A growing number of women are leading the digital revolution in Africa, bringing with them a host of new and cutting-edge solutions to long-existing problems facing the continent. One of such women whose innovations and philosophies positively impact the continent is Nkemdilim Uwaje Begho, Founder, Futuresoft Nigeria.
In an interview with techbuild.africa, she shared insights on the state of Africa’s digital transformation, the role of women in the tech industry as well as opportunities open to African youths.
With 15 years of industry experience, how would you say IT has shaped the African tech ecosystem?
Over the years there’s been a shift from information technology to digital technology. I think that has shaped the ecosystem much more than information technology.
Looking at the tech ecosystem across the continent, most of the tech startups are focused on being digital technology platform businesses that have the potential to really scale. We’ve seen a lot happening especially in the last couple of months with the Paystack acquisition as well as Flutterwave raising more money and becoming valued at a billion dollars.
It’s interesting to see how the ecosystem has evolved and how more and more players have come in to create solutions that address our local problems.
In your opinion, what can help Africa mature in terms of achieving full digital transformation?
It’s really on different levels. When you speak about digital transformation you can speak about it within organizations and that’s more in the private sector. A lot of it is about knowledge and ensuring that we equip executives with the right type of knowledge to strategically guide that digital transformation journey.
This starts from the board level and goes down to C-level management. One of the things that I focus on is executive education over the last five years, helping executives to understand digital technologies, digital marketing, and digital strategies to build their organizations.
Then, on a second level when you talk about digital transformation across the continent, you have to consider it from the public sector perspective, looking at it from the angle of how to get the government to start the journey of digital economy readiness and to ensure that the policies they make are enabling digital transformation across their countries.
This all boils down to creating awareness to ensure that the stakeholders have the right knowledge; the part we need to solve more is human capital development.
Human capital development involves ensuring that leaders and decision-makers have the right knowledge about digital transformation and understand how they can use it to position and accelerate their growth.
There’s also a need to make sure that their policies focus on the human capital development of the youth segment, equipping young people with the right skills to position themselves and become contributors to this digital economy.
In Nigeria, we have a 33% unemployment rate which we’ll be able to overcome if we invest in human capital. For me, those are the layers we need to peel back and start exploring if we want to achieve digital transformation across the continent.
Attention should be on human capital development, infrastructure development, policies, and funding to bring the changes as well as how to strategically use technology as a driver of socio-economic development.
Having trained over 1,000 CEOs through Futuresoft, were there challenges at some point in the journey?
I guess there are challenges in everybody’s journey. I view challenges as huge learning opportunities that help one become better at what one does. The biggest challenge is the readiness of the market (consumers) towards digital services and solutions across boards.
I’ve been in the space for 15 years and seen that consumers won’t buy what they don’t understand. Education has been a huge platform for me in selling because I realize that decision-makers don’t have the right knowledge. When you work in an emerging market, you ought to understand that you’ll have to create both supply and demand. You create a solution and you’ll also need to create a demand for what you’re putting out there.
For me, the journey has been one where I’ve had many opportunities to educate, to create awareness, to speak on both local and global stages about the digital transformation of the continent and readiness for the 4IR.
That’s a huge privilege that overshadows any challenge and I even find it hard to speak of challenges as I view them as opportunities to be better, do better and create more innovative solutions.
In 2020, you launched Skillup Africa, a youth empowerment program. Can you tell us the idea behind it?
Skillup Africa is an initiative that I launched. As one of the two hundred 2019 Obama leaders, Skillup Africa was my Obama African leadership project. At the time, it was research-based and focused on understanding the digital skills development cycle, market and solutions better and really identify what the gaps were.
The major gap I identified is that a lot of young people cannot afford the training they require to be developers or data scientists. We decided to create an impact investment platform that pulls capital from individuals and institutional investors to fund training for local tech talents through a student loan program.
While I was working on this, I partnered with Joseph Agunbiade, the founder of Univelcity. We collaborated to create more awareness and thought leadership within the edtech space and pivoted this research-based project into an actual business.
In 2020, we did a pilot testing and now we’ve launched fully. We’re going to have our first cohort this month. We’re also giving out a hundred loans this year, 40-50% of which will go to women to make sure we’re able to contribute towards creating a sustainable way of training technology talents.
As an accomplished female founder and mentor, what can you say about the dearth in the number of successful female founders in Africa?
There are many factors at play. I’ve been in the industry for 15 years and compared to when I started, there are so many female founders. Yet, we need more women who are scaling their businesses and are making a real impact.
Also, we need to tell the stories and amplify the stories and this is where the media plays a very big role as well as platforms like yours that focus on highlighting women within the technology space.
Women in the space have the responsibility to be mentors and role models to those that are coming behind them, to share their stories, open doors, and help build networks and make introductions.
I think we need to support each other in order to build a sustainable ecosystem. The truth is that when you think about women in technology in the top 10 global tech companies, only 19% of tech-related jobs are held by women and this problem isn’t only on the continent but globally.
There’s a lot of heat that comes from how the girl child is being socialized on the roles she’s supposed to play in society. The roles reserved for the girl child influence many industries where you have male-dominated sectors with few women who have the seat at the table.
We need to make sure that we encourage girls and show them possibilities and also educate parents because a lot of the socialization happens at home.
As parents, societies and countries, our focus should be to enroll children in coding, robotics among other digital programs, ensuring that they are actively exploring the digital world safely and learning relevant digital skills that can make them founders, creators, and contributors to the digital economy.
There are many initiatives that have helped to churn out more and more girls and we just need to continue to support these initiatives and at some point, the scales will tip.
What advice would you give to women who are looking to take on the world of tech?
Make sure you have the skills and once you have them, focus on being excellent in technology. Skills speak louder than your gender and understanding that with the right skills doors will open will help more women approach it from a different perspective.
The objective shouldn’t be so much on how do I get a promotion but on doing excellent work, letting your work speak for you. On the other hand, you need to build your own personal brand by writing about your experiences and create visibility for yourself within your organization as well as in public in order to make a difference, position yourself for opportunities, and of course, position yourself to become a founder.
What resources would you recommend for those looking to succeed in tech?
There’s so much out there and it depends on the level they are. When you think about digital skills, you should be thinking about how to become a creator and get away from being a consumer.
You need to define what that means for you and the areas you’re going to focus on because tech is so large and the person who wants to be who wants to do quantum computing is very different from the person who is driving consumer experience digitally.
There are blogs, courses on Coursera, Udemy, and courses by local providers. Programs like Skillup Africa can help you on that tech journey. There are lots of online resources, videos, written content, and audiobooks. There’s so much out there that you just need to figure out which sector within the technology space you want to claim.
Do you have role models within the tech space?
Yes, of course there are many. Within the tech space, there are lots of amazing women doing really great things like Funke Opeke, Juliet Ehimuan, Sheryl Sandberg and Randi Zuckerberg among others.
There are so many amazing women really changing the narrative and leading organizations but I think that you can have both male and female role models. At the top of my list are entrepreneurs like Jack Ma, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk who are really at the forefront of innovation and who have over the last 20-30 years dominated and redefined technology.
Those are the people that have coined new terms, creating new technologies and new ways for consumers to engage with technology as well as helping companies understand how technology influences consumer behavior and vice versa.
What are the things people don’t know about you?
I’ve always loved high heels. I’m a girly-girl and I love pink. I also love baking; that’s one of the things I do in my free time. Also, Covid has made me take up gardening a little more seriously.
I think we are all very multifaceted individuals and one of the things that most people know about me is that I’m a woman in technology. I’m actually also a serial entrepreneur with other businesses and one of them is a company that produces baby items using Ankara materials called Anne Li Unique Ideas. It’s one of the places where I get to be creative and able to let out my creative juices.
Featured Image: Nkemdilim Uwaje Begho, Founder, Futuresoft Nigeria
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