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Enterprise

Spotlight: Five women shaping African enterprise tech

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As the African continent embraces a tech boom, local women are playing a pivotal role in harnessing technology to digitize traditional industries.

Female trailblazers have been actively involved in digitizing industries and making innovative strides in telecoms, agriculture, banking, education, healthcare, and beyond.

We know that women are still underrepresented in Africa's tech ecosystem, but there has been a noticeable increase in female leaders in the enterprise sector, especially in the last ten years.

African women are breaking barriers, championing evolution, and striving to expand representation in digital workspaces.

Connecting Africa has compiled a list of five African women in enterprise tech that have been shaping the African digital landscape.

1. Microsoft Africa President Lillian Barnard

Microsoft Africa President Lillian Barnard has spent more than two decades in the ICT industry.

In 2019 she became Microsoft South Africa's first female chief executive since Microsoft reinvested in the country in the early 1990s and in 2023 she was promoted to Microsoft Africa president.

She has held various executive positions, both locally and abroad, and has served on numerous boards.

Microsoft Africa President Lillian Barnard.   (Source: Microsoft Africa).
Microsoft Africa President Lillian Barnard.
(Source: Microsoft Africa).

Before joining Microsoft, she served as chief sales officer at Vodacom and worked for IBM for 15 years, including a seven-year international assignment in France and Switzerland.

Barnard is passionate about the empowerment of women, and at Microsoft she is prompting a culture that encourages gender equality in the workplace.

She also previously worked with Duke Corporate Education to design a women-only course that helps female employees become the agents of change by amplifying feminine voices and views in the workplace.

Her advice to other women and young girls is to "be bold, be fearless and to surround themselves with people who inspire and challenge them to be their best self."

2. MainOne Founder and CEO Funke Opeke

Funke Opeke is the founder and CEO of MainOne, a telecommunication and networks company, and following a US$320 million acquisition in 2022, MainOne now forms part of Equinix – a US-based digital infrastructure company.

Nigerian-born Opeke spent 20 years of her career in the US - with high-profile roles like executive director of Verizon Communications Wholesale Division.

In 2005 she decided to return to Nigeria to take up the role of chief technical officer at MTN. After that, she advised Transcorp on the acquisition of the former state telecoms monopoly, NITEL, and briefly served as the interim COO post-acquisition.

MainOne Founder and CEO Funke Opeke.   (Source: MainOne).
MainOne Founder and CEO Funke Opeke.
(Source: MainOne).

Before the Equinix acquisition MainOne built West Africa's first privately owned, open access submarine cable system - a 7,000km system with landing stations in Nigeria, Ghana and Portugal and reserved branching units in Morocco, Canary Islands, Senegal and Ivory Coast.

The $240 million project was completed in 2010 – on time and on budget.

"To even the imbalance against women in technology, there is a need for initiatives aimed at engaging, inspiring and empowering women and girls in science, technology, engineering, and math fields (STEM) at an early age," Opeke told Connecting Africa in a previous interview.

3. FNB Merchant Services Chief Data and Analytics Officer Nollie Maoto

Chief Data and Analytics Officer for Merchant Services at FNB Nollie Maoto has over 15 years of experience in the financial services industry and is a seasoned speaker and panelist when it comes to the data and analytics industry, not just in South Africa but also globally.

Maoto is passionate about the data and analytics industry and more so, the empowerment and advancement of women in this industry globally.

She champions a movement to train more female data scientists, as the results show that data analytics teams including women not only perform better, but women also bring diverse perspectives which help counter biases when creating algorithms in areas like artificial intelligence (AI).

FNB Merchant Services Chief Data and Analytics Officer Nollie Maoto.   (Source: Nollie Maota).
FNB Merchant Services Chief Data and Analytics Officer Nollie Maoto.
(Source: Nollie Maota).

Maoto has many accolades under her belt, including being crowned Data Analytics Leader of the Year 2022 by Dalebrook Media South Africa.

She was also named one of CDO Magazine's Global Data Power Women for 2022 and was one of the 2022 Corinium Global Top 100 Leaders in Data & Analytics.

She was nominated as one of the 50 most inspiring women in the STEM sectors in South Africa by Inspiring Fifty SA in 2021 and was named the CDO Ambassador for South Africa in 2022.

4. Mastercard West Africa Head Folasade Femi-Lawal

With over 25 years of experience, Folasade Femi-Lawal was recently appointed as Mastercard head for West Africa.

She previously led the cards and messaging business at First Bank in Nigeria, where she contributed to the bank's mobile financial services and digital banking strategy.

Mastercard West Africa Head Folasade Femi-Lawal.   (Source: Mastercard).
Mastercard West Africa Head Folasade Femi-Lawal.
(Source: Mastercard).

Before joining First Bank, Femi-Lawal was the head of the United Bank of Africa's loan monitoring unit and previously worked at Airtel.

Femi-Lawal is currently helping strengthen Mastercard's partnerships with key stakeholders and aims to advance its mission of building a more connected and inclusive digital economy in West Africa.

She is eager to support the Nigerian government's agenda for developing a powerful, inclusive and secure digital economy - including for women.

5. Airbnb Middle East Africa Regional Lead Velma Corcoran

Velma Corcoran is a firm believer in the potential of technology to drive inclusive growth and entrepreneurship across Africa, especially for women.

Corcoran leads Airbnb's campaigns work across the Middle East and Africa region, including the creation of the Airbnb Africa Academy and the Africa Travel Summit.

Airbnb Middle East Africa Regional Lead Velma Corcoran.   (Source: Matshepo Sehloho).
Airbnb Middle East Africa Regional Lead Velma Corcoran.
(Source: Matshepo Sehloho).

She is obsessed with how Airbnb can redefine travel in Africa and take tourism to people and places that need it most, and the role technology will play in unlocking this potential.

She joined Airbnb in March 2016 as the regional market manager for sub-Saharan Africa.

Before this she led marketing for Cape Town Tourism, where her team won numerous awards for destination marketing leadership, including awards from the UNWTO, Travel & Leisure Smitty Awards, and Cannes Gold.

Related posts:

*Top image source: Image by Freepik.

— Matshepo Sehloho, Associate Editor, Connecting Africa

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