Who are you?
My name is Rachel Sibande. I was born in Lilongwe, 29 years ago. I am an ICT enthusiast, an entrepreneur, a wife and a mother of three ‘heaven sent bundles of joy’. I am the first born in a family of five, a big sister and a friend to many. I am a Christian and I consider myself a dynamic, diligent and driven person.
Tell me about your past and what you remember and treasure most
As a child, I loved to play with my two immediate brothers. I made wired cars like they did. I liked to meddle with gadgets, opened old radios and tried to play with the transistors and motors moving them from one gadget to another. I was very curious and always wanted to invent something. I also loved to read books and discovered my passion for languages quite early in life.
I cherish the strong Christian values that were deposited in me at an early age and throughout life by my parents. I also cherish the lessons and practice of living with diverse cultures and people. All these, I vividly remember, cherish and influence the person I am today.
Tell me about your education background
I attended Carewell Primary School in Lilongwe. In 1997 and I went to Our Lady of Wisdom Secondary School in Blantyre. I read for a Bachelor’s degree in Science at the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College (Chanco) for the love, passion and curiosity that I had and still have for computers and mathematics. In 2005, I graduated from Chanco majoring in Computer Science and Statistics. In 2009, I attained a Master’s degree in Coding Theory and Cryptography with a distinction from Mzuzu University. I am currently reading for a PhD in Computer Science from Rhodes University in South Africa
How has been your career progression?
I started off my career in 2006 as a programmer, developing and maintaining accounting packages. Then I taught ICT at the Kamuzu Academy for a year and Lectured in Statistics at the Mzuzu University for two years. I decided to get a feel of the development world in applying ICT for development in 2009 and since then, it has been an exciting journey. For five years, I worked for an American non-profit organisation called ACDI/VOCA on USAid funded projects in Agriculture and marketing. I had a short stint with GIZ as country coordinator on an Agricultural Technical Vocational Training project before I left for further studies early 2015.
Currently, I am the CEO of Malawi’s first technology hub called mhub. This is an incubator for technology startups. We identify, nurture and mentor young technology entrepreneurs with technical and business skills. As a hub, we harness the potential that lies in our young people and enhance a culture of entrepreneurship. We hold a number of activities such as mobile application developer competitions, Hackathons which are rapid software development competitions, discussion forums on emerging trends in technology motivational talks and female developer competitions. We also have a children’s coding club and a girls coding club to enhance awareness of computer science to girls and children.
You recently got an award from Google, one of the biggest tech companies in the world, tell me about that
Google awards outstanding female Computer Science students studying in Universities from North America, Europe, Middle East, Asia Pacific and Africa yearly. The award is named after Dr. Anita Borg, a legend female computer scientist. It was a great moment when I learnt that I had been given this award. Having the opportunity to set my feet at the Google offices in London, interacting with the programmers, engineers and product managers behind many of the Google products such as Gmail, YouTube, Google search and Google Chrome was an absolutely life-changing and phenomenal experience for a technology enthusiast like me. The imagination of being recognised by the world’s largest search engine and email service that serves almost 500 million people is such a grand blessing of all time for me; so I was very delighted. They were 40 recipients worldwide, four from Africa.
How do you manage your time as a multi-tasker?
I believe that life is a balancing scale. We are all balancing between this and that. I believe that it is about being dynamic, making tradeoffs and setting priorities at any given time. Good planning and time management are key. I have also learnt that there are no formulas to striking this balance. It is about knowing what works best for me at a given time. It has also been easy for me to juggle the different roles because I have a very strong support system in my husband, Chrispine and the family which I really appreciate.
ICT remains heavily under-developed in Africa, What would take to develop the sector?
As for Malawi, a couple of things must happen. We need deliberate policies that integrate the use of ICT as a cross-cutting theme in all sectors of development be it health, agriculture and education. We need to make internet access more affordable. Malawi has among the most expensive and inhibitive tariff rates in Africa. This is a barrier to growth in ICT as the internet is a huge platform for technology. The academia needs to revise their curriculum and make it more relevant and dynamic to keep up with current trends in ICT. We need more citizen participation programmes that make use of ICT. Local companies, institutions and communities, must engage with the technology community to develop local technology solutions for the challenges we face as they are unique to us in some cases and off the shelf products might not be adequate and suited to our context. There must be initiatives that promote a culture of entrepreneurship in the technology space beyond selling of gadgets and devices. There must be access to finance for startups as this is a challenge at the moment. We must strengthen the technology community for expert discussion, information sharing and advocacy. We must strengthen the links between the industry, academia, developers and policy makers.
Unfortunately, we are really moving slowly, yet, with technology, speed is key. Nonetheless, I believe we can do it. We have to learn from countries such as Rwanda that were at war for so long and way behind us just a decade ago; but right now they qualify as among the most improved and successful countries in enhancing technology in the world.
What makes you happy with what you do?
I am driven by the desire to see technology become of use to the common person. My satisfaction comes from the simplicity and efficiency that one can achieve from using technology to transform livelihoods.
What advice would you give to fellow women?
The only person that needs to believe in you before anyone else does is you! Whatever domain you find yourself in there, have been others that have made it before you and they were not angels, but human beings like you. You can also do it. Society may sometimes expect double the effort from you as a woman to prove you are worth the salt, but take that as a stepping stone to be the best you can be. Don’t aim for half measures. There are no halves or quarters in success. Do the best you can and set no limits for yourself. Surround yourself with the right people. Never stop learning, don’t get complacent. Set your goals on paper and audit yourself along the way. Be focused, stay determined and work hard, nothing that comes on a silver platter feels as good as what is earned.
What other things do you like to do?
I like to try out new recipes and experiment with flavours in my kitchen; I play with my babies and like to appreciate African fashion designs.
What is your motivational quote?
“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”, John F Kennedy
What books would you recommend the modern woman career woman to read?
Lean In by Sherly Sandberg and Sane New World by Ruby Wax.