The Future Of Nigeria’s Tech Landscape Through The Eyes Of 10 Leading Women
Cofounder/COO at Piggyvest
“Be insanely focused on what you’re setting out to achieve, what your abilities are. So even when there are external detractors, you are able to tell yourself ‘No, this is who I am, this is the work I’m trying to do and I’m going to focus on doing it.”
Odunayo Eweniyi is the Chief Operations Officer at Sharphire Global Limited, the parent company of some of Africa’s most ingenious startups like PushCV, Piggyvest and FrontDesk.
A graduate of Computer Engineering from Covenant University Nigeria, she embodies the true spirit of the women driving Nigeria’s tech revolution; undaunted, composed and pioneering. However, for Odunayo, it all started with being able to use a desktop computer to play games and send emails as a child.
Now she heads Sharphire Global Limited, where she co-founded PushCV. Soon after, she also co-founded Piggyvest, a startup which was born out of a need to help people save sustainably.
Most of her works are inspired by real challenges and she is passionate about making life easier for the labour market. Nigeria has a young and steady growing middle class, and Piggyvest has created a platform that would foster a savings culture among them.
The challenge has been that Nigerians seemingly naturally have a distrust for tech. “Nigerians are mostly tech-adverse,” Odunayo told Ventures Africa, “and so we try to convince them to trust more in tech; we are working a lot to make sure we can deliver on our promises so that our users can trust us.” Piggyvest currently has more than 195,000 registered users monthly, while processing N1 billion every month.
The highlight of her phenomenal journey in such a short period of time was her invitation to the “Invest in Nigeria” tour in Silicon Valley with the Nigerian Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
Her drive is leading her to be at the forefront of transformational change in STEM, especially for women, as it has never been as important as now to see more women in technology running their own companies.
Chief Executive Officer at the Youth for Technology Foundation
What started as a dream to provide other young Nigerians with access to information and technology, has led Njideka on a life-changing journey. Njideka Harry is the Chief Executive Officer and founder of the Youth for Technology Foundation, an international non-profit organization that trains youth and women in STEM subjects to enable them to build a foundation to make sustainable career choices.
Born to a Nigerian father and an American mother, Njideka Harry lived in Ibadan until the early 90s when she moved to Boston in pursuit of a college education, commencing her undergraduate education at the University of Massachusetts. It was there she first experienced the use of technology in education and got introduced to the internet.
Seeing that her peers were digitally many years ahead because they had access to information that technology afforded, she was motivated to do something about the digital divide in developing countries, starting with Nigeria. After due diligence and meetings with potential stakeholders in the private, public and civil society around this vision for bridging the digital gap. As at the time, nothing about technology and youth was going on in the country.
Njideka began the work for Youth for Technology Foundation in 2000. The foundation since then has trained over 1.6 million youth and women around the world, inspired economic sustainability in over 4500 communities and inspired the creation and expansion of 14,000 businesses. Njideka considers technology, a basic human right and access to it as the key to unlock the potential of millions of young people. The tech innovation needed for tomorrow in the country wouldn’t necessarily be taught within the four walls of any educational institution, but it can be taught to the youths and women of today, through NGOs like the Youth for Technology Foundation.
Her advice for girls looking to pioneer new tech innovation?
“Learn as much as possible. It’s not just about you, your idea, solution or company, it is really about solving a problem and doing whatever it takes to work with other shareholders.”
Self-taught UI/UX Designer and Front-End Developer/ Cofounder Buy Coins
Ireoluwa is a self-taught front-end developer and co-founder of BuyCoins, a cryptocurrency exchange for Africa. Like most of her peers, she didn’t set out to become a tech expert. Ire studied Psychology at the undergraduate level, after which she pursued a master’s degree in Law. For most of her youth, coding was a hobby, and this happened outside any sort of formal education in programming or computer science.
Her first introduction to website design began when she was 14 while playing an online game. She created a fan page and website for the game and since then she has been interested in it. Now, she is pushing other girls to begin early like her.
Through her scholarship, she sponsored 5 young Nigerian women in 2017 to complete online Nanodegree programs on Udacity, an initiative she has since continued annually. Her aim is to build the technical knowledge of women in Nigeria, one girl at a time.
On a journey that has taken her around the world, from working as head of technology in BigCabal in Lagos, to being a Software Developer for eye/o in Germany, and also attending and speaking at some of the world’s biggest tech conferences including Google IO, Ire’s greatest challenge yet was starting her own company.
In 2017, she co-founded BuyCoins, a cryptocurrency exchange for Africa. BuyCoins is the only exchange in Nigeria that allows Nigerians to buy and sell cryptocurrencies, ranging from Bitcoin and Ethereum, to Litecoin and Bitcoin Cash, directly with their local bank account or debit card.
“Don’t listen to anybody telling you that it’s not for you or women can’t do it. Just don’t listen to anybody. If you feel like it’s something you’re interested in and want to do it, you can definitely do it, and you don’t have to go to school.”
Country Director, Andela
Omowale David Ashiru is the country director for Andela Nigeria. Omowale ventured into the tech space in the early stages of her career path, where her visionary and leadership traits positioned her for growth. Her professional career began at Andersen (now Accenture), an IT consulting firm, where she went from being a novice in basic computer knowledge to a Pioneer management team leader.
As an individual that is passionate about solving problems and creating things, Omowale was a key member of the process and technology department of Andersen, where they developed and implemented software products for financial institutions. She successfully headed a project for the biggest bank in West Africa at the time; this highlight marking a milestone in her career in management and leadership.
Her record of actively dealing with people puts her in the spotlight and has made her the leader of one of the world’s biggest tech firms in Andela. For Omowale, brilliance is evenly distributed for everybody.
Andela is a tech startup for now, and for the future. Since 2014, it has identified and trained young tech developers to fill in the gap provided by a shortage of skilled software developers in companies. Andela, as a fellowship takes on the training of people for four years. They will be learning but at the same time be working remotely for global companies and earning. Andela is solving the developer shortage by using tech workers on the continent. Andela’s dream is to “grow and sustain a pan-African elite tech workforce.” With leaders like Omowale, that dream will become a reality.
Chief Growth Officer and Managing Director for Africa, Element, Inc
The challenge for women is not getting in, it’s getting to the top – getting into more leadership/senior roles and breaking the political glass ceilings in our patriarchal society.”
Barbara Iyayi is the Chief Growth Officer and Managing Director for Africa of Elements, Inc, a leading AI company focused on digital identities.
According to her, her foray into tech innovation began with wanting to develop solutions that would leverage technology, and not just build physical objects using wood and plastic. Her first innovation was an electric vibrating machine that could be placed within reach of the hearing impaired and trigger their other senses.
“Technology to me was a means to an end, so when I graduated, I did not want a career that solely focused on technology but allowed me to apply technology to a domain that I cared about, which was the fast world of finance.”
Her career journey and her thirst to provide solutions led her to Fintech, especially Fintech in Africa, where financial inclusion remains elusive. Over the years, she has come to realize that with low banking and credit penetration, and large mobile penetration in Africa, every tech-enabled platform should deliver financial services for the continent. As a result, most of the funding for venture capital in Africa is going towards FinTech companies in multiple sectors.
As Managing Director for Africa, Element, Inc, she is helping African companies scale their digital platforms and leverage their digital identities to implement large scale digital transformations in top national banks, telcos, healthcare and government systems. The trends for future tech in the fourth industrial revolution will rely on AI, blockchain, cloud computing and Internet of Things. Barbara is preparing African companies for that.
According to McKinsey, a good digital ID system has the potential to unlock 6% of GDP in an emerging economy. To lift people out of poverty, Africa will require these bold technologies to drive significant inclusive economic growth, and Barbara wants to lead the way in making that happen.
Her advice for women looking to explore tech in Nigeria?
“I only believe in positive affirmations, so I believe women can do whatever they want to do and succeed. I say this because there will always be obstacles in the way, and anyone can succeed if you take a positive and constructive attitude. More women are graduating from universities, getting into technical fields and building businesses.
Head of Sustainability and Innovation Honeywell Group, and Director, Itanna.
Nigerian startups received almost $120 million in investments in 2017, with many of these investments secured through the Y-combinator accelerator program in Silicon Valley, California, USA. This highlighted the lack of indigenous companies picking the slack for the lack of accelerators in Nigeria.
Itanna, an accelerator program for Nigerian and African startups, is trying to fill that gap. Itanna was created in 2018 and is backed by the Honeywell Group, an African conglomerate that operates in food and agriculture, telecommunication and infrastructure, real estate and financial services etc.
Tomi Otudeko, the company’s Head of Innovation was appointed as its director. Itanna was the first corporate-backed accelerator program in Nigeria and proved to Nigerian startup founders that Nigerian companies can be committed to investing in the country’s tech talent.
For Tomi, her journey into tech innovation has not been uncomplicated. She was 12 when she had her first contact with computers, a personal Amstrad computer with which she had extra lessons by using a computer program to learn how to type so she could type out notes on my computer instead of writing, as a solution to her dyslexia. According to her, It changed her life and education; that was the first time she saw how powerful technology could be.
Tomi has gone on to build a career for herself in tech, beginning with a role at IBM UK, in business development for the company’s strategic outsourcing business unit. At Itanna, she has created a new narrative for corporate-backed ventures in Nigeria.
The startup accelerator, which began operations in August 2018, and received more than 200 applications from around the continent, graduated its first cohort in December 2018. She has directed a team that has achieved a lot in five months.
The accelerator’s second cohort is set to begin later this year, with a focus on African startups with pan-African potential. Tomi and Itanna have opened the doors for more indigenous companies in the country to fund tech innovation in the country.
Her advice for women looking to lead innovation in the country?
“Don’t be afraid to use your network. Find and connect, especially with other women, who can help. Women must be their own initial cheerleaders. Partnerships are important in the tech space. It’s important to find partners with the right skills who can share your vision, inspire confidence and nurture your innovation. In a similar vein, you need to have your ideas validated by your community, by people you’re working with or by creating a new community for it — where you can test the water.”
Founder and CEO, LifeBank Nigeria
Temie Giwa-Tubosun is the founder and CEO of Life Bank, a health-tech startup that ensures timely delivery of blood to hospitals and patients who need them. Named as one of the BBC’s 100 Women in 2014, Temie did not set out to become a “Techpreneur.” She wanted to offer solutions to one of Africa’s biggest health problems; people dying from lack of access to blood. After considering how she would provide a sustainable and scalable solution to the problem, she decided to set up a venture, instead of a non-profit.
To Temie, Lifebank is more than a technology company. It deploys tech to distribute critical supplies that are essential to delivering healthcare in Nigeria. One of the major contributors to Nigeria having some of the worst indices for healthcare in the world is a lack of health infrastructure. Startups like LifeBank has allowed health professionals like Temie to use technology to leapfrog infrastructure needs by creating the capacity to create the soft infrastructure the country needs to solve entrenched problems in healthcare.
This then points to a future for new tech innovation in Nigeria, and Africa; The prospect of using tech and the fourth industrial revolution to close the infrastructural gap created when most of the world industrialized and African countries couldn’t.
LifeBank is already in the fourth industrial revolution after her startup found a clever way of using blockchain technology to solve health supply transparency and safety with SmartBag. SmartBag is a blockchain-powered essential medical product integrity solution, that helps Nigeria achieve universal safe blood making the safety record of blood accessible to healthcare providers and patients. This is the future of tech in Nigeria. She believes women will be important in the future of technology.
“Women will play a crucial role in the future of technology. The future is female and tech won’t be an exception, particularly since software development used to be women’s work back in the day. As more women enter this space, you will see the norms and culture evolve and then progress.”
Media Manager, Paystack
“Tech needs storytellers, tech needs HR, tech needs operations people.”
Mohini has an English Major, with a minor in Journalism, Media and Public Discourse, but that has not stopped her from becoming one of Nigeria’s biggest voices in tech. Tech was not Mohini’s first love; according to her, she “fell into” tech.
Responding to a tweet in 2014 from Andela co-founder, Iyin Aboyeji, who was looking for someone to take headshots of his developers, she volunteered her services, for free, and came into the office for the shoot. One thing led to another, and she was hired officially two weeks later.
The highlight of Mohini’s almost half-decade experience in tech storytelling is the improvement in her technical skills for telling these stories, and the platforms through which she has been able to tell these stories. She has gone “from speaking to a hall full of women at Wimbiz and Women in Tech conferences, to holding a mobile photography masterclass,” she said.
Now, as the Media manager of Paystack, taking on this new responsibility in September 2018, she is hoping to assist another potential indigenous African unicorn startup company in telling its success stories. Telling your story is a critical aspect of selling your brand to investors, and Mohini’s critical role in tech communications has never been more important than it is now, especially looking at the sheer number of investments that African tech startups are attracting.
However, there are other important roles in Africa’s growing tech ecosystem; who better to ask than Mohini.
“If you don’t want to, you don’t need to code to be in tech. Non-technical subsections of tech abound,” she told Ventures Africa. “Tech needs storytellers, tech needs HR, tech needs operations people. Find the company you want to work in, look up their open roles if you see a slot where you can add unique value, even if it’s not listed, reach out and make your case.”
Oluwatobi Boshoro is the CEO of Renmoney, a FinTech lending company operating under a microfinance banking license in Lagos, Nigeria. Renmoney loans money to individuals and small businesses, a giant step towards inclusion for Nigeria’s more than 60 million financially excluded people.
She was drawn to tech by a drive to work with solutions that make life better for the average Nigerian, and hence, contribute to its economy.
Her biggest challenge has been how to get customers and potential partners to come on board Renmoney. A major highlight for Tobi has been the seamless way in which technology has revolutionized the payment system in Nigeria, and its consequent influence on financial inclusion. “Only a decade ago, there were only about half a million ATM cardholders. Today, we have over 40 million Nigerians with ATM cards,” she said.
She wants women to be represented in all situations but acknowledges that culture slows down progress. A lot of important decisions that affect women are still made without consulting women or having women in the room.
“The most important thing a woman can do is to recognize opportunities when they show up and create new opportunities where possible.”
She advises women looking to make an impact in tech to be more self-aware. “You need to know the skills you have and the ones you need to acquire. Understand the value of these skills and then seek innovative places where these skills are in demand and valued. Don’t be shy, keep knocking on doors – they open faster these days,” she told Ventures Africa.
The ability for women to multitask, pay attention to detail, bring people together and drive value are reasons why Boshoro believes women will occupy more important technology roles in the future.
And in that future, Boshoro believes consumer finance will be important, as it would be a driver for economic growth in Nigeria. With over 70 percent of the Nigerian workforce employed by SMEs, bridging the gap between business owners and access to funds using technology will boost Nigeria’s GDP in the future.
Juliet Ehumuan Chiazor
Google's Country Manager in Nigeria
Google is a multi-billion technology company with offices in many countries in the world, and hence it is only fitting for its Nigerian office to be headed by a woman. Juliet Ehimuan-Chiazor is Google Country Manager in Nigeria, and also Director, leading Google Business in W/Africa, & Africa Strategy.
Under her leadership, the Google team has made significant impacts in the areas of local content development, infrastructure deployment, and digital capacity building. She has actively contributed to developing national strategies — she was part of the national committees that developed Nigeria’s broadband plan in 2013 and ICT incubation strategy in 2012 (resulting in the creation of IDEAHub).
A tech expert and motivational speaker, Juliet was named as one of “Forbes 20 Youngest Power Women in Africa” in 2011 and also featured on the BBC Africa Power Women Series in 2016.