From a young age, Zambian-born Chilekwa Banda was always interested in computers and loved opening things up to figure out how they worked. It is little wonder that she is now a key player in the tech space as she had always known that this was where she belonged.
Chilekwa Banda is not just a tech Sis. She is well-versed in notable aspects of the tech ecosystem in Zambia. She shares her journey so far with us on this week’s women in tech.
Chilekwa’s interesting career path
Chilekwa obtained a degree in information and computer technology from the Zambian Centre for Accountancy Studies. After school, she began an interesting journey around the industry that spanned over one decade.
First, she got a job at Celtel Africa (now Airtel), a job which saw her fixing software on devices that came into Zambia for the telco.
After a while at Celtel, she moved to Blackberry as a country representative and later to the UBA Zambia as the head of Digital support where she oversaw the implementation of digital banking projects and provided strategic support for its digital platform.
After spending 3 years at UBA, Chilekwa would move on to Zoona, a mobile money transfer company, one of the first few in Zambia years ago. At Zoona, she carried out field research for 2 years before helping to launch products like the zone wallet. She left the company as head of corporate relations and strategic partnerships after 3 years.
She has also worked at Paygo, a subsidiary of the Zanco bank, Zambia as head of strategic partnerships. She later joined fintech unicorn, Flutterwave as Zambia’s operations and partnerships manager. She later joined Postdotnet as managing director.
Chilekwa tells me that the journey has been tough, especially because the industry is predominantly male-dominated: “The industries I have worked in have largely been male-dominated. In my college class, we were just 5 women in a class of 41. I had a similar experience at my first job.”
Consequently, she had to do more to prove herself and continue to earn her place at the table:
“A male-dominated industry requires women to think like men and act like one. This has its advantages and disadvantages with the latter outweighing the former. You are forced to prove yourself. I have been in some rooms where people expect me to come in with a superior male or colleague and they are surprised it is just me and the weight of expectation is palpable.”
She admits that the conditions are getting better: “…we now have more women in the space. But. some of the challenges are still there. It has really been an interesting journey, full of challenges but interesting nonetheless.” She adds.
Becoming the tech connoisseur
Having a wealth of experience from working with different organizations, Chilekwa has been able to position herself as the go-to person people for ideas about the digital financial space in Zambia.
“I have worked in several organisations and most of them are in the digital financial services space. Looking back, I think becoming a digital financial services expert has always been an unconscious plan as I have been very deliberate in choosing the organizations I worked for”, she explains.
She told me that acquiring loads of experience has a cost. Chilekwa had been questioned a number of times by interviewers who sometimes saw it as being unstable.
“For me, it was a journey of getting a holistic understanding of the digital finance sector. This means I have what it takes to build an organization with an experience in sales, technology, implementation, leadership and customer relations”, she said.
To cement her place as the go-to person for all things digital finance in Zambia, Chilekwa is a member of several associations. These include the alliance for digital financial services and the association of digital finance practitioners in Zambia (where she was recently appointed as the chairperson).
She told me that her role as the chairperson provided the opportunity to work with different people across different countries as she interacts with other chairpersons in the digital finance alliance for Africa.
“The association was a way to engage different individuals from the financial services space and to also bridge the gap between the financial services sector and the non-financial services like the research, accounting, the bankers association etc. We want to build a rapport with these sectors and have some way of collaborating and educating one another about digital products and how technology can be used in different sectors.”
They also carry out other projects like training SME owners on understanding how to use technology to boost their businesses and organising webinars on the blockchain.
She says that the association gives members who are part of the digital finance alumni to have the opportunity to take a 3-year course to become digital finance practitioners around the world. The about 150 members of the association also have the opportunity to network and get jobs with ease.
Chilekwa says her biggest challenge as a woman in tech is being heard. Also, she thinks that women do not have the opportunity to bring their feminine side to the table as they would be judged and accused of being “emotional”,
“I think women are amazing creatures and we should be able to bring our feminine side to the workplace. What we often see is that there is no room for that, especially when you are a leader. The role requires you to project a certain image.’
She also talks about the pains of gender clashes:
“Women are often expected to appear a certain way in deference to men even in the boardroom and I don’t think submission should have any place in a work environment. Moreover, whereas a man’s aggression is seen as a power play, as focus, a strategy, a woman’s aggression is seen as trying too hard, as a negative thing” Chilekwa says.
Advice for women
“Be unapologetic about your dreams “Chilekwa advises women. She would like women to be unapologetic about their ambition and smartness and should not allow themselves to be relegated to some corner.
“Women should be unapologetic about their dreams and ambition. Do not shrink but work hard to improve yourself, why play small when you can be big? Strive to be better, figure out who you are and the unique value you offer as a person and bring that to the table”, she adds.
For women looking to come into the tech space, she says:
“Read a lot, knowledge is power and value, so if you are coming into this space, you should be willing to keep learning as technology is always evolving and changing. Be willing to work with others, learn all you can and be willing to listen so you can learn”
In 5 years, Chilekwa plans to create a fintech company to solve a unique problem in the Zambian digital payment space:
“I have built a network. I have the experience, and I have been able to establish my brand as a thought leader in the fintech space. So, my next step will be founding a startup. My startup will tackle issues like financial inclusion in the rural space as well as financial inclusion for women and children. We will look at where Africa currently is and seek to take it forward using technology”, she adds.
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