Eleven Women who are Leading the Fintech & Payments Revolution in Africa

International Women’s Day 2020 was this weekend. The theme this year; ‘I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights’. 

As we continue to reflect on the progress made by women, a particular statistic shared by the United Nations to mark this day stuck with me. Did you know that legal restrictions have kept 2.7 billion women from accessing the same choice of jobs as men? 

What exactly does this mean? 

That there are 2.7B women, who despite having the ability, aptitude and skill set required, could not get certain jobs just because they happened to be women. 

History of Women in Computing

Before the; Steve Jobs’, Larry Page, Mark Zuckerbergs and Bill Gates of the 21st Century, women once dominated the computer industry. Computer design, programming, analytics and computer maintenance were in the 40s and 50s considered as feminine careers.

So what happened?

According to history.com, this shift in stereotyping ‘tech’ from a feminized career to a male-dominated one has happened over time. Slowly, from the 60s, computer programming came to be seen as a job better suited for men than women.

 “Instead of a job that was perfect for detail-oriented women who loved to collaborate and plan, it became a job for antisocial, “geeky” boys.”

History.com

African Women in (Fin) Tech

When you hear the words ‘African Women in Tech? Which names quickly spring to mind? Ethel Cofie, Rebecca Enonchong, Juliana Rotich and perhaps Judith Owigar.
How about African Women in Fintech?

I wouldn’t hold it against you if none springs to mind and you probably had to ask google. Chances are, if you have, you still didn’t quite get a name or two.

Last year in October, the first-ever conference for Africa women in Fintech was held in Nairobi.  The event which brought together women from all over Africa either in leadership, technical or non-technical roles, was a great way to discuss issues relating to Women in FinTech & Payments such as  Leadership, bridging the gender gap, pushing more diversity and inspiring future generations of girls into the sector.
We were proud to support this great initiative by partnering with the event organisers and having our women join the panels to share their experiences. 

In this second part of our Women month series, we shine a spotlight on the Cellulant women playing key technical roles in building & maintaining fintech solutions which are greatly contributing to the ongoing African Fintech revolution for their technical roles. If you missed the first part, read it here.

We highlight their achievements, what drives them, their challenges and celebrate them for being pioneers in this sector with the hope of inspiring a new generation of African women into this emerging space which we believe holds a promising future for the continent.

Jennifer Msimuko, Technology Solutions Manager, Cellulant Zambia

Jennifer Msimuko, Technology Solutions Manager, Cellulant Zambia
Jennifer Msimuko is the Queen of Nerds

Jennifer is a driven, ambitious “Queen of the Nerds” whose role is to identify problems being faced by our business partners and consumers that Cellulant can solve using Technology. She leads a team of software engineers who actually build the ideas she comes up with.

What drives you? I enjoy solving complex problems. It’s a habit that started from solving crossword puzzles with my father when I was young

What drove you towards tech and Fintech generally? My interest is mostly due to the quickly changing technology landscape. I wanted a career where I would be constantly learning new things. The move to fintech happened quite organically as I was trying to find an opportunity to use my technology skills to solve problems that were close to home.

What would you say have been some of the most challenging moments for you as a woman in tech? During the early days of my career, some clients would still request for a man’s validation on any feedback/response/commitment that I made. It took a while for me to realise that the client’s bias had nothing to do with me personally but rather the unfortunate reality that I was the first female in technology they were encountering and they simply had no idea how to treat me.

Which have been the most rewarding moments? The most rewarding moments are definitely moments when I can demonstrate digital services to complete strangers 

What words of inspiration would you give to young women and girls who still feel that tech is not for them?
Every rule has an exception. You can either be that exception or watch someone else do it, the choice is up to you.

What do you love most about working at Cellulant?
The knowledge that I am working for a company that is obsessed with solving problems that African consumers face every day.
Before joining Cellulant,  Jennifer worked as a Systems Engineer for a Technology Firm in Harare.

Pauline Sangija, Software Developer, Cellulant Tanzania

Pauline Sangija, Software Developer, Cellulant Tanzania

Pauline is a passionate and self-driven techie who ensures running a service desk discipline is adhered to with keen intuition, combined with quick and precise decision making. Her role is to ensure service operations are up and running. 
What drives you? I enjoy solving people’s problems faced in the fintech industry. To ensure customers are able to cope with the changes happening in the world in new technology.

What drove you towards tech and Fintech generally? Basically I wanted the career that would challenge me every day and assist to explore new opportunities from the current and predicted issues in Africa.

What would you say have been some of the most challenging moments for you as a woman in tech? The most challenging part was when clients feel uncomfortable to be served/helped with the woman and chose a man over me for validations.

Which have been the most rewarding moments? It is when I can demonstrate the digital solutions and get trust from my clients.

What words of inspiration would you give to young women and girls who still feel that tech is not for them? To stand out. Normally love the industry with many challenges compared with fewer challenges.

What do you love most about working at Cellulant? Being able to solve Africa’s problems.

Carol Mbasinge – Technical Product Manager, Cellulant’s Payment Gateway

Carol Mbasinge - Technical Product Manager, Cellulant's Payment Gateway

Carol is an experienced Software Engineer who manages and leads the delivery and implementation of the core platforms for Cellulant Payment Gateway.
She joined Cellulant in 2011 as a software engineer where she delivered products for the music and information services then, later on, became the design architect for the solutions on the core platforms.
She has now been tasked with defining the product vision, road-map and growth opportunities for the product by continuous research and analyze market, users and the roadmap for the product. The technology built supports the business needs as Cellulant scales to the different markets across the continent.

Carol is skilled in PHP and its MVC frameworks, jQuery, and Java. Strong engineering professional with a Bachelor of Science (BSc) focused in Computer Technology from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology. 

What drives you? I am driven by providing solutions that impact people’s lives in technology, nature and music.  

What drove you towards tech and Fintech generally? Ever since I was young, I was always curious to find out how things work. The technology offered the opportunity to create software that would produce end results that fulfilled a purpose.

What would you say have been some of the most challenging moments for you as a woman in tech? I always worked & studied in a male-dominated career, the most challenging moment was when I was a new mother and had to balance between keeping up with the work and communicating and keeping my new family obligations.

Which have been the most rewarding moments? The most rewarding moments have been when an idea that I architect is actualised in an actual product used across the group and mentoring my team on their growth journey

What words of inspiration would you give to young women and girls who still feel that tech is not for them Women/girls should take a bold step and actualise their dream and take on the challenges as they come. The guys are doing the same.

What do you love most about working at Cellulant? Cellulant is an environment where one can thrive in. There are a lot of opportunities where one can learn their strengths & weaknesses and improve on them. Before joining Cellulant, Carol worked at Mobicom Africa where I built solutions for mobile interbank transfers and insurance. 

Elizabeth Nyamu – Quality Assurance Engineer

Elizabeth Nyamu - Quality Assurance Engineer, Cellulant

Elizabeth describes herself as a person who lives for a challenge as it makes life interesting and makes her appreciate each day as a blessing.
As a Quality Assurance Engineer, her work entails ensuring that delivered products adhere to the set-out requirements whilst ensuring their ability to scale. She also ensures that delivery is within the agreed acceptable timelines

What drives you? Having a dream and seeing it through by either learning new skills  or honing my current skills

What drove you towards tech and Fintech generally? Fintech is a sector that connects everything and everyone in the global financial ecosystem. It’s a sector that places Africa in a very unique position to grow economically and find solutions to its problems with something that can fit at the palm of our hands.

What would you say have been some of the most challenging moments for you as a woman in tech? As African women, we are brought up to think our place in the society is to be seen and not heard – it was a big challenge to speak up in a room even when you have a great view or question to ask or take up a leadership role.   

Which have been the most rewarding moments? Working with the Merchant Development Team to create Hub version 5.0 – it was a great learning experience and product that increased the number of payments Cellulant can process within record time

What words of inspiration would you give to young women and girls who still feel that tech is not for them? I would tell something my late older brother told me “Take the road less travelled – and that is what makes a difference”

What do you love most about working at Cellulant? Cellulant a very vibrant and fun place to work – and best of all it’s a company by Africans for Africans

Stacy Chege – Head of Information Security

Stacy Chege - Head of Information Security, Cellulant

Anastasia Chege is an Information Security Engineer with 4 years’ experience in Security. She mainly focuses on the defensive part of security. She holds a bachelor’s degree in information systems and technology (forensics and cybercrime) and master of arts degree in Business Administration (strategic management). She is also an Ec Council certified ethical hacker.
Stacy is passionate about security and would like to pave the way for more women to join this career path and she has done this by participating as a speaker in various women in tech events

She leads a team of 5 (4 Infosec ladies and one gentleman)

What drives you? What are some of the things you are passionate about – I am passionate about new security tools in the industry. I believe that security is a critical role in any organization and this drives me to make sure Cellulant is safe

What drove you towards tech and Fintech generally? I was driven by the intense work environment and the need to secure the platforms in fintech.  

What would you say have been some of the most challenging moments for you as a woman in tech? I may be unapproachable since I may say no when I see an issue. But sometimes many may not see that I only want the best and that’s why I may appear tough sometimes.  

Which have been the most rewarding? Maintaining best practices such as ISO 27001 and setting up new security initiatives on our platforms

What words of inspiration would you give to young women and girls who still feel that tech is not for them? This is the most rewarding career path that you may ever pursue. It may seem complex but when you master it, its a really beautiful thing
What do you love most about working at Cellulant? I enjoy the busy work environment that keeps you on your toes

Fatuma Vyakweli – Information Security Engineer

Fatuma Vyakweli - Information Security Engineer, Cellulant

Fatuma is a security enthusiast who loves to learn and is keen on maintaining the ISO 27001 certification.

Her roles include Security operations: Endpoint Security where she deals with the monitoring and resolving of any form of suspicious activity on all machines. She studied Information Systems and Technology, Cybercrime and Forensics at United States International University-Africa. (BSc.)

What drives you? Becoming a better version of myself with every passing day. 

What drove you towards tech and Fintech generally? It’s interesting, exciting and challenging at the same time. Inclusivity in terms of what Fintech presents to unbanked individuals drew me into this field.

Which have been the most rewarding moments? Implementing Cybereason – a cybersecurity tool founded by former employees of the Israeli Defense Force unit 8200 – that can effectively identify common and uncommon attacks that target the Fintech and banking companies. This contributed to Cellulant maintaining its ISO 27001 Certification.

What words of inspiration would you give to young women and girls who still feel that tech is not for them? Well behaved women seldom make history. Accepting societal beliefs of what a girl can and cannot do, is what I find to be well-behaved. Leaving things the way they’ve always been is well-behaved. Technology is what you want it to be. It mirrors the people for whom it’s created for. Be yourself, it’s a revolutionary act.

What do you love most about working at Cellulant? It’s an environment that promotes and encourages growth.

Elizabeth Kiilu – Product Development (Programmer)

Elizabeth Kiilu - Product Development (Programmer), Cellulant

Elizabeth is a Software Developer in the Core Platforms Team. She is a passionate person who believes in doing whatever it takes to achieve anything they put their mind to.

What drives you? I am passionate about my society. I believe the African people deserve better and it is up to every African to make that happen. Every day I wake up to do what I do gives me satisfaction that I am making steps towards this.

What drove you towards tech and Fintech generally? Curiosity steered me towards tech. I had just got my first personal computer and I wanted to know what I could do apart from doing assignments and watching movies. I stumbled into programming and my life has never been the same. The fact that I could impact the economy while doing something I enjoy made me move into the Fintech space.

What would you say have been some of the most challenging moments for you as a woman in tech? Gathering the courage to talk to people with more knowledge and experience while I defend an idea or solution.  As women, we are wired differently and sometimes we have those days that our feminine side goes full fledge. Being in a place mostly filled with men gets challenging because very few would understand what’s up with you.

Which have been the most rewarding? I have pitched some of my ideas to my team members and most times they see the sense in what I am saying. This has led to the development of some features in the core platform that improve customer experience.

What words of inspiration would you give to young women and girls who still feel that tech is not for them? Think about it, live it and do it. 

What do you love most about working at Cellulant? I love the environment that Cellulant creates for people to thrive. I love the people in Cellulant, they simply push you to do better every time.

Amy Keitany – Support Engineer, ServiceOps

Amy Keitany - Level 2 Support Engineer, ServiceOps, Cellulant

Amy is a Level 2 Support Engineer, a solution-oriented, quick Learner and organised team player. Her role includes collaborating, learning, growing with and supporting Hub Team and Service Desk

What drives you? – Finding, Developing and Learning new ways/skills to be better more efficient and effective in what I do. Learning from fellow teammates

What drove you towards tech and Fintech generally? Curiosity, interest and excitement of how things work in tech. The impact tech has on our everyday lives is not only exponential but it improves the quality of lives and daily experiences which holds a great purpose

What would you say have been some of the most challenging moments for you as a woman in tech?Dealing with stereotypical/judgemental situations because I’m a woman

Which have been the most rewarding Most rewarding gift was getting and understanding my superpower through what I do

What words of inspiration would you give to young women and girls who still feel that tech is not for them? – Just go for it, nature your interest, feed your curiosity and you may discover a new superpower 

What do you love most about working at Cellulant? – Working with amazingly talented and fun teams

Sarah Mutua – Project Manager

Sarah Mutua - Project Manager, Cellulant

Sarah describes herself as a team player, result-oriented and a person who appreciates the important things in life.

In her role as a project manager, she works closely with the Technical leads to plan projects & ensure that the business and customer requirements are met within set timelines and budget. 

Before joining Cellulant, Sarah began her career as a deployment Engineer responsible for deploying IBM software to our customers. It was while there that she developed an interest in project management and made the switch.

What drives you? I am passionate about mentoring young girls & contributing to growth & acceptance of project management in Kenya. I am a member of Project management institute, Kenya Chapter. When not in Cellulant, I Enjoy Catering.

What drove you towards tech and Fintech generally? I always found Tech stuff fascinating since I was young.

What would you say have been some of the most challenging moments for you as a woman in tech? Tech is quite demanding! My biggest challenge has been work-life balance or as Ken calls it.. ‘Work-life integration’ takes a lot of discipline & commitment to strike that balance.

Which have been the most rewarding moments? When I achieve my set goals  and my contribution is felt and appreciated

What words of inspiration would you give to young women and girls who still feel that tech is not for them? If it has been done, It can be Done!

What do you love most about working at Cellulant? Cellulant has always given me an opportunity to grow. I love the environment & work culture, No one breathing on you all the time, as long as you get the job done!

Mary Kahaki – Quality Assurance

Mary Kahaki - Quality Assurance, Cellulant

Mary is ambitious and driven. She thrives on challenges and constantly sets goals for herself, She is not comfortable with settling, and is always looking for an opportunity to do better and achieve greatness.

He role entails working with all the other tech teams to ship quality and usable products to the world. 

What drives you? It is the glow I get from being told I did a great job on a difficult task. Outside work I am passionate about random drives that are not planned but they eventually lead to somewhere I have never been.

What drove you towards tech and Fintech generally? The curiosity and urge to create useful solutions for the best of mankind. This is generally what computer programs do.  

What would you say have been some of the most challenging moments for you as a woman in tech? For close to 3 years I worked in an almost all “men’s” team. I was not used to this kind of environment. It was somewhat boring especially when I needed some gossip moments. Lool. Also, when people think I can repair any electronic gadget just because I am in Tech.

Which have been the most rewarding? Seeing the Ecobank and Rapid Transfer mobile applications on the google and apple stores. I was proud to be part of this delivery team.

What words of inspiration would you give to young women and girls who still feel that tech is not for them? it’s not enough to be aware of the possibilities. You have to believe that your goals are attainable. First, can you see yourself, picture yourself as a woman in tech? if yes, shatter all the stereotypes and instil self-confidence.

What do you love most about working at Cellulant? The fact that Cellulant gives me a chance to experiment on the new trends in Quality assurance while growing my skills. I work around smart people who are always ready and willing to help and the inverse is also true. ); ;(

Carol Wawira- Project Manager

Carol Wawira- Project Manager, Cellulant

Carol is a hard-working, goal-driven and focused individual who is passionate about the delivery of projects in the East African Region in the expected time, scope and quality. She leads the Project Architecture and Technical leads for the different projects she is involved in.

What drives you? What drives me is the desire to see clients satisfied with the quality of projects that I deliver.

What drove you towards tech and Fintech generally? I have a mentor that is currently head of technology at Oracle Kenya. His passion, growth and resilience in the industry gave me the courage to know that I can also achieve whatever I am focused to do.

What would you say have been some of the most challenging moments for you as a woman in tech? Ability to say No when needed and the rest of the leaders/project team/stakeholders respecting that.

Which have been the most rewarding? My growth journey has been rewarding from a Support engineer to project Manager in EA cluster, I will write a book one day

What words of inspiration would you give to young women and girls who still feel that tech is not for them? Look at my career journey, I am a living testimony and best believe, You can achieve what you put sweat, effort and focus on.

What do you love most about working at Cellulant? The people and the Opportunity: If you are focused, You can always achieve your desired goals in Cellulant and actually grow in your career path. My colleagues in Cellulant have been always ready to help whenever I need help or need to learn something new

We hope this list inspires more women to realize the many roles and career choices within Fintech and tech, in general, they can pursue and excel in.