Women in AI Innovation and Research – Janet Sawari

Janet’s strong interest in AI Innovation and Research has contributed to her work as the CEO and Founder of The AI Review (TAIR) Labs. Here is what this STEM journey has been like for her;

Hi Janet, thank you for accepting to add your voice to this cause. It is an honor to have you as our guest today
Hi Winnie, I had enough time to go through your website, which is great! It speaks directly to the work that I do and my field. I am more than happy to play my part by sharing my journey or story.

For a brief introduction, who is Janet?
My name is Janet Sawari, from Malawi but currently staying in South Africa. I am a serial entrepreneur, sitting on the Women in ICT board, an Inspiring 50 2022 Winner, and a contributor to The Yuan AI tech community and platform. In addition to that, I am also passionate about education, social impact, and driving women’s empowerment through gender inclusiveness in technology.

I am the Founder and CEO of TAIR Labs, an AI Innovation and Research Lab based in Cape Town. We run social impact research projects to solve challenges in the mobility space by implementing smart solutions. An example of the practical work we do is as follows:

  • The TAIR team may try and explore how we can make mobility safer for the general public. As a result, we can deploy solutions that will make the vehicle safer by developing a technology that can slow down or stop a public mode of transport when the driver is not in the right state of mind, not attentive, or in the case of medical emergencies while on the wheel. We also focus on impact from an education perspective, so we upskill youth between the ages of 18-35 on the development of robotics solutions as a means to support them in developing real-life solutions. The Lab hosts/incubates 5 startups every 6 months, as a means to support or nurture local talent and provide job opportunities to the youth we educate.

I also advocate for education access and youth empowerment through my efforts with TAIR CSI Labs.

Wow, this is very interesting! How did you start your journey in AI Innovation?
I was raised in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital city, in a conservative cultural family. We are Malawian by origin and so we often looked at life values from that perspective. My family was very entrepreneurial and so I spent a lot of time learning from my father and brothers about business, whether it was listening in on conversations or just watching. The art of negotiation became a norm, which means I could negotiate myself out of chores in trade for another school club.

I had the ability to question a lot and was given the room to do so by my father. He was very strict, so it was not an easy negotiation. My mother’s softness however allowed me to explore many philanthropic projects, with her support. Because of her, my heart has always been able to identify human impact first, then business later.

Primary school was very much an adventure. If I remember correctly I went to at least 9 different schools, ranging from 3 days to 1 year at each school. What was the problem? My father wasn’t fully satisfied with the school standards. He kept moving us in case the schools showed signs of failure to deliver excellence. He wanted us to have the best education and we did.

For high school, I spent 6 years at the Heritage High School in Borrowdale Brooke – this part was really magical. I participated in almost every club I could; debate, speech and drama, Allied arts, Toast Masters, Chess, and even the Rotary club. My main motive was for me to learn as much as I could. The most impressive stunt I pulled in high school was playing rugby with the boys and effectively starting a girls’ rugby team as a result. Looking back, it demonstrated grit.

My early tertiary years were in Ukraine and later in China, where I completed my bachelor’s degree, an MBA, and a masters in Big Data and Analytics. A lot happened in China, in regard to my entrepreneurial journey. I started a bakery, an AI Nutrition-based restaurant and an education consulting agency. I did it all until I finally found the one thing that I wanted to do forever, AI Innovation.

What started off in 2017 as a small group of programmers learning about AI grew into a massive community of up to 3500 members. This is how my first AI startup was founded. I moved to Cape Town, where I am currently on a rapid growth journey working in an AI Innovation & Research Lab.

Given the resources in an African setting, AI Innovation is not an easy thing! Tell us about some of the challenges you have faced
I have had to make a lot of sacrifices and take a lot of risks. Many times I had to do the hard things alone, scared, even when friends and family told me it was a bad idea. However, my faith inspires me to move on. I believe that there are no bad decisions, everything is a learning opportunity instead.

In case you are not doing anything related to AI Innovation, how do you like spending your time?
I am a bubbly explorer who enjoys writing cheesy poems, playing golf, cooking, and dancing awkwardly at every little achievement. My heart is anchored in impact and philanthropy. Even with all that I am outside of work, a big part of that person is taken up by philanthropy. I also enjoy advocating STEM education access for women and girls.

What’s your favorite quote?
“It always seems impossible until it’s done” ~ Nelson Mandela

What is your word of encouragement for a young girl who wants to venture into AI Innovation?
Listen to your own voice first. Trust your gut feeling, and surround yourself with people that are smarter than you. You can decide who you want to be, and the role you will play in the STEM field. Just decide.

Thank you, Janet, for taking time out of your busy schedule to contribute to this cause. We appreciate all you do for Africa through AI Innovation and wish you the best.

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