Zandile Mkwanazi is on a mission to empower 10 million women and girls with tech and coding skills by 2030. As the CEO and founder of GirlCode, she is focused on women, education and technology, and how the powerful combination of these three elements can transform and strengthen South Africa and Africa for the better.
“I am inspired by all women who are breaking the glass ceiling; women who refuse to sit back and let things happen to them,” she says.
The tech industry is still male-dominated, something that Mkwanazi is working hard to change. Putting her BSc honours degree in computational and applied mathematics from the University of the Witwatersrand to good use, Mkwanazi helps to provide historically disadvantaged women with skills in computer literacy, coding and design.
GirlCode’s mission is to create a network of women who can use these skills to create innovative and sustainable solutions where they reside — making a visible difference in the communities that they live in.
Mkwanazi wants to see more women taking up space in all aspects of life and business, from the private sector to the public sector. More specifically, she wants more women to actively be a part of the technology space. As there is almost no industry where technology is not involved, and she believes that if we don’t have women in the rooms where these technologies and innovations are being created, we are missing a critical perspective.
“The world will try to convince you that you are not worthy, that you do not belong in certain spaces, but I am here to tell you that they are wrong. Your thoughts and ideas are what is really needed in this world — you have just as much right as anyone else to occupy space wherever you feel you can make a contribution,” she says.
There have been many initiatives run by GirlCode, but one of the more notable ones is the GirlCoder Club. This is where GirlCode visits various high schools on a Saturday and teaches girls how to code. The driven, curious and ambitious students arrive and are able to hone their digital skills to set themselves apart. They are given direct access to women working in various IT companies to gain skills and ultimately be recruited by top tech companies.
The best piece of advice Mkwanazi ever received? “Do not be afraid to make tough decisions.”
As we all know, 2020 threw everyone a curveball and Mkwanazi realised that she had to make some difficult decisions to ensure her organisation survived.
“Change is inevitable — growth is optional. I have learnt that you must push yourself outside of your comfort zone to truly grow as an individual and a professional,”
Mkwanazi’s work has been recognised internationally and locally. In 2018, she received a social entrepreneur award from the premier of Gauteng, and in the same year, the Netherlands Embassy acknowledged her as one of South Africa’s Top 50 Inspiring Women.
“The thing that keeps me going is knowing that I am making a positive impact in my country and, most importantly, for many young girls out there, I remain passionate about changing the education landscape in South Africa.”