The end of the year in Johannesburg means that one JSE-listed company (usually Discovery) will be hosting a conference that includes influential international thought leaders. This year Business Connection Group aka BCX, with events company BrainFarm, hosted its first BCXDisrupt Summit unlike previous years where they hosted exhibitions of their new technology and various talks by local thought leaders. However, this year included local and international thought leaders like Malcolm Gladwell, Will.i.am, Rich Mulholland and many others. The women speakers were Marieme Jamme, Jane McGongial and Rapelang Rabana. The mix of speakers brought enlightening views on what disruption means today and for the future.
It was my first time hearing of Marieme however I soon learnt it wouldn’t be the last. She may be short in stature but her spirit and ambitions are far from limited to her height. Her current ambitious target is to help empower one million young women and girls globally to become coders by 2030 through her initiative iamtheCODE, but first some background on this amazing woman.
Marieme was born in rural Senegal to an oligarch mother who gave her and her twin brother away at an early-age. She was raised in various foster homes and then later trafficked as a young prostitute in Paris. During that time she experienced great hardship and received no formal education until the age of 16 years old, when she taught herself how to read and write. She later left Paris to begin anew in Britain where she taught herself how to code in 7 languages whilst working petty jobs.
Since then she has assisted other tech companies get a foothold in Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Latin America and Asia through her consultancy firm SpotOne Global Solutions. She has twice been named one of the 100 most influential Africans by the African Business Magazine and as one of Forbes’ 20 youngest powerful women in Africa. Most recently, she was named 100 most influential people of African and African Caribbean heritage on the Powerlist 2017 of Britain.
Although she holds various accolades and influence she remains determined to disrupt and redefine women coders. Her initiative iamtheCODE sees young girls and women with no formal education learning the language of code and using that to create opportunities for other marginalised communities. One of her closing remarks was, “gender equality doesn’t mean women must have power over men”.
If you are a serious gamer then you would have heard of the woman who changed how games could be used to add 10 years to your life. Seems unlikely but Jane spent years researching the neurological behaviour of gamers whilst playing. This was inspired by her personal experience that lead her to disrupt her brain from everything the doctors had told her she couldn’t do.
Jane was involved in an accident that left her in coma and when she awoke from it her doctors told her she couldn’t read, write, exercise, basically everything which one enjoys in their daily life she was told she couldn’t do anymore. However, she chose to disrupt that by trying to do the very things the doctors had told her she couldn’t do. She began by teaching herself how to write again by writing short sentences of what her brain could muster at the time. Then she began engaging people by talking to them whilst walking, that way she got to exercise and improve her speech. She also added unnecessary obstacles to her day when in pursuit of her goal e.g. writing with her non-dominant hand. This was to help rewire the brain to think differently about achieving goals. She broke this down to 3 habits which fire up the brain just as gaming does, they are; 1. Make a prediction, 2. Take a walking meeting and 3. Add an unnecessary obstacle.
These 3 habits helped Jane to recover from the brain trauma she suffered from the accident but it also inspired her to create the game SuperBetter. SuperBetter is a game that helps players tackle real-life health challenges such as depression, anxiety, chronic pain and traumatic brain injury. She now designs alternative reality games that reframe real-life, carefully crafted online worlds that harness the gamer’s ability to solve real-life problems such as hunger, poverty, climate change, etc.
Rapelang may seem unassuming at first but her beauty and power lie in her poised nature. On the day of the media conference she was involved in a car accident (unharmed thankfully) yet that did not deter her from attending the conference. This is the nature of the computer scientist who at 16 had no idea what her life plan was.
After graduating Rapelang began her entrepreneurial journey when she co-founded Yeigo, which developed the earliest mobile VoIP apps. If that’s too much computer jargon for you don’t worry I also didn’t know until my trusty friend Google helped me get a better understanding. She later went on to disrupt educational learning through her technology company Rekindle Learning, it provides digital learning experiences that improve learning efficiencies to help deliver stronger performance both at school and work. Thus driving her commitment to aid Africa’s economic growth through upskilling Africa’s next generation. She aims to achieve this by redefining educational systems and models of assessing human ability so that individuals can continue to contribute beyond the automated world of the future.
Although she has achieved numerous world accolades before she turned 30 and continues to be a pioneer in her field, she is fully aware that opportunities for coders still lie in Africa and not abroad. She believes the space for growth and disruption for coders lie in the many unresolved issues within Africa. She believes “the market today is hungry for things that are inclusive” and the ability to unlocking these new ideas is if one has an authentic connection to their idea.
Disruption is like a volcano
I left the media conference and summit shifted from the thought-provoking talks and discussions from the various speakers, to the extent that I decided to disrupt my own daily habits in small ways. One of the things that I have been doing is applying Jane’s unnecessary obstacle of trying a different strategy in pursuit of a goal; my unnecessary obstacle is brushing my teeth with my left hand. At first it was uncomfortable and awkward since neither my brain nor hand really understood what I was doing, to the extent that my right hand would awkwardly position itself ready to takeover. However, now I can proudly report that my left hand has slowly started improving on its technique and my right hand isn’t on edge anymore.
I guess what I truly learnt from the Summit is that disruption comes from the changes in our habits to form new habits that redefine us but also help us adapt to an ever changing world.