In a world where the majority of technology innovation leaders are men, there’s unwarranted misogyny. But despite that, there always crops an intrepid, visionary and an amazingly sharp lady who beats the odds to create a brand that resonates across the board. The most common names we hear of are Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Elisabeth Holmes, the billionaire CEO of Theranos.
How about Africa? Not many people dare even mention the success in here. One of the most stellar people I’ve come to identify with is Isis Nyong’o Madison, who has had an impeccable record in the tech realm. She holds degrees from Stanford and Harvard Universities, has been rewarded numerous accolades for her work in this critical industry in Africa as well as is a widely consulted public speaker.
Perhaps many people got to know her when Lupita Nyong’o won an Oscar, since she a cousin to the actress. I did an interview with Isis awhile back. It was an honor. The lady has previously worked with MTV, Google and InMobi in top capacities. She has been shortlisted on the Forbes Top 20 Youngest Power Women in Africa (2013), IT News Africa’s Top 10 Women in ICT (2013) and has been selected as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum (2012).
The mother of one is also a principal at Asphalt & Ink, a company that provides strategic advisory services to corporations, investors, start-ups, governments and non-profit organizations operating in Africa.
As if that’s not enough, Isis is the CEO of MumsVillage, a vibrant online community for mothers.
I had an interview with her sometime back and this is what she had to say about her career story:
Me: You’re from a family that has always supported charity. You grew up helping others from unfortunate backgrounds, with your brothers having projects in Kibera and the U.S. You’ve spoken at media and technology functions. What’s that one thing that has always inspire you to be the way you are, to take a certain lifestyle, your career and still influences what you’ll be doing in the future?
Isis: I’m a curious person by nature and inspired by the infinite possibilities that make life so precious. I’ve tended to see beyond the present in my work and a lot of that has been influenced by global experience and exposure. Having a future and solutions-oriented mindset lends well to the technology industry and so I’m fairly certain that I’ll continue to work in this space.
Me: Your cousin Lupita Nyong’o won an Oscar this year. Has that brought some considerable change in the way people look at you? How has it influenced people’s outlook on you?
Isis: It’s pretty awesome, isn’t it? Since I had my daughter just a month before the Oscar’s, I haven’t been out and about that much to feel the true impact of being ‘Lupita’s cousin’. However, it does come up often when I meet new people and I take great joy in the enthusiasm everyone exudes when they talk about her. I’m just as inspired as everyone else!
Me: Talking of employment in Africa, youth are not aware of the opportunities in STEM. Governments and institutions haven’t done enough to create such opportunities. What do you think should be done, because STEM is a field which has not been scaled in the continent as compared to Asia and the United States?
Isis: I’m not sure I entirely agree with the premise of the question but I know what you’re getting at. I am a firm believer that Kenya’s ability to achieve Vision 2030 goals and beyond rests heavily in ensuring that our population is better positioned to be net contributors to the global economy. A key part of this is rethinking our approach to education (which most governments are doing) and STEM (which refers to the academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math (and now STEAM to include ‘arts’) plays a key role.
I see STEM/STEAM as the underpinning of building a knowledge economy, which is ‘theoretically’ one of our key goals – while I haven’t seen current data, the 3 steps I would take would be to 1) have a clear commitment to building a knowledge economy and crystallizing that means 2) take stock of the quantity and quality of our STEM/STEAM programs, faculty and output and identify gaps 3) build medium term strategy on how to resource at national and county levels to build towards a knowledge economy. Much easier said than done but certainly achievable.
Me: How would you like to be remembered by generations to come?
Isis: I truly hope that I contribute to some significant change in Africa worthy of remembrance.
Me: What’s that thing that most people don’t know about you?
Isis: If I revealed that than most people would know
Me: What do you do to look so young? Any tricks?
Isis: Maybe not worrying too much about trying to look young – I truly think people radiate from the inside out so maybe I feel youthful inside.
Me: Talking of leadership and governance, what role do young people
play in shaping the future of Africa?
Isis: Young people have the chance to write a completely different chapter for Africa than the one they were handed. I just hope this opportunity is not squandered.
Me: What’s been your success mantra?
Isis: I’m not sure I have one beyond ‘doing my best’ but I do have several songs that motivate me. P Square’s E no Easy is great song to remind me to keep going when I’m working so hard without clear reward in sight. Success is hardly over night and I’ve done my ten thousand hours and then some to get to where I am now.
You can follow her on Instagram and check out her companies Asphalt & Ink and MumsVillage to see what she has been up to!