Rachel Sibande is fast rising as one of the technology entrepreneurs in Africa, a sector largely dominated by men. She is the founder of Malawi’s first technology and innovation hub called mHub.
At a younger age, Sibande wanted to become a French teacher but she also had other interests. She often found herself fidgeting with the family’s electronic gadgets. In the end, her dream of becoming a French teacher did not materialize, instead, she became a technology entrepreneur.
In high school, she became more interested in the sciences and when she got to the University, she pursued a degree in computer science and statistics. After her degree at the University of Malawi, she took things up a notch by pursuing an MSc in Theory, Coding, and Cryptography at Mzuzu University.
After completing her MSc, Sibande taught at one of Malawi’s elite schools, Kamuzu Academy, for two years. “I never had an opportunity to study there but I had a chance to go there and teach, so it was still motivational,” she told Forbes.
She later joined the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) as a Market System Specialist. After a five-year stint with the USAID, she then left and worked for Flanders International Cooperation Agency (FICA) and Deutsche Gesellschaftfür Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ).
In 2010, the Obama administration launched the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) to support young African leaders as they spur growth and prosperity, strengthen democratic governance, and enhance peace and security across Sub-Saharan Africa.
In 2012, she was selected to be part of YALI in Chicago. “It was a pivotal moment for me because, at that time, I knew I was very passionate about creating change in my country, she says.
The six-week internship program did not only expose her to many things like the concept of a technology hub, but it was also her first time of visiting the US.
“I visited a hub and incubator for entrepreneurs and thought it was really cool. I remember thinking to myself, ‘We need something like this back home. I’m going to start it’”, she told Africa.com. “After I got back home, I didn’t start working on the idea straight away. I procrastinated for a while until one day I read a quote that said something like, ‘If you don’t start now, you probably never will’”.
She eventually took steps to realize her dream and went ahead to register the hub even though she didn’t have capital. She volunteered on various projects to gain relevant experience. She worked on a project developing a technology solution for election monitoring.
It was a platform where people could send in reports of incidents via web, mobile, social media or SMS, as they happened during the elections. The founders of the project were impressed with her output and offered to give her the furniture from the project when it ended to get her hub started. “And that’s how I got started,” she said.
She started mHub in 2013 developing websites and enterprise systems. “I realized there were no platforms like that in Malawi at the time, and I wanted to see and encourage young people to consider careers in tech,” she told Forbes.
mHub has now grown to incubate innovative entrepreneurs from the tech, agriculture, architecture and construction industries.
Sibande later established mHub trust to train young people, particularly girls, in digital skills. So far, the program has reached over 29,000 young people in Malawi.
In 2017, she was one of the 14 world youth who was honored by President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi at Egypt’s first World Youth Forum (WYF) for her first technological hub in her country mHub, which is considered an incubator for Mawali technological start-ups.
The tech entrepreneur is a mother of three and is currently pursuing a PhD at Hodges University.