March 10, 2017

YALI Alumna Uses Technology to Create a Ripple Effect of Change

Young woman poses in front of black background wearing yellow accented dressRachel Sibande had the opportunity to visit an incubator for the first time in Chicago during her 2012 Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) exchange program on Business and Entrepreneurship. A year after her YALI experience, Rachel customized the concept of this incubator to Malawi's context and established mHub, Malawi’s first technology hub and incubator space for emerging young entrepreneurs.  Rachel has used the knowledge and skills attained from the experience to make mHub a social enterprise that champions the development of local technology solutions. The hub provides structured training and mentoring for young technology enthusiasts with technical and business skills, and incubates emerging youth led businesses.

Today, mHub has reached over 4,200 youth and has a membership of more than 130 innovators and entrepreneurs. It incubates 15 youth led startups in technology, architecture, media, design, and agribusiness among others. The hub has developed technology solutions for clients such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Malawi’s largest music festival, the Lake of Stars. They also developed Malawi’s first online fashion store Lily Alfonso and a citizen engagement platform called Mzinda.

As a social enterprise, the hub builds technology solutions and gives back some of its profits for social good in supporting skills transfer and entrepreneurship amongst youth in Malawi.  Through the hub Rachel has launched two ground breaking initiatives namely the Children's Coding Club and the Girls’ Coding Club where children and girls are taught how to develop technology applications.  One success story from the club is that of 10 year old Panshe Jere who developed an application called “Talk to Me” an app that converts text into voice. Panshe’s application won the TNM Smart Challenge Competition in Malawi and earned him a trip to Silicon Valley to attend Facebook’s Developer Conference, F8. While attending he had the chance to meet Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook.   

Young woman typing on laptop and smiling Photo Credit, LionsAfrica.org

Being a technology enthusiast, Rachel led the deployment of a technology platform for citizens to report on incidences as they happened during Malawi’s 2014 general elections. Since then she has led teams in the deployment of similar technology solutions in the 2015 Tanzanian elections and the 2016 Zambian elections Rachel is also part of a team of 14 young entrepreneurs from Southern Africa to set up the Commonwealth Young Entrepreneurs Alliance for Southern Africa (CAYE -SA). The initiative seeks to enhance collaboration and building the capacity of young southern Africa entrepreneurs from 14 member states in the region.  Rachel’s exploits as a social entrepreneur earned her a spot on Forbes Magazine list of 30 most promising young entrepreneurs in Africa in 2016.  

Group of young people standing and smiling LionsAfrica.org

Rachel praises the YALI program for all she has accomplished for her country and beyond.  She remarks, “Before YALI, I knew I wanted to make a difference to my community and country but did not know how or what I would do. I was not exposed to the outside world. I did not have solid knowledge, skills and a network of experts in business or technology neither did I have peers that had embarked on innovative ideas and solutions to learn from.  The YALI experience was life changing and transformative. It equipped me with knowledge, skills and a network of established business and technology experts and peers from across Africa. The YALI experience helped me to discover my passion and what I would do. It enhanced my confidence to start a ripple effect of change that would enhance skills amongst the youth in my community and country.”  She remains a social entrepreneur as a major shareholder in the mHUb limited company. Rachel has now taken on a new role, leading a multimillion dollar USAID project under the Feed the Future initiative in Malawi. There she hopes to break new barriers and enhance the development cause she is so passionate about.