Mvelo Hlophe is the Founder and CEO of Zaio, which is a start-up dedicated to creating training programmes that promote life-long learning to cultivate leaders that will drive the future of African and Global innovation. Zaio was also a part of the 2019 Injini Incubation cohort alongside other amazing African start-ups.
“Income levels affect the quality of life anyone lives. When a person’s income is low, almost every ‘opportunity’ that can help them live a better quality of life is weighed against their need to have food on their plate”
– Mvelo Hlophe, CEO and Founder of Zaio.
We asked Mvelo Hlophe a few questions about being a founder of a start-up at such a young age and this is what he said…
Who is Mvelo Hlophe, outside of being a CEO, who does such revolutionary work?
Outside of work I am quite the socialite. Be it at a bar, a farmer’s market or the beach, I am always with friends and meeting new people. I do like my alone time after a few hours of socialising. I recharge by reading about random things on the internet, watching my favourite series and taking long walks alone. I am a cyclist. This is how I start my day and spend the better part of the morning on weekends.
On the Zaio website, it states that Zaio was created to democratize access to opportunities. Where do you think the biggest barrier to access stems from?
The main barriers to access are lack of buying power, lack of connectivity and the legacy of spatial planning. Income levels affect the quality of life anyone lives. When a person’s income is low, almost every ‘opportunity’ that can help them live a better quality of life is weighed against their need to have food on their plate. They usually do not have much room in their budget to fit other expenses even if they seem like a long-term investment for them. Linked to this is the high cost of data in South Africa, because data availability is low, one cannot simply spend hours on the internet exploring and exploiting opportunities that are available there. Lastly, the legacy of the Group Areas Act makes it difficult for many to access opportunities. Oftentimes these opportunities are found in cities far away from where they live. With an already limited budget, these people are expected to travel long and costly distances to access these opportunities.
You started Zaio while still studying, how did you manage to strike a balance between being a student and being a start-up founder?
It was stressful most of the time, but I had a great support system around me. From how I went about completing my studies, to how we handled everything in the business, there was always someone there willing to help. I relied a great deal on these people.
According to the Zaio website, “Zaio is adapted from the Nguni word ‘Okuzayo’ which means the future.”- What do you think the future of EdTech in South Africa and Africa looks like?
Freely accessible to all! I believe the innovators on the continent will find new business models that will challenge the current ones. Business models that are conscious of the socio-economic makeup of our societies. These business models will be highly scalable and replicated around the world. Africa will be at the forefront of EdTech globally.
What would you say is the biggest stumbling block for access to opportunities, especially when it comes to coding?
Connectivity is the biggest one. There are other challenges linked to this one, but if one cannot access the internet from anywhere, at any given moment, it makes it difficult for them to learn how to code.
There is a lot of information on the internet about Zaio and you, Mvelo, but at the essence of it, how would you describe the work you are committed to doing with Zaio?
We are training the next generation of tech leaders on the continent. Our approach is so novel and when people start realising just how great it is, there will be a shift in our EdTech platforms, the value they bring and how suited they are to individual users. Ours is to create a foundation, not only by increasing the pool of quality talent on the continent but also to create a standard when it comes to EdTech products our people will interact with.
You wake up 10 years from now and there is an article about Zaio on Forbes Africa, what does the headline say?
Oh, they’ve done it again!
The EdTech space is in Africa is becoming a formidable force. What would you say this space will look like in the upcoming years?
We will see far more companies in the space, offering more niche solutions. Machine learning and AI (Artificial Intelligence) will play a huge role in the innovation of EdTech products. People will be spoilt for choice in terms of how they want to learn and how they want their children to learn. Gaming will quickly become an integral part of the learning process. In fact, the next big winner in the space will find a way to not only gamify learning but to make learning part of the gaming experience.
Where do you draw inspiration from? Especially when it comes to work that requires your full presence and dedication.
I draw inspiration from almost everywhere. I read a lot of seemingly arbitrary stuff on the internet. This helps me make links in places many people cannot see. When it comes to staying motivated and dedicated, I imagine the big vision that I still want to realize in the world. This is what keeps me going.
Please share any words you live by with us.
“Kuzohlangana, boy.” Which translated from isiZulu is “It will all come together, boy.”
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