Africa’s Young Misfits: Rapelang Rabana

Addicted to your smartphone? Well, Rapelang Rabana thinks that could be a good thing.

The 29-year-old South African entrepreneur is the founder of Rekindle Learning, a company looking to improve education in Africa by turning people’s compulsion to check their phones into an opportunity to learn.

Digital education is not new, but western companies often focus on software or online university-style courses, and in sub-Saharan Africa, where only 2 percent of the population has a computer, Rabana thinks mobile is the way to go.

There are about 67 million smartphones in Africa. By 2025, this number is expected to jump to 360 million.

Rekindle’s app works on a small screen, both offline and online, to account for unreliable connectivity and enables users to take short, personalised tests designed to maximise memorisation.

According to Rabana, the system is meant to “close the feedback loop” by using Tweet-sized chunks of information, asking short questions and bringing users back to what they got wrong until they show they have mastered the material.

“I see Rekindle Learning enabling people to build knowledge from the palm of their hands. From school children, to young high school graduates, to entrepreneurs, to women farmers,” she says.

This might seem like an overly ambitious goal for a young entrepreneur, especially since mobile learning has far to go to prove its claimed benefits. But this is not Rabana’s first rodeo. At 23, she developed some of the world’s earliest mobile VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) services, a crucial method for turning analog audio signals into digital data that can be transmitted over the Internet.

Born in Botswana, Rabana moved to Johannesburg when she was 10 to attend a prestigious private school, but when it came time for university, she felt uninspired and asked her brother to choose a degree for her in “anything but actuarial science or chartered accounting.” It was not until her first class that Rabana realised she had enrolled in the business and computer science program.

Learning to code did not seem much fun at first but she quickly grew to enjoy it.

“You could think up your own stuff and actually create something from the figment of your imagination, from nothing, there seemed to be real power there,” she explains.

(sign of a misfit)

After graduating with honors from the University of Cape Town, Rabana was hungry for a challenge and had no interest in starting at the bottom of the corporate food chain.

“Becoming an entrepreneur at 22 was for me like putting a stick in the ground marking the end of a life by default and the start of intentional living,” she says.

In five years, the teenager who did not want to go to university has become head of a successful company in an industry where women are still a novelty. And she has grown increasingly aware of the difference education can make.

“I was privileged, I got to ask all the questions I wanted ,” she says. (misfits question the status-quo)

So now, she hopes Rekindle will extend this privilege to as many people as possible.

One of the continent’s biggest challenges and biggest opportunities is access to education.

Entrepreneurs like Rapelang believe they can change the world. People who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”


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