Connecting Africa is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 3099067.


Spotlight: Five women shaping African enterprise tech

Article Image
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

Innovation hub


Four agritech startups to watch in 2024

Connecting Africa has compiled a list of four agritech startups that are making a difference in the communities they serve.


Paymentology looks to strengthen its African roots

Global issuer-processor Paymentology's CEO Jeff Parker spoke to Connecting Africa about the company's African roots and aspirations to work with more banks, fintechs and enterprises both on the continent and globally.

More Innovation hub

Latest video

More videos

Partner perspectives

All Partner Perspectives

Sponsored video

More videos

Industry announcements

More Industry announcements

Upcoming events

Africa Tech Festival 2024
November 11-14, 2024
Cape Town, South Africa
More Upcoming events

Africa Tech Perspectives


Uber's Marjorie Saint-Lot on inclusion and sustainability in Africa

Uber's Country Manager for Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire, Marjorie Saint-Lot, shares how the ride-hailing company is approaching public-private partnerships, environmentally friendly initiatives and gender inclusion in Africa.


The 100 most influential African leaders in 2023

A new report from Africa Tech Festival and Connecting Africa puts a spotlight on the top 100 African leaders in the telecoms and technology sector in 2023.


Deep dive into East Africa's tech startup ecosystem

New survey reveals a lack of access to investors, reliance on international VCs and global recession trends as the biggest barriers for East African tech startups to access funds.

More Africa Tech perspectives

Guest Perspectives


Omdia View: February 2024

By Omdia Analysts

Highlights in February 2024 in the Middle East and Africa included 5G launches in Senegal and 5G trials in Egypt as well as Kenya's first 5G MVNO. Airtel also launched a new wholesale connectivity business while MTN and Huawei are planning a joint Innovation Technology Lab in South Africa – that and more in this month's Omdia View.


Omdia View: January 2024

By Omdia Analysts

Highlights in January 2024 in the Middle East and Africa included a $200 million fintech deal between MTN and Mastercard as well as 5G network trials by Telecom Egypt – that and more in this month's Omdia View.

More Guest Perspectives

Like us on Facebook

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign Up
Tag id test-002