Zahara Chetty is the founder of the African Futures Academy who is committed to collaborating and exploring new ways of bringing FutureSkills to the next generation of young people in Africa, enhance their abilities to consciously co-create a lighter, brighter future together. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, She shared her entrepreneurship story and how she’s equipping the next generation with 21st century FutureSkills. Excerpts.
Alaba: Could you briefly tell us about African Futures Academy and the gap its filling?
Chetty: The African Futures Academy is all about creating spaces for the youth in Africa to explore themselves and the problems they want to solve to create more equitable, conscious futures for all. We are a movement, creating awareness and resources to enable the next generation to think about the future in ways that are different from the past that we inherited. We develop teaching and learning aids, programmes and materials to help equip the next generation with our identified 21st Century FutureSkills.
Our work is more about long term systems change than it is about startup culture. We want to create a sustainable business, but ultimately, we want to change the thinking culture in our society. We are collaborating with professionals in many different industries to create lasting impact and bring about change.
Alaba: What are the set milestones in terms of goals and impact?
Chetty: The objective is to get resources to influence and teach FutureSkills that are necessary for the Fourth Industrial Revolution to as many young people as possible. Because many of the kids in Africa, especially rural communities, do not have access to online learning and digital technology, the skills we need to transfer can be shared via many other media such as books and games that can be used individually and in the classroom. This is where we are starting and the content will be translated into various African languages as needed. June 2020 – December 2020;
• Launch AFA.
• Awesome Africans series awareness campaign.
• Workshops, Training October 2020 – May 2020.
• Development & Launch of FutureSkills Workbook for Kids in Africa June 2021 – 2023.
• Development & Launch of FutureSkills App and Board game projects.
Alaba: Can you tell us about your journey in entrepreneurship and edtech?
Chetty: I have been working in Education since 2004, first as a teacher and Head of Department and then I resigned to work in the Software industry, where I worked with education companies such as Pearson Education and ZAD Group in Saudi Arabia. I’ve also been researching trends and changes in the technology industry and noticed a disparity between what was happening in the world and how the education system is failing to prepare students for that reality. I started the African Futures Academy as a space to explore how we might address that gap for the next generation in Africa. We are not following traditional startup or silicon valley models.
We think Africa needs its own voice and uses its own cultural problem solving methods to build more equitable futures underpinned by sustainable business practices and an African philosophy.
Alaba: What are the challenges faced in growing this brand and how are you navigating through in this dire time?
Chetty: I think anything new that doesn’t follow the traditional models of operation has to forge its own path, and that is always a challenge. We are not in competition, we are here to aggregate and collaborate efforts across the spectrum to get the maximum benefit for the people that matter the most. Our ethics and philosophies are core to our operations. We are about humanity centred design and practising what we preach. If we want the next generation to be people with visions of the future that are sustainable, prosperous and equitable, we have to lead by example. This often means going against current norms and expectations of how businesses and new ventures operate.
The edtech sector is currently booming and digital learning solutions have risen due to the global pandemic.
Alaba: How is your brand unique from competition?
Chetty: We create spaces and opportunities for exploring FutureSkills. Our online learning platform is just one of our channels with which we can reach the general population. We are platform agnostic. Our FutureSkills will be adapted for various scenarios and contexts e.g. books, board games, mobile applications as well as the online learning platforms and webinars or whatever type of technology is required or available in future. We believe that technology is just a tool to enhance human functioning. The tools might change as we venture into the future, but the intention to develop human potential will always remain the same.
Alaba: How do you see the future of edtech in South Africa and the rest of Africa?
Chetty: I think we need to move away from the idea that we can just take the broken model we have now and give it a digital flavour. Replicating the classroom experience online is a big no-go. We need trans-disciplinary insights into everything we design and build going forward, and the education system requires input from various collaborators across the spectrum in order for it to develop the right skills, values, attitudes and knowledge in its participants.
We also need to remember that this is Africa. We can’t just bring working models from other countries and implement them here. Infrastructure and basic human needs are not being addressed. We have to take that into account. Our ed-tech needs to be developed alongside and as a part of the social system in its entirety, not as a separate thing. The entire point of education is to enable the next generation to be fully functional and contributing members of society.
If society is changing so rapidly, we need to equip the next generation with new knowledge and skills just as rapidly. Somewhere along the way, it looks like we have lost the plot around human societies and how they function and we focused mainly on the technologies that we created. We need to bring back the balance between humanity and technology.
Alaba: Do you think e-learning is changing the life of professionals? How?
Chetty: e-Learning has been around for decades. Companies have been using it for training for many years. It’s nothing new. We’re actually moving away from traditional LMS’s to more social, mobile, micro and gamified learning. Learning is becoming ubiquitous. This is how it should be. Learning needs to become intrinsically linked to life experience itself. The idea that we have to sit in a classroom or take special time off to learn something is becoming incongruent with how we actually live and work.
We need to learn all the time, just by interacting with the world around us. I am looking forward to see how this unfolds with the use of new technologies in the future.
Alaba: How does your organization measure its impact and what is the future for African Futures Academy?
Chetty: We are seeking to influence a movement of change in the way we perceive education and skills to enhance the ability of the next generation to handle change and the Future of Work. Within the next 5 years, we want to reach 1 Million young people in Africa and equip them with FutureSkills competencies, using various channels and socio-cultural contexts.
By equipping the next generation with these core skills, attitudes and values, we will be able to create more opportunities for community-based problem solving, entrepreneurship and job creation using new technologies. We want a generation of changemakers who are not sitting around and waiting for the governments to fix everything for them.
Alaba: What would be your advice to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Chetty: I would say that we are at a point in time where you just need to be brave and forge new ways ahead. Now it’s not about looking for existing models and replicating them. We need new ways of solving old problems with positive, collective futures in mind. It’s not about playing it safe, it’s about experimenting with the new and being able to change things while you are building them. You have to be quick on your feet.
Alaba: How do you relax and what is your favourite tourist destination in Africa?
Chetty: I love what I do so I don’t feel like I need to take a break from my life. I incorporate as many things as I love into the work that I do and the life that I live. However, I love to travel and experience new places. I think every country in Africa has something unique to offer in terms of its culture, its
people and its practices. I am always fascinated by that when I travel anywhere. I think South Africa is one of the most beautiful places on Earth and Mpumalanga’s Panorama route is probably one of the best visual delights I’ve experienced.
P R O F I L E
Zahara Chetty is a Polymath and works as an Educationist, Writer, Facilitator, Fashion Designer and Conscious Design Coach whose work integrates trans-disciplinary insights from various fields of Psychology, Anthropology, Computer Science, Education, Business Management, Strategy, Design and Spirituality. She offers an approach to Strategic Design that is integrative and holistic, helping CEO’s, entrepreneurs and organisations navigate complexity for more Human-Centred, Conscious Strategy and Effective Problem Solving.
Her unique methods provide guidance to deeper levels of self-awareness, moving from ego-centred perspectives on leadership, product design and business development, to a more authentic expression, service, and alignment.
She has been teaching, training and facilitating workshops since 2004, both in the classroom, in the boardroom and online. She currently works remotely with individuals and teams around the world to help them make the move towards co-creating more equitable futures for everyone.
As the founder of the African Futures Academy, she is committed to collaborating and exploring new ways of bringing FutureSkills to the next generation of young people in Africa, to enhance their abilities to consciously co-create a lighter, brighter future together.
OKADEMY: Investing in African Brains
OKADEMY team; Kileshe Kasoma and Samy Mwamba (Image: Itot Africa)
OKADEMY is an on-demand digital training platform. Launched by Itot Africa in 2017 with the aim of sharing digital skills in order to create and bring jobs back to Africa. Itot Africa has already been able to physically train more than 700 people and create more than 100 jobs. To be able to meet the great demand for digital skills and talents in Africa, the team came up with an innovative concept, “a restaurant for the brain ”.
Like a restaurant, people can take these courses at their own pace, at any time, and at affordable prices tailored to the local economic climate. The digital platform provides training on demand, primarily courses that offer digital and business skills. Then, they make these training available online and in all of their partner training centers that they call restaurants for the brain.
Okademy’s main objective is to enable people who are unemployed or far from employment to get closer to, find or create a job through training adapted to the needs of the labour market. Through a career follow-up system and networking with employers.
“We must allow people to feed their brains at their own pace, with the knowledge they really need, for professional purposes or simply out of curiosity,” explains Samy Mwamba, Director of Itot Africa.
“By 2030, according to a report by the International Finance Corporation, 230 million jobs will require digital skills, and by digital skills, let’s not just think of advanced computer skills, people are looking for basic skills, like Excel, sending emails, searching the web, video conferencing, etc. With the okademy.africa platform , in one hour, a person can learn a new skill, wherever they are.” Samy added.
“For each student who takes our courses, we track their progress through our system integrated into the training platform; this means in concrete terms that we know whether our students are unemployed, have an internship, a fixed-term contract or a permanent contract. We also have information about employers and job offers.” – Kileshe Kasoma, People at Itot Africa
“With this data, we offer digital CVs to students, we connect our students with companies that are hiring, we modify, delete and add more courses and finally we have statistics on the impact of our courses in terms of job creation.” Kileshe added.
In the next 5 years, OKADEMY aims to have 500 courses and at least 2000 students in each course. They also want to be open to all categories of people, which is why our prices take into account the economic realities of Africans. That is, from $10 a person can have access to training.
Trudenty: Redefining the future of identity
Trudenty CO-Founder & CEO, Lerato Matsio (Image: Supplied)
Trudenty is a Web 3 – SSI (Self Sovereign Identity) startup that leverages decentralised identity technology to provide privacy preserving credentials to people for use online. Founded by Lerato Matsio, a South African entrepreneur currently residing in Belgium after a rewarding career at McKinsey & Company that ended in February 2022.
Lerato launched Trudenty after she experienced identity theft and digital banking fraud (as a result) via her bank in South Africa. This experience inspired her to reimagine a world in which people were empowered with control over their information to cut through the root causes of digital fraud. And eliminate the need for companies to collect and store people’s information in a centralised database. Lerato found that blockchain and SSI technology offer a compelling suite of options to enable this.
Trudenty provides people and businesses with an alternative solution to perform identity verification and KYC that maintains the privacy (and security) of people’s sensitive personal information and also gives people control over their information.
In the world today, plenty of solutions exist for identity verification and KYC. However, they exist in a fragmented manner that requires people to share their sensitive information repeatedly across different companies every time they need to establish a new relationship with a company. This creates friction in the onboarding experience for people, but especially painful, exposes information that can be exploited by fraudsters to steal from people and defraud companies. Given the rise in instances of identity theft and digital fraud – it is clear that a change is needed.
“At Trudenty, we are building the future of identity, and by doing so, we provide an answer to the identity-related pain points of our time.” – Lerato Matsio, Founder Trudenty
“Our solution (currently in development) will enable real world trust anchors (e.g., banks, governments, health authorities, etc,) to issue verifiable credentials to their constituents that can be used by people to verify themselves, without compromising their identity, their privacy and allowing them control over who accesses their information. In future, identity verification and KYC will be possible using credentials issued by the real world credential issuer”. says Lerato.
With this inspiration and purpose-led mission, Lerato invited 2 technical co-founders with deep experience and expertise in Web 3 (incl. SSI) and fintech in Africa to help her bring Trudenty to life.
Later on this year, Trudenty plans to launch a pilot with a closed group of fintechs (and people) to test its solution. Through the initial use cases of digital onboarding, KYC and passwordless authentication. The team is currently working to complete development of their MVP for pilot later this year. They are excited to work with institutions and fintechs across the continent to usher in a new paradigm for identity verification, globally.
At McK, Lerato helped clients in Africa and Europe reinvent their business models and drive operational transformations, leveraging technology. Lerato is a Chemical Engineer by education, and spent a few of her early years as a Process Control Engineer at Sasol (a South African petrochemicals company).
Jusnah Gadi: The Tanzanian Native proving it’s possible to do it all
Jusnah Gadi, Managing Director of Young Music Boss
Jusnah Gadi a Tanzanian Native, raised in the Netherlands and currently resident in the UK, whose entrepreneurship has landed her in the likes of Forbes, Elle Magazine and the Evening Standard. She is a music business educator and founder of Young Music Boss which is a resource hub focusing on legal and business affairs.
With its tagline ‘Preparing Future Music Bosses’, YMB is an educational channel and network building platform to empower artists and aspiring music executives learning to navigate the business. With a legal background specialising in intellectual property and commercial law, Jusnah Gadi is fast becoming a formidable and much needed force in the music industry.
She is also the Co-founder of the UK’s No.1 Seafood boil brand (Hot n Juicy Shrimp Ldn) which has two operational takeaway branches and recently launched their microwavable sauce pouches ready to take the retail world by storm. HNJ was founded alongside business partner Samantha Pascal and boasts the likes of ZeZe Millz, Krept, Dappy and Ms Bankz among its notable regular customers.
And as if all of that isn’t enough, Jusnah Gadi also has a full-time corporate job as a Senior Compliance Executive for a FTSE 100 Sports & Entertainment company where she has climbed the ranks in her department leading a team of analysts who ensure the company’s regulatory and legal obligations are upheld.
Alaba: They say ‘don’t try to be a jack of all trades’. Do you believe in this?
Jusnah: Well the idea is that if you try to be a jack of all trades then you will be a master of none. I believe in the statement to an extent. I do believe that ideally you should focus on that ONE thing and become the go to for it, be EXCELLENT at it and then other doors will open. I don’t entirely subscribe to it though, because I believe that skills are transferable and I believe you can be multiple things at once and be a success at it.
Alaba: You speak about Tanzania and Africa a lot, particularly as it relates to the music industry – why is that?
Jusnah: Because Tanzania is my heritage, though I wasn’t born or raised there, I actually visited for the first time in 2003, It is my roots. I feel a strong sense of responsibility to contribute to the betterment of my country and I think that my way is through Music Business. I see an industry that is RICH with talent but poor in infrastructure. I want to lead in that area and for me that begins with education. In order to develop an ecosystem which makes our music industry more sophisticated I believe the starting point is to ensure creatives and all stake-holders are adequately informed on the various different components that come into play.
I consult various artists teams in Tanzania and when I speak to producers/artists who have no.1 hit songs in East Africa, are dominating charts and streaming platforms with unimaginable numbers, yet struggle for basic needs I am reminded of the overwhelming amount of work there is to be done. If not me, then who?
Alaba: You also launched the Young Music Boss Awards in the UK (YMBA), tell us about that?
Jusnah: I am passionate about creating access to the industry but also cultivating and incentivising it, the YMB Awards are an extension of that. The Music Industry, is rich with accolades which celebrates the Artist’s, Producers and sometimes Labels. But rarely the executives behind the scenes who drive it all forward. The YMBA bridges this gap by awarding rising music executives, creatives and entrepreneurs who are the Managers, lawyers, A&Rs, Publicists, Publishers, Stylists, Marketers, Agents etc behind some of the most exciting artists, campaigns and music businesses of our time.
I was that kid who always used to read all the credits in the small print of the CD covers, wondering who those people were and what the different functions meant …now I know they are the people who make the industry revolve and evolve, the YMBA celebrates those individuals.
Alaba: What about your Food Business, what inspired that?
Jusnah: It was really an accident. I never planned to be a food entrepreneur. My business partner and I were craving a Seafood boil on our return to London from a trip in Las Vegas and struggled to find one. Eventually, we found one girl who made them from home, tried it and it was not great AT ALL. My business partner then suggested that we could actually do our own, I didn’t entertain the idea. A week or two later she had begun to test a recipe, telling some friends and family and had asked for my thoughts on a logo.
At this stage, I said to myself ‘okay I want in’. But even then, for me it was just an extra cash injection to fund other projects. Within just over a month, what was meant to be just a weekend gig from our home kitchens, word spread across London and demand increased. We then quickly realised that we could now longer safely or legally operate from our home kitchens which led to us obtaining the relevant licences and moving into a commercial kitchen. Two years later, here we are two branches with a product ready for retail.
Alaba: So what do the next 5 years look like for you?
Jusnah: Like Greatness.