We sat down to ask Saidah a few questions about digital growth in Africa and what we need to encourage the development and expansion of technological innovation.
1. Your focus as Head of Strategic Partnerships and Innovation for Thomson Reuters is to explore and drive the digitilisation of new technologies to help fuel economic growth in Africa. Can you explain what your job entails?
The wonderful thing about doing business in Africa is that there is no such thing as a typical working day. There is so much to do and our markets are so dynamic that there is never a dull moment.
One day I may be working with our innovation labs in Cape Town, the next I may be in Lagos discussing land administration with the local government or in Nairobi with the large commercial banks helping to develop the foreign exchange and fixed income markets.
As such, most days are focused on working in partnership with customers, partners and other thought leaders to leverage emerging technologies to empower business and the wider communities we operate in.
Overall, we aim to combine our business expertise in financial markets, risk mitigation, land administration, supply chain, commodities and foreign exchange with our technical expertise in data analytics, cognitive computing, machine learning and block chain to support our customers in the business transformations they seek.
2. What do you think are some of the fundamental needs we require to advance South Africa and Africa in terms of technological innovation?
Innovation is about experimentation and at the innovation labs we’re committed to partnering and experimenting with our customers and other thought leaders to really drive change and make a difference.
To really do this however, we need the following:
- To have the right conversations – this is all about creating platforms that will allow people to gather and discuss the topics that will drive the change we need to see. But it’s not just about discussing, it’s also about committing to driving collaboration and taking the necessary steps.
- Listening to the needs – the more collaboration we have, the more we can understand what the needs are, where the gaps lie and how we can get involved in building innovative solutions to benefits Africa’s economy.
- Access to funding – many start-ups struggle to get access to funding. There are a lot of barriers to gain financial assistance through financial institutions. It is for this reason that collaboration, entrepreneurship, mentorship and incubators become critical.
The importance of true partnership and co-creation in building solutions of the future cannot be underestimated. We are all agents of change and together we can navigate the complexities and ensure that Africa can realise its true potential and take its rightful place in the global innovation arena.
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3. Can you tell us about some of the products or programmes that you’ve helped to develop? How will some of these technologies create potential employment opportunities?
I was part of the team that developed the online Reuters news service which was launched in America almost 15 years ago – this news service is still in use today and can be easily found on Google, Yahoo and AOL.
Currently one of my recent projects at the Thomson Reuters Labs – Cape Town is the Bankable Farmer Initiative (BFI) which looks to use alternative data sources and novel credit modelling to connect smallholder farmers with traditional banks, thus bringing capital to a segment of the population who are credit worthy, but have not had access to it.
Additionally, we’re working on an African start-up evaluation tool where we are using data science to help predict which young companies have a greater chance of success.
Our role in Thomson Reuters Labs – Cape Town is to experiment and de-risk opportunities/projects that our business partners ultimately take to market. So BFI and the start-up tool are active proofs of concept, not commercialised products in the market.
4. As a woman in the technology industry, what are some of the biggest challenges you face?
Beyond the usual business stresses of working in a very dynamic market, the thing that keeps me up at night is our people and our customers – and always making sure that we do the best thing for both of them.
In addition to this, as a woman you are faced with a lack of women in the same C-level position in the industry. Because the industry is dominated by men, I find myself competing with the opposite sex and constantly proving my abilities to hold a position or to get my point across.
Being a mother in this industry can also be daunting with the hectic travelling schedule, one really needs to find a way of meeting your obligations at work and fulfilling your duties as a mom, but one thing I can say is that no man is an island – make use of all the help you can get in order to successfully achieve your goals or targets.
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5. What do you think we can do to encourage young women interested in technology to enter a field that is generally considered to be predominantly male-orientated?
If you are dynamic, naturally curious and willing to push the envelope – I would say, go for it – don’t be discouraged by a gender that dominates an industry.
This is an exciting space where you control your destiny. Tech is changing all the time so you will have an incredible time filled with self discovery and learning new things every day.Technology and coding in particular is a great equaliser. So much is open and some of the best coders I know are self-taught.
This industry will allow you figure things as you go, you don’t need to have a degree to excel in it. Take Mark Zuckerberg for example - he dropped out of Harvard and started Facebook which is now worth 426.5 billion.
This is one of the few industries where self taught people excel in what they do because what counts is your curiosity, willingness to learn and not being afraid to pick yourself up and try again.
You just have to be you, live your truth and passion.