A definite highlight at this year’s GovTech conference was the introduction of the State Information Technology Agency’s Public ICT Awards, which accoladed and promoted innovation in public products, solutions and service delivery.
One winner worth mentioning is 32-year-old Lindelwa Nzimande (founder of Words and All), winner of the The Youth in ICT Award which recognises the contribution of young ICT professionals make to the sector and to the growth and development of the sector as a whole.
Meeting up with this determined young woman with a passion for the Internet of Things, and the use of the internet to better fulfill government services in order to makes service delivery efficient, one realises the commitment of the youth to improve just about anything in the world around them—the way they know best; with the use of technology.
Nzimande, who started Words and All, a digital agency or online communications company, in 2008 says they manage brands’ reputations online by designing their websites, managing their social media tools (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram), designing apps, building online-based radio stations and gaming platforms to mention but a few.
Being a pioneer in the online communications space and former recipient of the Ernest Oppenheimer Memorial Trust Scholarship for her Bachelor of Social Science degree, in addition to her business ventures, she was also the youngest member to be appointed by Minister Faith Muthambi to the Department of Communications’ National Communications Task Team (NCTT), where she chairs the country’s Digital Work-stream.
Reaching the masses
Over the years Nzimande has conducted virtual rallies for various political parties during their election campaigns—this is a cheaper way of reaching and talking to masses without the costs of an actual physical stadium gathering.
Talking to BBQ about winning the award, her achievements and the issues facing young people in ICT in South Africa, Nzimande says winning the GovTech Youth in ICT award means that the industry is giving recognition and encouragement to businesses that are not only making revenue in ICT, but are also giving back to communities through employment opportunities and CSI projects like the internet café that my business is working on in rural Maqongqo, Pietermaritzburg, KZN.
Humbled by winning the award, she is yet to establish who nominated her, however, she suspects that the nomination may have come from a few corners, including key government department offices that she has worked with in the past.
“At the gala dinner as I heard the runner ups’ portfolios being read out, I told my friend next to me that there was no way I could beat my competitors. Their CVs just sounded so amazing. All the nominees were worthy of winning too, because the standard was so high overall. So when I heard my name, I was consumed with utter disbelief—and gratitude.”
As to what achievements gave her the edge during the competition, Nzimande believes that the fact that she started in a then new industry of online communications at the tender age of about 24, on her own, and taught herself how to manage brands’ online profiles, gave her the edge over the other nominees.
The value-chain of the internet ecosystem
“Online communications is still not easily understood, compared to traditional brand communications initiatives like billboard advertising for example. I also think the fact that I understand the value-chain of the internet ecosystem as a whole goes a long way. For me it is vital to understand telecommunications, the data universe and cloud services in order to service your clients optimally. In order to contribute through CSI to improve socio-economic conditions, its important to understand thoroughly how infrastructure unavailability ought to be resolved.
“I think every small or big involvement matters. The fact that I started a business in a then relatively unknown space was important in that it showed young people of SA that careers in social media management are possible, in other words, I took a career that I observed David Axelrod and his team spearheaded for President Obama, and I attempted to introduce this in SA for our political parties. My other contribution was being part of key government structures like the National Communications Task Team (appointed by Minister Faith Muthambi) contributes in terms of assisting with policy, which in turn affects citizens’ lives. There is also the aspect of women and careers. In the past women may have been limited in their career choices. My involvement in online communications will hopefully inspire women to look at alternative and unique career options. So for me, every contribution matters, as it helps to form the bigger picture of a better SA, and in turn a better Africa,” she says.
Growing up in a rural area called Maqongqo, in KZN, Nzimande attended primary school in another rural area called Esigodini, where goats used to wander into the classroom while they were learning. In as much as her parents were a primary school teacher and a technician respectively, she says she didn’t have resources to pay for a university education, had it not been for a bursary from the Ernest Oppenheimer Memorial Trust.
“Also, being a woman still means that you are last in line and more disadvantaged than male counterparts and are not taken as seriously, especially in ICT. If you look a certain way too, stereotypes are attached to you. Sometimes you are even considered too pretty to have achieved anything ‘all on your own’.”
On the topic of how local government can improve when it comes to utilising ICT to boost service delivery, she says the use of the internet to meet service delivery targets should be encouraged in all government spheres. ICT overall ensures efficient, easier and quicker delivery of education and e-health for example, due to technological speed.
“SITA introduced this award in an effort to promote the contribution to the ICT industry to young professionals and SITA recognises the contribution that young achievers make to this sector and to the growth and development of the industry as a whole. My beliefs centre around how the internet and ICT overall can help us to achieve service delivery objectives, which will alleviate socio-economic challenges in society, thus reducing poverty,” she says.
ICT brand ambassador
Going forward, she intends to be an ICT brand ambassador for SITA and South Africa. Other than that, she says she will continue to do what she does in business, academia and CSI. She says the networking opportunities that have stemmed from this award are “#fantabulous” and she already has big ICT corporates wanting to investigate possible synergies with her company.
Nzimande says there’s still lots of work to be done in ICT in as she believes that not enough effort is made to promote technology to the youth. “For example, government and the private sector could work together more to create WiFi spots like Alan Knott-Craig has, and as is the case with the Ekurhuleni WiFi project. The youth of today no longer want food parcels, they want WiFi instead. This WiFi will give them to access the internet where they will look for and apply for jobs, create their own small online-based business to earn a living, and access information on how to help their communities. #WIFIISTHESTRUGGLE.”
Nzimande’s advice for the youth in ICT is to travel off the beaten path. “Follow your curiousity and passion and don’t be scared to ventured into unheard-of careers. Work hard and make something of it.”
Looking at her your long-term goal for the next five years, she says they are more aligned to academic, policy and CSI contributions where the internet is concerned, as these areas are the critical corner stones of the processes that define and determine the attainment of better lives for all.
Currently working with a number of organisations to find ways on how to use the internet to better fulfill government services like e-education, e-health, e-commerce etc. in order to alleviate the e-friction that makes service delivery inefficient, thus negatively impacting citizens’ lives in Africa overall, Nzimande says this is important for local development.
“My involvement as chairman of the digital strategy in the National Communications Task Team, for example, allowed me to interact directly with the minister and other key people to discuss how we can all come together from various spheres to find solutions to alleviate different e-friction challenges. So I will continue to offer my time free of charge to similar structures in the pursuit of ensuring that the internet helps us to improve socio-economic conditions for us all,” she concludes.
More about Lindelwa Nzimande
- During high school she was selected as part of twenty-four students who were awarded music scholarships by a partnership project with the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra, where her journey as a keen amateur violinist and steel-drum player started.
- She took part in extra-curricular activities like a foreign languages club where she learnt to speak French and German.
- Lindelwa is a former recipient of the Ernest Oppenheimer Memorial Trust Scholarship for her Bachelor of Social Science and Honors in Public Policy degrees.
- Whilst doing her Honors in Public Policy, she was also awarded the first Black Academia Scholarship towards her Masters qualification and beyond, by the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
- Her two academic majors are Political Science and Culture, Communication and Media Studies, which lead to a career in communications, public relations and marketing.
- Her working career spans years spent as the national communications manager at the South African Chefs Association (SACA), where her role included managing the South African Olympics Team that competes at the global chefs Olympics every four years, where she also started their official fan club.
- Some of her clients over included the President of South Africa’s Jacob G. Zuma Education Trust, the Department of Human Settlements, City Power, the Bongi Ngema-Zuma Foundation for Diabetes (of which her company Words & All was one of the co-founding companies), JIC Mining Services, political parties and many others.
- In addition to her business ventures, she is the youngest member to be appointed by Minister Faith Muthambi to the Department of Communications’ National Communications Task Team (NCTT), where she chairs the country’s Digital Work-stream.
- Lindelwa is passionate first and foremost about the internet, she is a book-worm of note and spends her spare time nurturing the strings of her 19th century violin with her beloved pets, a peahen named Haider and a peacock named Vivier as regular audience members.