Africa, Interviews

Sylvia Mukasa – Founder and CEO of GlobalX Investments Ltd/GlobalX Innovation Labs

You can be anything you want to be if you put to heart and mind to it, because gender does not define what or who you should/can be.

Sylvia is Founder/CEO of GlobalX Investments Ltd/GlobalX Innovation Labs. GlobalX’s provides opportunities for children, developers & entrepreneurs to learn, innovate, and scale up their knowledge in hardware and emerging technologies. GlobalX focuses on SDGs 4 (Quality Education);5 (Gender Equality);8 (Decent Work & Economic Growth); 9 (Industry,Innovation & Infrastructure; 10 (Reduced Inequalities) and 17 (Partnerships for the goals).

She is Country Co-Founder/Chapter Lead (Kenya) for Women in Tech Africa (WiTA),the largest female technology focused group in Africa and 2018 winner of the UN’s EQUALS in Tech Award, Leadership Category.

Sylvia is a TechWomen Fellow 2014, a Silicon Valley STEM program run by the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs; launched by Hillary Clinton, former US Secretary of State. TechWomen empowers, connects and supports the next generation of women leaders in STEM from Africa, Central & South Asia, and the Middle East.

She is active in the global and Kenya’s tech and entrepreneurship ecosystem. This earned her a special mention in the closing speech of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit 2015 in Nairobi, Kenya by Maria Contreras-Sweet, former US Government’s Lead Minister on Entrepreneurship and member of former President Obama’s cabinet. She believes in sustainable solutions and is passionate about empowering startups and entrepreneurs to imagine, design and create a better world. She is a strong proponent of inclusion, social innovations and impact investment.

She is 2015-2017 Next Einstein Forum Ambassador-Kenya and a BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt Responsible Leader. She serves on WiTA’s Operations Board and the Global Advisory Board for the India STEM Alliance.

In a nutshell, tell us a bit about your job, and what role technology plays in it?

I am Founder/CEO of GlobalX Investments/GlobalX Innovation Labs based in Nairobi, Kenya. GlobalX’s vision is to drive a more diverse, inclusive and competitive digital economy with a focus on emerging technologies, that opens up equal opportunities for all.

Our main purpose is to use technology to provide solutions for businesses and for social impact. GlobalX provides opportunities for children, youth, developers & entrepreneurs/businesses to learn, innovate, and scale up their knowledge in hardware and emerging technologies. We provide skills and support in AI, IOT, Blockchain, Coding and Robotics and other emerging technologies, which are at the core of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

GlobalX’s mission is Making Innovations Happen. We ensure that:

  • learners/innovators have the right skills and ensure inclusion of all in this quest;
  • innovators/entrepreneurs can get the funding support for their ideas
  • organisations that want to innovate or encourage innovation as well as incorporate digital  transformation  get the support they need.

In a nutshell, GlobalX feeds into the innovation pipeline by closing the skills, funding and organisational/corporate digital transformation gaps.

GlobalX’s work supports the following SDGs:

SDG 4 – Quality Education-Skilling and up-skilling of  learners and innovators/entrepreneurs/businesses with relevant skills on emerging tech for the future of work. We aim to fill  the gap where the school curriculum does not meet industry/market requirements .

SDG 5 – Gender Equality; We incorporate solutions with a gender-lens in emerging tech in our services/products.

SDG 8 – Decent Work & Economic Growth; Making people employable, become innovators and as they innovate they create jobs  leads to economic growth. Our technology consulting services support businesses in their digital transformation.

SDG 9 – Industry, Innovation & Infrastructure; Our mission in making innovations happen plugs into these for technological progress.

SDG 10 – Reduced Inequalities; Linked to SDG 5,but this focuses on inclusion beyond gender.

SDG17 – Partnerships for the goals-We believe more can be achieved through collaboration, partnerships and knowledge exchanges.

Where did your professional journey start and how did you get to where you are now?

I have a mixed educational background, but my studies in e-Business is what exposed me to technology and the desire to follow this path. So I was in the pioneer class of e-Business, which was a fairly new field  at the universities in the United Kingdom when I pursued it and IT was picking up as a field globally. I always loved Maths as a child and studied this at my early undergraduate level . Initially, I thought that I would be crunching numbers, mostly in a way that informed decisions to real world problems such as in business. So I further studied Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) at some point. I enjoyed setting up accounting systems like Sage Pastel  to automate accounting rather than doing  the day-day accounting work. The tech side of it was more appealing.

I also worked alongside my boss and Deloitte SA consultants to develop a strategy modeling tool called Making Intelligent Management Decisions (MIMD) to help Ericsson Sub Saharan Africa (SSA) make informed decisions in their growth plan. I was then responsible for the Strategic Plan worth 16BSEK covering 43 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. What  I loved and valued during my stint at Ericsson was the exposure to trends and advancements in telecommunications and technology. Ericsson’s ambition was focused on networked societies through smart cities, mobile broadband, M2M, Fixed Broadband & Convergence, Managed Services, TV & Media Services, Consumer and Business Applications, Communication Services and operations support system and business support system (OSS/BSS). So when I left Ericsson to found GlobalX, I automatically chose to  work at the convergence of tech, telecoms and emerging trends. From my work experience and education, I knew technology was a powerful tool in impacting businesses and societies. It also allowed a curious mind like mine to experiment and try new things given its dynamism. I would never be bored.

What is the greatest transformation in technology you’ve witnessed in your career?

Artificial intelligence (AI) which basically refers to the simulation of human intelligence in machines that are programmed to think like humans and mimic their actions. The term may also be applied to any machine that exhibits traits associated with a human mind such as learning and problem-solving. From disease mapping and prediction tools; song or TV show recommendations from Spotify and Netflix; conversational bots for customer support and marketing; to delivery of blood to remote locations that would be typically hard-to-reach, AI has definitely had a major contribution in society.

When you think about ‘women’ and ‘technology’ what comes to your mind first?

Women have been breaking the glass-ceiling to reach levels that were traditionally considered to be in the male-domain.

It is a mixed thought and feeling. A feeling of disappointment  at the many hurdles that women in tech/STEM  have to go through and; a feeling of hope that women are continually pushing for the change they want to see to make things better for the younger generation. Women have been breaking the glass-ceiling to reach levels that were traditionally considered to be in the male-domain and telling their story at various platforms to encourage and empower other women and girls.

We always hear there are not enough women working in Tech. What needs to happen to change that, which steps should be done to achieve gender equality in tech?

I am absolutely passionate about women in tech! And yes the number of women in tech needs to increase. A few things I would say that can make a difference are:

  • Gender-responsive policy is most critical. Integration of gender in ICT-related strategies, policies, plans and budgets, with clear gender-equality targets. Governments need to invest more in generating gender-disaggregated data to track progress. Of the 14 indicators of progress associated with the gender equity goal SDG5, most countries only measure three.
  • The tech sector must do more towards equality and diversity  to overcome biases and barriers, stereotypes, create relevant products, content and services that take into account the specific needs of girls and women.
  • Need to put into action real solutions, action plans and roadmaps such as: the recommendations of the UN’s Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development; UNHRC’s gender digital divide recommendations; and the proposals of the UN-IT partnership “Equals” to bridge the gender digital divide amongst others. They should not gather dust and we should be re-inventing the wheel on some of the recommendations already laid down.

If you had 1 Million € to invest in women, what would you do?

I would set up a fund to help get more women into tech entrepreneurship. This would be achieved through investing in female entrepreneurs, women-led businesses, and female fund managers. Even though there is some improvement over the years, it is sad that VCs and other funders still underfund women. According to data from PitchBook, female founders received 2.2% of $130 billion in VC funding in 2018.  According to a study from Silicon Valley Bank, startups with at least one female founder reported more difficulty finding funding, with 87 percent saying it was “somewhat or extremely challenging,” . The study further points out that only one in four startups have a female founder, 37 percent have at least one woman on the board of directors and 53 percent have at least one woman in an executive position. It also showed that the founder’s gender has a direct impact on gender diversity. For startups with at least one female founder, 50 percent had a female CEO compared to just 5 percent for companies with no female founder.

This pattern is not unique to the Silicon Valley, it is experienced globally, and I would like to see it change for the better.

How different would our world be if more women worked in STEM?

According to a McKinsey study, achieving full gender equality in the workforce could boost global annual GDP by $28 trillion by 2025, with the scale of that increase exceeding the size of the Eurozone economy today.

Diversity is critical in tech, as it enables companies to create better and safer products that take everyone into consideration. A report from McKinsey found that diverse companies perform better, hire better talent, have more engaged employees and retain workers better than companies that do not focus on diversity and inclusion. Despite this, women remain widely underrepresented in STEM roles, yet their contribution would definitely make a huge difference. According to a McKinsey study, achieving full gender equality in the workforce could boost global annual GDP by $28 trillion by 2025, with the scale of that increase exceeding the size of the Eurozone economy today.

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your 14-year-old self?

The world is all yours to conquer. You can be anything you want to be if you put to heart and mind to it, because gender does not define what or who you should/can be.

Sylvia Mukasa is Founder/CEO of GlobalX Investments Ltd/GlobalX Innovation Labs. GlobalX’s provides opportunities for children, developers & entrepreneurs to learn, innovate, and scale up their knowledge in hardware and emerging technologies. GlobalX focuses on SDGs 4 (Quality Education);5 (Gender Equality);8 (Decent Work & Economic Growth); 9 (Industry,Innovation & Infrastructure; 10 (Reduced Inequalities) and 17 (Partnerships for the goals).

She is Country Co-Founder/Chapter Lead (Kenya) for Women in Tech Africa (WiTA),the largest female technology focused group in Africa and 2018 winner of the UN’s EQUALS in Tech Award, Leadership Category.

Sylvia is a TechWomen Fellow 2014, a Silicon Valley STEM program run by the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs; launched by Hillary Clinton, former US Secretary of State. TechWomen empowers, connects and supports the next generation of women leaders in STEM from Africa, Central & South Asia, and the Middle East.

She is active in the global and Kenya’s tech and entrepreneurship ecosystem. This earned her a special mention in the closing speech of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit 2015 in Nairobi, Kenya by Maria Contreras-Sweet, former US Government’s Lead Minister on Entrepreneurship and member of former President Obama’s cabinet. She believes in sustainable solutions and is passionate about empowering startups and entrepreneurs to imagine, design and create a better world. She is a strong proponent of inclusion, social innovations and impact investment.

She is 2015-2017 Next Einstein Forum Ambassador-Kenya and a BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt Responsible Leader. She serves on WiTA’s Operations Board and the Global Advisory Board for the India STEM Alliance.

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