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5 minutes with… Rapelang Rabana

As co-founder and CEO of SA-based software development organisation Yeigo, Rapelang oversaw the company’s integration into the TelFree Group of companies in 2008. She is now global head of R&D. Accolades include being appointed Ambassador for the UN’s World Youth Summit Awards that recognise outstanding youth-led initiatives using innovative technology to address the Millennium Development Goals.

What kind of impact are women having on the digital economy?
With the advent of the internet a whole new digital economy has opened up, bringing with it new markets and new industries; social media has also brought new opportunities. While more women are involved in the digital economy, women are still not making enough impact – they’re moving into more traditional engineering science but not into computer science.

How can we encourage more women to become involved in technology?
Girls need to be encouraged to study computer science. Education patterns are changing and there has been a bigger interest in the field of accounting, but conditioning has kept, and is still keeping, girls away from computer science. More women need to become involved in programming. When I entered the field six years ago there were only two or three women in a class of about 50; there are still more women going into fields such as marketing, HR and PR and, while these are important to companies, they still don’t impact on the core function.

What do you regard as the biggest obstacle to women moving into technology?
It’s mostly due to social conditioning and peer pressure. It’s hard to move away from something that’s ingrained. The idea of pursuing something like computer science and programming from a young age can be influenced by seeing someone else – like a brother or family member – being involved.

Are enough women becoming involved in tech start-ups in South Africa?
I’ve met a few more women in the last few years who are involved in start-ups, but they’re mostly involved in the support side of things, and they’re not usually involved with core functions and features. Women have to learn to break away from the social norms that say they can’t or they won’t get ahead.

What is the best piece of business advice you have ever received?
‘Integrity is everything’ – from my business partner and mentor, Walter Betschel, who advised me always to steer away from any situation that questions integrity.

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