Interview with Lindiwe Matlali: Technology entrepreneur & Advocate

Lindiwe Matlali is the Founder and CEO of Africa Teen Geeks a non-profit organization that teaches school children and unemployed youth how to code. Lindiwe’s work has earned her numerous accolades including Young Business Awards top 3 finalist and Mail & Guardian Top Young South Africans (2014). She holds a Bcom degree from the University of Cape Town and recently completed a General Management Programme at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS). She is currently studying towards Trium EMBA, a collaboration between New York University Stern School of Business, the London School of Economics and HEC in Paris as well as a Graduate Certificate in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Stanford University. More on Lindiwe’s work at www.africateengeeks.co.za

 

Your stated life mission is to bridge the opportunity gap in terms of access to computer education. Why is that so important to you?

Very few technology services/ solutions are made from Africa. From our computer operating systems to the app we use on our phones are all developed elsewhere. This is not because of a talent deficit or that Africans are not serious players in technology. I believe it’s due to lack of opportunity and exposure. I would like to play my small part in ensuring that the next generation will have opportunities and the exposure they need to ensure that Africa is not left behind in the digital revolution.

 

You have put legs to that mission as founder and CEO of Africa Teen Geeks teaching school children and young unemployed youth to code which has blossomed into one of Africa’s biggest technology educators. How did you build such a credible organization so quickly?

I think I was lucky that I had a great team of people and partners who were as committed to the cause as much as I am. The University of South Africa has played a critical role in helping reach the number of children we have. I am thankful to them and all our partners.

 

What’s the most compelling argument for one to be technologically literate and does this literacy have additional benefits for women considering you have the #Iamagirlgeek campaign to inspire young girls to pursue computing careers?

Well, 90% of the technology jobs we have didn’t exist 10 years ago- jobs from social media to data scientist. Infact every profession requires some sort of technology literacy; teachers, social workers, doctors all use technology. If we want to prepare our kids for industries and jobs of the future, we need to ensure that they are technology savvy. At African Teen Geeks, we have a special focus on girls because only 20% of ICT professionals in South Africa for example are women. We want to inspire young black women to pursue computing careers through education and exposure. That’s why we recently partnered with City Press to expose 180 disadvantaged to a special pre-screening of ‘’Hidden figures’’, the movie of the story of a team of African American female mathematicians who worked in NASA.

 

You were named in the Top 200 Mail & Guardian Young South African in 2014. If you were writing the citation for that award, what would it be?

I guess I would say it’s an award for persistently and relentlessly pursuing my goals even when I had every reasonable reason to quit.

 

You also formed the first eye tracking research company in South Africa, Prompt Research Insights, which went on to win an Award. How do you approach innovative initiatives in order to give them the best chance of success?

I do thorough research and ensure that I surround myself with experts who are smarter, more mature and experienced who can guide me and help me turn my ideas to reality. I think one of strengths is that I am a perpetual student and am not too proud to ask for help.

 

You hold the fact that you were orphaned at a young age as being responsible for your successes. How so?

I hate it when people feel sorry for me and my whole life as an orphan people felt that they had to feel sorry for me. I was driven to work hard so that people would recognize my abilities and achievements rather than my status as an orphan. My being an orphan drove me to create a different narrative of how I was labeled and described.

 

You believe that for one to stand out, they need to do more than is expected of them. What else would you say is necessary for the person who wants to create success to do?

One needs to be relentless in the pursuit of their goals. At times being stubborn when people tell you it can’t be done pays off.

 

What would you say are the most critical qualities for a leader to have today and how do you see your own leadership evolving?

I believe in servant leadership. I think if you care for the people you lead and take them along with you in your vision, you will not need to convince them to follow you. They won’t just respect you because of your title but because of what your represent.  I don’t consider myself a leader but a servant and the cause/ vision is bigger than my ego.

 

How do you deal with doubt, fear and negative circumstances?

I pray. I rely on my faith and pray about everything. My faith in God keeps me from dwelling on the negative and on doubt. I believe that only what God allows will happen and whatever it is, he will help me through it.

 

What are you most proud of achieving to date and how do you keep edge?

Oh my; the kids I have been blessed to meet and influence; when I listen to them talking about their dreams and how they see themselves.  Nothing keeps a grown woman on their toes more than a bunch of teenagers! These kids inspire me; their hopes, their dreams. There’s nothing more fulfilling than helping my teen geeks reach their full potential. I see my role as an enabler and helping open doors or pointing them to doors they never even knew existed.

 

For more information on Vera Ng’oma’s work and resources in leadership, personal and career development and excellence building, click here.

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