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Pragmatic and forward-thinking, Rapelang Rabana is a business intellectual with uncanny prescience. This techpreneur has never been one to stay in her lane – and she’s reaping the rewards of her boldness. Rabana’s raising the stakes of Africa’s involvement in education and learning through technology. She has an impressively long list of accomplishments for someone so young: a former World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Shaper and curator of the Cape Town Hub, she was also one of the youngest Grand Jurors for the UN’s World Summit Awards and is an ambassador for the same programme, as well as a 2007 Endeavour “High-Impact” Entrepreneur.

Her most recent honour was being selected as a 2017 WEF Young Global Leader. “I’m thrilled to have been chosen,” she says. “The WEF has been amazing for my career because I’ve met people who share my outlook, passion and commitment.”

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Always proactive, rather than passive, Rabana’s response to problems is to seek solutions – which is why she’s also involved in private equity. “I didn’t want to be 40, sitting around and complaining about the lack of funding for techpreneurs. I joined Nisela Capital and I’m starting with the basics, learning how to build up a general private equity fund to gain insights into how I can build up a successful tech fund. Very little has changed since I was looking for funding 12 years ago. Most techpreneurs don’t understand how venture capital funding works. We see the investors as stumbling blocks to the finance, but we have to understand life from the other side of the table.”

Nisela Capital – an advisory, asset management and private equity firm – has several years of investment banking and transactional experience in sub-Saharan Africa. The team has a solid track record, having previously invested over $100 million in the subcontinent and advised on more than R20 billion worth of transactions.

“It’s been a tough journey, but I drive myself more if there’s lots on my plate,” says Rabana. “It would have been easy to stay in my tech comfort zone, but it’s important to have a diverse range of skills. I’ve learnt a great deal since last November, when I had only about 5% of the 60% industry knowledge I have today. I see myself one day running a successful tech fund – and this is how I’ll get there.”


While Rabana seems to have the Midas touch, she’s humble about her success. “I’m still surprised, because all I did was trust my instincts regarding what I wanted to do and believe that my view of the world was valid. I had no idea it would bring such significant rewards,” she says. “For me, it’s about having greater self-understanding. There are people who are far smarter than I am and with more financial and social capital. Some of my peers are capable of doing anything, but they aren’t sure how to proceed. That indicates a lack of clarity or self-direction. Without real motivation and understanding of your purpose, you won’t succeed.”

Her innate altruism, confidence and enquiring mind have always underpinned her innovative projects. Fresh out of the University of Cape Town (UCT) with a degree in computer and business science, she and some of her peers hit gold in 2006 with their start-up venture, Yeigo, which developed some of the world’s earliest mobile VoIP applications.

“Yeigo was the first expression of what we Africans can build for ourselves. We wanted to enable cheaper calls on our cellphones, because that’s what had impacted us personally as students. No-one told us to do it or gave us a gold star or pat on the back. However, without internal self-validation, we wouldn’t have been able to keep going.” The company was later acquired by the international Telfree Group, a pioneering telecoms operator.

Rabana stayed on as the Global Head of the organisation’s R&D, but eventually left to follow her passion for education and learning. She spent the next six months “just breathing and sleeping” she says. “I’d had no idea how tired I was. I registered Rekindle Learning, but I wasn’t sure about what direction to take, so I did some random things consulting, speaking engagements and travelling – until I could find the clarity I needed. I was also working with the WEF, which gave me a lot of bandwidth to explore those opportunities. That was a really important phase, as I didn’t want to jump from one business to the next.”


Despite her IT success, Rabana doesn’t consider herself a techie. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do with myself after leaving school. I wanted to take a gap year, but that wasn’t a popular idea among my family. My elder brother was already at UCT and because I was clueless, he chose a business and computer science course for me. I’d never done coding before and it was a shock to my system.

“During my first year, I considered switching to other courses, but decided to stick with what I was enrolled for, as I was drawn to its creative element. I pushed through four of the most painful years of my life to finish that degree, and I’m glad I did, as being able to create something that never existed before is incredible.”

Pedagogy, she says, has always been an issue close to her heart. “Learning is a huge issue in Africa. How do we, as a continent, jump through several hoops to become a global leader and stop lagging behind? Learning and educational skills development is a big area, and technology has to be a part of the solution. I trusted that this was the journey I had to pursue.”

Rekindle Learning (now in its third year of operation) aims to change the way people learn. The focus is on micro-learning – taking in small chunks of information at a time via mobile phone or the web, rather than a single, big module of material.

It was only at the end of last year that Rabana understood how she could grow the business. “We’ve been working with call centres, banks and fast-moving consumer goods companies to upskill young people in less time. Companies don’t allocate a lot of resources to training and learning; instead, they simply hand out thick manuals and expect students to master the content. We’ve repackaged this same content into smaller components with interactive questions, so you can track how people are going through it and the knowledge they’re retaining. This gives you a real grasp of what they know.”

Rabana partnered with a bank to repackage the Financial Services Board’s regulatory exam’s pendulous training manual into a nine-module course. “The exams are particularly difficult for those with poor educational backgrounds, but we’ve seen significantly improved results from those who used the module. I wrote the same exam and I passed, using just the modules. The system works!” she says.

The potential uses for the technology are limitless and can be adapted for industries that require knowledge of complex regulations or dense reams of information. “This process has also been key in helping us find our niche, as now we don’t have to rely on companies to collaborate with us in creating the content. That process took far too long and was very frustrating,” she says.

Rekindle Learning’s more recent foray into the education and academic space has been trickier to navigate. “It took me a long time to figure out the angle from which to enter,” she says. “I didn’t want to start from scratch, as that takes too long to get to market and there are already some good products out there. So we partnered with an Austrian company which already had the technology, revamped it significantly for the local market – and made it an African solution.”

That solution is English Word Power, a bridging literacy program aimed at first-year university students, graduates or even matric learners preparing for exams. “In conversations with universities, I found that the overwhelming majority of students have less than Grade 8 proficiency in English. High schools just push learners through, so once they get to university, they can’t cope. With movements like #FeesMustFall and the drive for universities to be more inclusive, now’s the time to empower students.”

The technology’s already being used by some 7 000 students, but Rabana aims to expand that to at least 25 000 users in the next three years. The program’s currently available only through private limited access for universities, but she’s also seeking to make it more widely obtainable. “The two biggest issues facing education are financial inclusion and skills, so I’m working on one of those tangents. I don’t want to travel to the USA or Europe to hear about Africa’s problems. We already have a solution for educating people, but we have to change the trajectory of growth when we’re dealing with billions of them. We have the technology: we just need a different approach,” she says.

Source: Destiny Connect