Female Social Innovator – Rebecca Mwenga Mbaya

Our esteemed guest is a true social innovator whose visionary leadership has transformed communities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). As the founder of Congo Excel Technologies, Rebecca has spearheaded initiatives offering free online courses, training programs, and practical workshops. Through these endeavors, she has empowered local communities to embrace the latest technologies of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR), fostering economic growth and development in the region;

Hi Rebbeca! It is exciting to be hosting you as our first guest from the DRC. We are happy to have you with us!
The pleasure is mine. I also thank Mutsa Carole Chinyamakobvu for the recommendation.

Please introduce yourself to our audience
My name is Rebecca Mwenga Mbaya from the Democratic Republic of Congo. I am currently a Tech Entrepreneur and Social Innovator. I bring a diverse background in International Relations, business administration, and management as well as, monitoring and evaluation (M&E) to the table. My biggest passion lies in harnessing the power of technology to catalyze positive change, especially in underdeveloped regions.

I am the founder of Congo Excel Technologies (CET), whose mission is to empower the local populations in the DRC by equipping them with the skills and competencies needed to navigate and thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. My ultimate goal is to bridge the gap between technology and underserved communities. Hence fostering not only economic growth but also social development across the continent. With a firm belief in the transformative potential of technology, I am dedicated to driving meaningful impact and driving forward the advancement of my country and its people.

I am also the marketing and communication lead of the SAMEA Tech-Enabled MERL Community of Practice (SAMEA TEM CoP).

Briefly walk us through your journey of becoming a Social Innovator in Tech
Well, it’s been quite the ride, to say the least! It all traces back to my childhood, growing up in Kinshasa amidst the tumultuous times of the 1998 war in the DRC. I was just a wide-eyed seven-year-old when the echoes of conflict and war became a haunting backdrop to my daily life. But instead of succumbing to fear, that experience ignited a spark within me. I had a burning curiosity about why my country, despite its rich natural resources, was mired in instability and poverty.

As I grew older, that curiosity only intensified and as I transitioned into my university days at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa. I found myself fully immersed in the captivating world of International Relations, eventually earning an MA in the field. This academic journey was transformative, providing me with invaluable insights that allowed me to discern where I could position myself to contribute solutions not only to my country but to the broader continent as well.

My relationship with the world of technology wasn’t always straightforward. Despite lacking proper exposure to STEM disciplines during my formative years, I had always possessed a latent affinity for technology. Yet, I struggled to envision its potential as a catalyst for the change I sought to instigate. It wasn’t until I delved into the rigorous curriculum of business administration and management at Wits Business School, followed by a career in M&E, that the true power of the technology and data combination became evident to me.

Returning home in early 2022, after years of studying and working abroad, I was immediately struck by the glaring gap in tech and data literacy within my community. It was a stark wake-up call! An undeniable realization that while the rest of the world was swiftly navigating through the 4IR, my country was lagging! We were stuck somewhere between the Second and Third Industrial Revolutions. The looming prospect of being left behind yet again prompted a crucial question. Can we afford to let this happen to us and the generations to come?

Moreover, it dawned on me that in the context of the DRC the 4IR isn’t merely a looming threat; it represents a golden opportunity – a chance for us to leapfrog into a future where sustainable development isn’t just a distant dream but a tangible reality in the DRC. With its rapid pace, vast scope, and inherently inclusive nature, the 4IR offers us a remarkable opportunity not only to catch up and keep pace with the global technological landscape but to boldly become leaders in this field on our path to progress.

But let’s not sugarcoat it; it’s a bumpy road. Building up that digital infrastructure takes serious investment, and we’ve got to be mindful of the impact on local industries. Plus, there’s the whole challenge of making sure everyone’s got the skills they need to thrive in this age.

Thus, CET was born with a mission dedicated to empowering communities through digital, tech, and data literacy. We’re taking it one step at a time, laying those building blocks steadily, knowing that each small stride is a contribution to the monumental change we envision experiencing in our lifetime and passing on to the next generations. The vision is grand, the mission weighty, but our determination remains steadfast as we continue pushing forward. With persistence and dedication, we will undoubtedly reach our destination. Call me a big dreamer, but I truly believe that with the right vision and determination, we can turn this opportunity into a transformative reality for the marginalized and underdeveloped populations in our region. We will eventually make it happen!

Wow! That is a very clear motivation and push! Thank you for “dreaming” good for your country

Let us talk about some of the challenging moments for you as a social innovator
In the DRC, the daily struggles of grappling with issues of substance and territorial security take precedence for the majority of the population. These concerns may not dominate daily discussions in other countries but, in the DRC, they are front and center. With all this, it is a significant challenge to redirect attention towards the importance of embracing the 4IR.

For many individuals, the immediate hardships of living without electricity, facing food shortages, unemployment, and constant fear for personal safety overshadow any discussions about technological advancement. Convincing people to prioritize integrating into the 4IR when they are grappling with such fundamental issues is indeed a formidable task.

Adding to this challenge is a prevailing mindset that views the 4IR with skepticism, or even outright resistance. Some individuals fear that technological advancement may worsen their circumstances rather than improve them. Moreover, there is a critical need to emphasize responsible behavior and the ethical integration of 4IR technologies into our country. Addressing these ethical considerations and dismantling misconceptions surrounding the 4IR is a daunting task that we, as a small startup, have taken upon ourselves. Overcoming this resistance and shifting perceptions to recognize the potential benefits of the 4IR is undoubtedly our greatest challenge as we navigate the startup landscape in the DRC.

How are you able to still hold onto your dream and push forward amidst these challenges?
As the rate of internet penetration in the DRC reached 27.2% this year, I often ponder how people are utilizing it. Let us keep in mind the general lack of digital literacy. But, every time we host our sessions – whether online or in-person – the reactions from the crowd are simply priceless. Genuine smiles, those “aha” moments, and the sense of wonder on their faces! It is like we are striking all the right chords, you know?

Currently, our focus is on promoting the responsible use of AI for better education through in-person sessions with teachers and education stakeholders. Witnessing their curiosity and eagerness to delve deeper into the world of AI for education – it’s these moments that keep me energized and motivated to drive forward with our mission. Observing the thirst for knowledge sparked in our audience, I’m confident that more and more people will begin using the internet to enhance their skills, rather than simply scrolling through social media. It may seem like a small step, but it’s undeniably a step in the right direction.

On the topic of inspiration, there’s this quote by Henry Ford that resonates with me deeply: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” To me, he’s suggesting that people don’t always recognize what they truly need until it’s presented to them, right? I wholeheartedly embrace this notion with CET. Sometimes, we need to introduce individuals to something they didn’t even realize was missing. Just opening their eyes to the endless possibilities that lie before them.

Tell us about your achievements, awards, and moments of recognition that a social innovator like you has to celebrate
So, CET officially kicked off back in June 2023, making us just under a year old. Yeah, we are a team of 4 and still pretty new to the startup game. We’re also going at it solo, with no external sponsors or investors in sight yet and we haven’t quite snagged any big awards or recognition just yet. But hey, we’re not letting that slow us down. We understand we’re pioneers around here, paving the way in our communities. And I’ve gotta say, I’m really proud of how far we’ve come. Being the first ones out there definitely has its perks.

On a more personal note, I’ve been fortunate enough to receive some recognition and awards myself. As part of the SAMEA Tech-Enabled MERL Community of Practice, I led a virtual MERL Tech workshop. It was pretty cool to get acknowledged for my expertise, presentation skills, and helpful advice. It was all about boosting SAMEA’s mission to elevate the M&E profession in South Africa.

Oh, and did I mention I received a first-class certificate in International Relations during undergrad? Plus, I picked up postgraduate Merit Awards throughout the entirety of my postgraduate studies at Wits University. It’s been quite a journey, and, I am excited to see where it takes me next.

Who is Rebbeca outside of the social innovator umbrella?
I am a devoted wife and mother of three. I pour my heart and soul into these roles with unwavering love and dedication.

Creativity has always been a cornerstone of my life! It brings me immense joy to express myself through various artistic endeavors. It can be through fashion, music, or culinary delights. These passions continually inspire and fuel my creativity. I sometimes ing and compose melodies or make doodles and drawings with the wildest imagination. These activities give me solace and fulfillment while allowing my creativity to flow freely.

Moreover, I am a lifelong learner, constantly seeking new knowledge and skills to enrich my personal and professional growth. Currently, I am sharpening my coding abilities. I am also delving into the realms of machine and deep learning, alongside other learning pursuits. My thirst for knowledge knows no bounds! I am committed to continually evolving and upskilling myself in pursuit of excellence.

What is your favorite quote?
“It always seems impossible until it’s done” ~ Nelson Mandela. This quote reminds me that challenges may appear insurmountable at first, but with perseverance and determination, even the most daunting tasks can be accomplished. It serves as a powerful reminder to never give up, no matter how difficult the journey may seem.

How would you encourage a young African girl who is passionate about becoming a social innovator in Tech?
To all the young girls out there particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds who are either already diving into STEM or dreaming about it, I just want to say that: you’re capable of achieving absolutely anything you set your mind to. Your background? It doesn’t define your potential, not in the slightest. So, embrace that curiosity, follow those passions, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Sure, the journey might throw a few hurdles your way, but trust me, with determination and persistence, you can overcome them all. And remember, there’s someone out there who believes in you, rooting for your success every step of the way. So, keep believing in yourself, because you’ve got what it takes to shine in STEM!

Thank you, Rebecca, for making us realize the possibility and opportunity of contributing to STEM as a social innovator. We wish you all the best with CET.

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