.
Heath: What would help women in tech become not only successful business leaders but effective motivators and change leaders?
Ellen: I think that female leaders have these aforementioned traits or represent them. But I do believe that we need to make these successful business leaders and effective motivators more visible and be more intentional about celebrating their successes. People can’t be what they can’t see. We need more visible role models. And women need to stop questioning their value and seeking external validation. It’s a recipe for disaster, rejection and becomes a negative self-fulfilling prophecy.
Heath: What influences your leadership style and what values are important to you?
Ellen: An intrinsic belief that we are honored to be viewed and acknowledged as leaders. It’s a huge responsibility that should not be taken lightly. And as leaders, the onus is on us, to serve the people we lead and are responsible for. I personally strive to surround myself with people that know more than I do, so that I am always learning from them and not the other way around.
Our role as leaders is not to shine in our own light, but to be the bearers of light, so that others in turn can shine, grow, thrive and become leaders in their own right. I consider mutual respect, integrity, empowerment and honest communication as the most critical values required for any successful environment and culture.
Heath: What institutional and societal changes need to be made in order to empower business women in South Africa?
Ellen: Statistically, as far as employment of women in senior government positions is concerned, we aren’t doing half bad in comparison to other continents. So that box is ticked. We do however fail dismally as a society when it comes to cultural rights of women and their physical safety and emotional wellbeing. South African women are subjected to high degrees of domestic trauma and are often the sole financial providers for their families and children. As long as the personal, physical safety and wellbeing of women is not drastically improved, then one has to wonder what the influence and impact is of women in a business environment. It’s hard to imagine that cultural and societal beliefs are left at home, when people go to work.
So, I have little faith that we are seen as equals in a business environment, if we are not recognized as such in our personal environments. The safety and influence of women will only be truly effective if we are acknowledged as equals in all areas of society and business.
Heath: How can we encourage more women and young girls to consider careers in tech?
Ellen: I think women and girls need to be more exposed to the wonderful and important work female business leaders are doing. They should be stimulated to maintain their curious minds and to contribute towards discussions and solutions, without fear of being professionally and sometimes socially ostracized for this. We should raise our girls to be confident in their abilities and encourage their leadership and not taint them as being “bossy” and “unfeminine”.
We should encourage our boys and men to treat girls and their female colleagues as they would want their mothers and sisters to be treated. And that’s why I believe that the mission of Inspiring Fifty SA is so important and should receive greater support. We aim to make female role models in tech more visible and celebrated because “if she can see it, she can be it”.
Visit: Ellen Fischat