Irrespective of what people say and assume, women always manage to break free from societal notions and do something noteworthy in life for the greater good. Lilian Makoi, who hails from Tanzania, Africa has been working with a mission to uplift the people of her homeland and the world as a whole.
She is a serial techpreneur. Lilian Makoi is the co-founder of several notable initiatives such as Frokid Technologies Ltd., Mipango App, Jamii Africa. She has bagged several awards for her innovative work and has been named as Most Innovative Woman in Technology, Africa 2016 by The World Economic Forum!
The Voice Of Woman proudly brings to you the inspiring story of Lilian Makoi and her accomplishments so far. In this exclusive interview, she talks about what led her to become an entrepreneur, the importance of STEM learning for future generations, an inspiring message for every woman, and lots more.
So read on to know all about Lilian Makoi.
What was the driving force that led you to become an entrepreneur?
I grew up in a family where both my parents were entrepreneurs. I was fond of my father and sincerely admired the powerful and successful man he was! Although he never really mentored me to be an entrepreneur, he would always push me to believe in myself. He made me believe that I was smart before I really was. He also made me believe I could hold the biggest title in politics or as an employee.
When it comes to me, I always love to challenge myself to achieve the impossible, the unexpected from a woman. So I wanted to be like him, not achieve the titles he had in mind for me.
I remember one time I had a fight with my elder brother, and he said to me, ‘You are a woman, all we are waiting for is to marry you off and be a wife to someone, that is all you can be.’ He probably just said that in the heat of the fight, but I will never forget that statement. I was hurt and disappointed that, was all I could be?! Is that all that is expected of me?! But I took it as a challenge, I will prove them all including society wrong someday.
All these played a great part in making me want to be more and believe that I can be more and the perseverance to keep on even when it is not all rosy.
How important is STEM learning for the upcoming generations?
I would hold back from saying that, it is paramount, as I believe the other fields remain useful and are needed to enable tech to automate each specific industry., i.e. to automate legal processes, accounting processes, aviation, etc. You still need an expert in the specific field to make it work.
However, whichever field one is in, having digital skills is of the utmost importance! For you to stay relevant in the current and future world we are in, you need to have digital skills.
As for kids who are growing into a more digitized world, STEM would need to produce more manpower than most fields unarguably! The future depends on them!
How has your latest venture- Frokid technologies helped in the upliftment of African Kids so far?
FroKid Technologies aims at creating a safe environment for African Children online. And we say African children are a niche because as an African mother, I am well aware of the fear we parents face at the thought of giving our child access to the internet.
Again as a technology enthusiast, I know they need to get online, learn, get exposure, and be ready for the version of their future world! Unfortunately, the tools we have in the market right now, do not make it morally safe for a parent to put their kids online with no hesitation.
Despite the enormous effort, the likes of Google are putting to make classify content and improve controls, still, in the African context, the western version of PG13 is PG18, still adult Swahili and local languages content, adult or unsafe ads, western cultural practices make it to the eyes of our children. Social media makes it even more dangerous of a place for our children!
Frokids seeing this tremendous problem that hinders the ability of African children to catch up and get ready for their future world saw that it is a problem that needs to be addressed immediately!
We then designed tablets that come with an operating system we are fully in control of to only allow apps, tools, and ads that enable children to access online content without the fear of seeing what they shouldn’t be seeing. Our product is currently in testing mode, we have done two versions of iterations and we plan to be ready to sell the product from 2021.
As a tech entrepreneur, what changes do you wish to bring and see in Tanzania and the world as a whole?
I am extremely passionate about solutions that have an impact on the life of an average African family, the low-income population. I strongly believe we as people are where we are, not because we are doomed or cannot be more privileged people. No! But because we have not fully explored our full potential.
We are yet to create our solutions that solve the unique problems that we and our societies have. From access to education, financial literacy, digital literacy, health services access and affordability, information access, opportunities access to county strategizing, we need to utilize current technology trends and tools to curate faster growth!
As global change needs regional to the national to family to the individual level effort, I have made it a personal mission to be part of the change that I envision for Tanzania, Africa, and the world at large by solving the simplest community problems using technology.
Through Co-Founding to Solo Founding arrangements, I will make efforts to be the change, from enabling healthcare access and affordability with Jamii Africa, personal finance and access to financial advice, products, and opportunities with Mipangoapp, Children safety online with FroKid Technologies, and addressing mental health for women through Psychologists on a call with Saada NGO.
My wish is for more youth to look at problems in their societies as opportunities for a better Tanzania, a better Africa, and a better world and build innovative solutions to solve them.
How has Jamii Africa changed the scenario of the health insurance system in Tanzania ever since it was launched?
Launched in 2016, Jamii has impacted over 5,000 families in Tanzania by giving them access to quality medical services through affordable insurance policies.
Before 2016, local insurers were only offering expensive health insurance policies sold through corporates as an employment benefit. This made it possible for only the formally employed to afford health insurance. Although the government had initiatives to close this gap, still over 70% of the population was not covered. To understand why this obvious opportunity is unaddressed, we realized it was the traditional health insurance system that was letting the citizens down.
We, therefore, digitized the insurance on the boarding process, premium collection, benefit ledger management to claim to process. With these efforts, we were not only able to capacitate the insurers to quote affordable policies for the mass, but also made health insurance accessible!
Since then, we have worked with various leading corporate brands locally and internationally. Impacting the low-income population is a problem that has cost many lives and led to lifetime financial constraints.
Jamii enables insurers to underwrite short-term and long-term policies, process claims within 7 days, and reach millions of users at a low cost.
What hurdles have you faced as a technpreneur in Tanzania and how did you deal with it?
I would say the main challenge is access to funding for the growth of any good idea. With zero to the minimal presence of angel investors in the country, you are pretty much on your own.
Growing a global company needs one to have a quality team of experienced people, but without funds to afford the salaries they expect, your only option is for the founders to wear 6 hats for the initial 1-3 years of the company.
So we had this struggle raising and growing as fast as we needed to. The workaround I always use is bootstrapping and seeking partners that will take over some responsibilities as they get revenue share in the process. This could sometimes make you vulnerable or even undersell your shares and revenue share agreements.
The other was a lack of technical support at the time I started, however, a reasonable effort has been made since then. We now have various incubators and accelerator programmes as well as grand tech events like Sahara Sparks (www.saharasparks.com), that give local startups exposure to local and international investors.
What are the must-have qualities for women to become a successful entrepreneur?
I personally believe the first step is to remove the notion that ‘I am a woman’ entrepreneur and work with just ‘I am an entrepreneur’. The way society has sold who a woman is and the retrogressions she is set to stumble upon, sets us up for failure before we even start the journey. Such a thing makes a woman naturally doubt herself each time.
I would like to say that I believe that you have equal abilities and opportunities that the other gender has and go out as one! Then it will level the playing field, and you don’t need women-specific qualities.
How important is it for women to become financially independent in today’s time?
Vital! Being a mother and helping in children’s upbringing is an invaluable contribution to the community and country as a whole but what if you could do both?
Financial independence enables us to have a bigger contribution to the country’s economy, afford taking care of emergencies, and meet our needs. Financial independence also helps boost women’s confidence.
The number of female CEOs and entrepreneurs are increasing slowly. According to you, why do we need more women leaders in every field?
The more women leaders we can have, the more we inspire the next female generation to have bigger dreams and set higher goals. It is by seeing someone we know to do it, that we get to believe we too can.
The concept of judging a woman by her virtue still prevails in society. What are your thoughts in this regard?
I am a believer in moral standards for both sexes but more for women. One, as mothers we either bring up the CEOs or thieves of the world. Hence the more moral standards we have, the better the world will be.
Second, as a girl and lady, we need to be respected, respect is earned, if high moral standards are what it takes, then that should be the goal.
However, society needs to be trained to be more forgiving towards men as they are towards women, to see both men and women as humans that learn through mistakes, and mistakes build us than tarnish our self-worth.
It is a long shot to expect a drastic global cultural change, but we see how the internet has managed to marinate more and more societies to take up the western culture that is more pro modern woman with lesser rules. I think the next generations will have it easier than the previous and current state.
But as a woman, you need to have self-values and know your self-worth, with this, stand by your values and protect your self-worth as much as you possibly can. When you slip, learn to forgive yourself despite what the rest of the world thinks about how you should be treated. God is tolerant and full of Grace for both men and women!
What inspiring message would you like to share through the Voice of Woman?
Depend on God like your life depends on it because it does. He will guide your thought and clear your paths, He will give you Big dreams and the ability to see them through, He will protect what is yours and link you to a network of people and opportunities that are meant for you to achieve.
Gone are the days where there were women businesses and men businesses. Women are no longer limited to small scale poultry projects, hair salons, and secretaries, you can have a 10,000 chicken farm, you can design an app that detects hair type and use Artificial Intelligence to give hair products and hairstyles recommendations, you can be a virtual secretary with multiple clients, you can be the CEO or Managing Director of a big corporate. You can be anything you put your mind to!
~ Lilian Makoi