The Architects of the Future
10 African Leaders in Tech Who Are Paving the Way for the Next Generation
African tech leaders are blazing a pathway for future change-makers, as they take the Fourth Industrial Revolution by storm and inspire young leaders to dare to disrupt. From investment to financial services to agriculture, tech is transforming every aspect of the world as we know it, and Africa’s talent is leading the way. To celebrate Leadership Month here at The ROOM, we honour ten exceptional African tech leaders continuously innovating and creating a monumental impact on the continent.
Hema Vallabh, Co-Founder & CEO of WomHub
“We need to invest and provide the support that female founders need to grow. They, in turn, will help our struggling economies thrive.”
Hema is a trailblazer who has worn all sorts of hats — from engineer to entrepreneur to investor. She is the Co-Founder and CEO of WomHub, a boutique pan-African incubator and the continent’s first coworking space for female founders in STEM. The social enterprise tackles gender parity all along the engineering skills pipeline, with the vision to empower 1 million girls in STEM and develop women leaders and entrepreneurs in engineering. The African Union has recognised her enterprise as the top TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training) programme in Africa supporting women leaders across the continent. Hema is also a founding partner at Five35Ventures, a pan-African venture capital fund that invests in women tech entrepreneurs.
Tope Awotona, Founder and CEO of Calendly
“If you’re going to do something, you have to go all in.”
Disruptive Nigerian entrepreneur Tope Awotona is the founder and CEO of Calendly, a multi-billion dollar scheduling platform for high-performing teams and individuals accelerating business. The company was born from the vision of simplifying scheduling for everyone without the back-and-forth emails. Tope poured his entire life savings and maxed out his credit cards to fund his idea in 2013, deciding to put everything on the line after three previous failed ventures. Tope was awarded the Atlanta Business Chronicle Most Admired CEO award in 2021 and the Comparably Best CEOs award in 2019.
Naadiya Moosajee, Co-Founder and CEO at WomEng
“Engineers design our world and society, and if we don’t have women at the design table, we exclude 50% of the population.”
Engineering powerhouse Naadiya Moosajee is on a mission to close the gender gap for women through her organisation, Women in Engineering (WomEng), which is devoted to investing in the future of girls and women in engineering and technology. Naadiya is also a Co-Founder of WomHub, alongside Hema Vallabh. In 2014, she was named one of the Top 20 Young Power Women in Africa by Forbes. The Government of China also awarded her a special honour at the BRICS Summit for her work in African girls’ STEM education. She is passionate about developing STEM and fostering growth, gender equality, leadership and prosperity in emerging economies while mentoring the next generation of leaders and engineering better societies.
Mark Essien, Founder & CEO of Hotels.ng
“There are always a bunch of challenges at every stage of your company. Success comes from identifying what the particular most pressing problem is right now and solving that one problem.”
Nigerian-born Mark Essien is a serial and globally acclaimed tech entrepreneur who holds a Bachelor of Engineering (B.Eng) degree in Computer Hardware Engineering from Beuth Hochschule and an MSc in Computer Science from Freie Universität. During his time in university, he created various software that he sold to notable companies including Disney and the US Armed Forces. He founded Hotels.ng in 2013, an online travel agency specialising in hotel bookings within Nigeria with a vision to become the biggest provider of travel information and reservation in Africa, making him one of the earliest travel tech entrepreneurs in the country. In 2016, Mark founded the HNG internships to train and recruit the most talented software developers across Africa. In recognition of his contribution to the hospitality and tech industries, he was listed among Forbes’ 30 Most Promising Young Entrepreneurs in Africa in 2015 and nominated for Nigeria’s Future Awards in 2014.
Rapelang Rabana, Founder of Rekindle Learning
“In the absence of believing that you, personally, can create value, you fall into a terrible mindset that value is given through donations, grants, entitlement and undue favour, or worse yet, taken through force, aggression, theft, fraud and corruption. And the world can ill afford these views.”
Hailed as one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Africa’s Best Young Entrepreneurs and featured on the O Power List by The Oprah Magazine, Rapelang is making waves in the African tech industry. She is the Founder of Rekindle Learning, an award-winning learning & development company providing mobile and computer learning applications for students and adults of all ages. Rapelang first established her reputation as the Founder of the telecommunications firm, Yiego, an innovative software company that developed some of the world’s earliest mobile VoIP applications. She is a Global Shaper of the World Economic Forum, a firm believer in the power of education to create opportunities, and a role model to many who aspire to seize tech and education opportunities.
Strive Masiyiwa, Founder of the Econet Group
“Integrity is better capital than money. You can accumulate it just like money and use it just like money, but it goes further and is enduring.”
Zimbabwean billionaire businessman and philanthropist, Strive Masiyiwa is the Founder of Econet Group, comprising Econet Wireless and Cassava Technologies. He is best known by Zimbabweans for his resilience and fearlessness in the face of adversity when starting Econet Wireless, which has become the top mobile and fixed wireless platform in the country. In 2020, he was named amongst Bloomberg’s 50 Most Influential People, New African Magazine’s 100 Most Influential Africans, and Mail & Guardian’s 100 Africans of the Year. He is also a board member of the Rockefeller Foundation and co-founded the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, an initiative to help 400 million African smallholder farmers. In 1996, Strive and his wife, Tsitsi, founded the Higher Life Foundation, a social enterprise dedicated to helping vulnerable and orphaned children through education and materials support.
Mary Mwangi, Founder & CEO of Data Integrated
“You can do it. There’ll be days when you’ll feel like you’ve hit rock bottom, but you have to get up. Know that every day there’ll be challenges, and there’ll also be successes.”
A pioneer in the fintech logistics space on the continent, Mary Mwangi is the Founder and CEO of the innovative ICT company Data Integrated. Based in Kenya, her company offers financial solutions to African SMEs and especially focuses on Kenya’s public transport system, where she is leveraging tech to solve the long-standing problems faced in the industry. Data Integrated offers several payment options, including the groundbreaking MobiTill Epesi Smart Public Transport app, which has changed how fleet managers operate their businesses. For its work, the company won the MEST Africa Challenge in 2018 and Africa.com’s Brilliant African Innovations Against COVID-19 contest in 2020.
Charity Wanjiku, Co-Founder of Strauss Energy Ltd
“It’s important that girls are at the forefront of this digital age because nobody will hire you if you do not have tech skills.”
The vibrant Co-Founder of Strauss Energy Ltd, Charity Wanjiku, is hailed by Forbes and the World Economic Forum as one of the top women in tech globally. Her company, a solar company dedicated to powering rural communities in Kenya through building green solutions, started producing patented solar tiles powering off-grid areas in rural Kenya way before Tesla took orders in the US and UK for its solar tiles in 2017. Their solar systems are unique because they have a special meter that can feed unused electricity back to the national grid, generating income for households. Charity also lends her expertise to the architecture, entrepreneurship and technology industries and is a vocal advocate for breaking STEM barriers for women and girls.
Jay Alabraba, Co-Founder of Paga
“It’s important to pick and learn great things from other markets and apply them here, but also be willing to further innovate.”
Jay Alabraba is the Co-Founder and Director of Business Development at Paga, Nigeria’s largest mobile payments company. He has been at the forefront of Africa’s tech revolution and digital transformation as one of Nigeria’s earliest fintech entrepreneurs. Jay’s career began when he joined Microsoft in Redmond, Washington, as a Program Manager. He oversaw a cross-functional team that won multiple patents for its inventive work in data protection and anti-piracy fields. He accepted the Charles P. Bonini Partnership for Diversity Fellowship from Stanford Graduate School of Business in 2004.
Sara Menker, Founder & CEO of Gro Intelligence
“In a world where you’re trying to make an ecosystem more efficient and more sustainable, more people need to have access to a certain level of information. And the only way you make that level of information available at a cheap enough cost is AI.”
Sara Menker grew up in Ethiopia in the ’80s in the cosmopolitan capital of Addis Ababa, which inspired her determined and innovative approach to life and problem solving. Today, she is the Founder & CEO of Gro Intelligence, a tech company that uses artificial intelligence to forecast agricultural trends — illuminating the interrelationships between our earth’s ecology and the human economy. Before founding Gro Intelligence, she was the Vice President of Morgan Stanley’s commodities group, having worked in commodities risk management and subsequently moved to trading during her time with the company. Sara has been named a Global Young Leader by the World Economic Forum, is a fellow of the Aspen Institute and a Trustee of the Mandela Institute For Development Studies (MINDS).