In late March, Standard Bank Malawi held the country’s first Socio-Economic Development Forum, hosted in Lilongwe. In partnership with the Malawian government and UNICEF, the event focused on building the economy through youth entrepreneurship, a solution that could meet the needs of Malawi’s growing population while driving the economy.
The forum was well attended by many dignitaries, businesspeople and academics. Among them were Malawian Vice President Dr Saulos Klaus Chilima, UN Resident Coordinator Mia Seppo, UNICEF Representative Johannes Wedenig and President of the Galilee International Management Institute in Israel Dr Joseph Shevel. Much-decorated tech entrepreneur and founder of mHub Rachel Sibande was part of this prestigious line-up as a speaker. In late 2013, the mHub incubator was launched to encourage youth development in business and technology.
To achieve the above goal, Rachel and her team nurture tech enthusiasts into tech entrepreneurs through training, skills development and mentorship. mHub also hosts developer groups, hackathons and start-up camps, develops software, and engages with industry to find out their innovation needs – all while building an economy-boosting community of “techies”.
All these efforts should have a “ripple” effect on each other; Malawi’s first-ever technological hub expects to transfer valuable skills and knowledge to over 5 000 young people throughout the country by 2019. Once they have “graduated” from the incubator having learned all they need to build their own enterprises, they will create opportunities for others. This approach is already showing results: since its start, mHub has trained over 4 000 young people. One of them, Panashe Jere, was recognised by Mark Zuckerberg in California for an app he developed that provides information to pregnant women.
It’s obvious that Malawi’s would-be innovators are in good hands – quite possibly the best. Rachel has been recognised numerous times for her entrepreneurial and technical prowess: In 2015, she received Google’s Anita Borg Scholarship, only awarded to the most exceptional female computer science students. In 2016, she was named Next Einstein Ambassador for Malawi at the Next Einstein Forum, an initiative that promotes the sciences; listed by Forbes as one of the 30 most promising young entrepreneurs in Africa; and recognised as one of the top 40 innovators under 40 on the continent by Ventures Africa. Rachel is also an alumna of President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative of 2012.
Passionate about building a generation of entrepreneurs in her home country, Rachel believes that the youth are Africa’s future. To this end, she has established two initiatives within mHub with the aim of improving participation in the STEM fields: Girls for Code and Children’s Coding Club. In these programmes, participants learn skills that are fun and relevant, such as how to develop games, animations and mobile technology applications.
During Standard Bank’s Socio-Economic Forum, Rachel emphasised the importance of including Malawi’s youth in conversations about the country’s future, saying “The youth are creative, enthusiastic, and keen to learn.”