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Women transforming the world through technology

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Sandra Usiku (SU), a young information technology business analyst with Afrosoft, who is also a blogger and an aspiring technopreneur, is one of the women making waves in the male-dominated technology field. She studied and worked in Malaysia and briefly settled in Kenya before deciding to come back home. Our reporter Chipa Gonditii (CG) caught up with her this week to discuss her prospects and the technological landscape in Zimbabwe. Below is an excerpt of the interview.

CG: What exactly does an IT business analyst do?

SU: An IT business analyst understands the problems that any business has and tries to have digital transformation to their normal processing. So, we are the people responsible for such updates on your social media before you even know that they are going to be there. An IT business analyst also analyses the trends, for example, a client might have need whereby they want people to buy more stuff on their online platform. I then look for the best tech instrument to put on your platform and then work with the developers to make improvements and updates on the systems. So basically, it is like a bridge between business and technology.

CG: How best would you describe your experience in Malaysia having gone there at a very young age?

SU: Malaysia was home for me for eight years. At first it was very difficult to adapt but, as with everything, it took time to adapt. But getting into the system, I realised that South East Asia where Malaysia is, they are very aggressive in business. They work very hard, so that is where I get my triumph spirit from. There are a lot of things that you can learn from in Asia, so it is a very good country and I liked it there beside it being far away from home.

I also think that it moulded me because an environment changes how you think and I think that is where most of my ideas emanate from.

I came and settled in Zimbabwe in 2018 after I had quit my job. I took a break whilst travelling around to see if I would prefer settling in Zimbabwe or not.  I really liked Kenya in between but I really thought maybe home was best for me and that is when I came back to Zimbabwe.

CG: So basically having travelled from Malaysia to Kenya then Zimbabwe, what would you say are some of the challenges that you faced?

SU: Business models are different. In Africa, basically people do things differently in terms of professionalism and some people are comfortable with how things are done so for me it was a complete turnaround. For example, if you want to have something in Zimbabwe right now you have to know someone in order for you to get somewhere. You might have a good idea, but it all goes down to ‘who do you know?’. So, in that sense that is how I see it as different.

Also, in Africa people are comfortable with the 9am-5pm routine but that is not the case with Asia, people are working all the time. We used to go to the mall at 10pm for shopping and most shops would be open at that time but here in Zimbabwe you find that a dry cleaning attendant might go for lunch at 1pm which is the time that people will be free to take their clothes to the shop, only to find no one there.

In Malaysia, I used to start work at 9am which gave me two hours to do my errands, but here work starts exactly the same time that the banks open and the banks close exactly the same time that work ends.

CG: The science and technology sector is a male-dominated field. How have you managed to overcome this social stigma?

SU: Science and technology industries are male dominated. However, it is now evolving and there are now more opportunities coming up. I also feel women have a knack for solving problems naturally, so I think you can make it as long as you have the right ideas and solutions and soldier on. I get along very well with the men I work with, so it all boils down to whether you know what you doing because it is really a technical skill and also, as long as you know what you are doing, people don’t care whether you are female or not. 

CG: Is the science and technology sector a field that you would recommend for the girl child to pursue? 

SU: Definitely, it is a field that I recommend women to pursue. Most people don’t realise how women come into IT because people probably think that you just need to be a programmer and fix things but there are many diverse opportunities coming out like being a product manager or being a business analyst.

You need to be a female in order for you to understand certain things. I feel like males are more into fixing the stuff and females are more into making the stuff work.

CG: In Zimbabwe, it is noticeable that many young girls do not proceed very far educationally because of poverty. What would be your advice to them?

SU: My father used to say there is an animal called environment that moulds everything about you. However, one thing that poverty or your environment does not change is that things are still evolving so you have to break through that barrier.

If you keep on saying things like “hey I am poor, I am surrounded by poverty” it will never take you out from that predicament. For example, I am a small-town girl from Mutare and I only moved to Harare when I moved back to Zimbabwe.

I had a dream of starting my own technology company and I knew that coming to Harare would be advantageous to me because that is where all the tech companies are. So the poor girl child from Epworth needs to break out, it is just a place where they are. I know sometimes it is very difficult to see beyond what you grew up with, but if you keep on dreaming you can move beyond.

CG: Due to economic hardships we find that Zimbabwe is still lagging behind in terms of technological advancement. How best can this situation be rectified?

SU: The situation has to be a whole ecosystem that is changed, people try start-up applications and they fail, why? This is probably because there is no proper infrastructure in place and if you look at the telecoms companies, they only have social media bundles and the regular bundles are very expensive so you cannot expect people to be buying that data regularly and you also need the necessary infrastructure to ensure that people are able to access that data.

There is also the need to move away from the manual way of doing things, a driver doing deliveries is used to signing off papers. However, this is just a situation that can be easily rectified through an application which sends push notifications and then do digital signatures and that is how Amazon has become such a very big company because they have managed to automate everything.

CG: In Zimbabwe, we see a lot of e-commerce projects failing. From a business analyst’s point of view, what could be the cause of this?

SU: Let us take a look at E-bay for a moment, it is like an e-mall, they are offering different stores on one platform. The specification that makes E-bay successful is that they are offering a service and then you have to do something called quality service under different circumstances.

So, a person needs to get their item on time and the person who is building a store on your platform needs to get their money and customers on time. So, if you want to start an e-commerce platform you are servicing two clients: the people signing up to create stores and the customers who are buying things on the store. But for you to be successful you can start by focussing on a niche, for example with an e-store that sells hair products.

You then control the logistics because a customer complains whenever their product is late and this might cause them to go to another provider, so if the customer is paying just make sure that you are able to provide the product on time. You must also be able to give out receipts and send out emails confirming whether the product is ready or has been dispatched already. So, with e-commerce, it is actually a tried and tested business model so it is actually the easiest business model that anyone can adopt but it is very important to take care of your customers.

CG: You have told us about Sandra the IT business analyst. Now please tell us about Sandra outside the workplace.

SU: I run a blog that has around 130 000 followers on Instagram and I am leveraging on digital marketing how to market other people. I have managed to find a niche in talking about love hence we also market other businesses that want to have events, promote love-related books or people who want to give out counselling advice. 

I also have a tech-channel on YouTube called Beyond Techsolutely.

I am also a farmer, I do poultry farming, I am also a member of the Zimbabwe Free Range  Poultry Association. I started with very little chickens but now I have more than 2 000 roadrunner chickens. We fertilise the eggs and sell day-old chicks to people.  I am also an advocate for healthy eating so me and my friend who is a chef we make healthy food packages for healthy, active people so I just manage the business side of things and my friend sorts out the food.

I do a lot of things, I am also an Amazon re-seller because I play along with a lot of business models and, being a business analyst, you need to understand why you are using a certain model and why it is being used. I also do a lot of affiliate marketing, sometimes I get paid on PayPal and I don’t even know where the money comes from sometimes.

CG: Who would you say is your biggest inspiration?

SU: I have received a lot of inspiration from the technology sector, but my greatest inspiration has indeed come from my mother who is hardworking, focused and has been empowering me ever since I was young.

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