Leadership

Africa Teen Geeks' Lindiwe Matlali: 'Seek impact, not accolades'

Lindiwe Matlali, CEO and Founder, Africa Teen Geeks

Lindiwe Matlali, CEO and Founder, Africa Teen Geeks Image: Africa Teen Geeks

Linda Lacina
Digital Editor, World Economic Forum
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This article is part of: Sustainable Development Impact Summit
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  • Meet The Leader is a fortnightly podcast from the World Economic Forum that features the world’s top changemakers, showcasing the habits and traits effective leaders can’t work without.
  • Lindiwe Matlali founded Africa's largest computer science non-profit organization, one that teaches kids to code and exposes young people to new opportunity, to create a pipeline of tech leaders in Africa.

Lindiwe Matlali decided to found Africa Teen Geeks in 2014 after meeting an eight-year-old coder. That meeting inspired her to research computer science education in Africa and do what she never imagined: launch a non-profit to teach children to code to create a pipeline of new tech leaders.

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Today the group is one of Africa's largest computer science organizations, one that has trained thousands of teachers in STEM subjects, developed a special STEM Digital Lockdown School for children during COVID-19, and introduced 800,000 children to new programs in coding and robotics, and new ways of thinking about their futures.

Lindiwe built this Africa Teen Geeks from scratch, through bootstrapping, determination and cold calls, as she learned first hand the type of on-the-ground issues like transport and school lunches that must be tackled first before a class in coding can hope to be successful.

Guiding her is the role humility plays in making change. Such humility can help leaders understand how to create solutions that truly create change for the long term. This approach can also help in partnering with others and making the most of larger platforms that can amplify ideas.

"I need to humble myself enough to let people educate me," Matlali told Meet the Leader.
"All of us have to see, can we make a difference where we are? My attitude is I don't have to be the one that shines as long as we get the work to happen."

Her ideas on humility have been shaped by her relationship with her mentor, Marian Croak, a Google VP of engineering. Though Croak is an esteemed innovator with hundreds of patents to her name, Matlali says Croak always surprises her with her availability, returning her texts and calls and being 'present' when they speak.

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That time-management and focus inspires Matlali, and it's a example she applies in her own mentoring relationships when working with children at Africa Teen Geeks. "Children need to know that they matter," says Matlali. "If I do that for the kids coming after me then, you know, we can raise more little Marian Croaks from South Africa, right? Or Africa in general."

Matlali talked to Meet the Leader about the importance of humility, what's needed to bridge equity gaps in tech, and how tech entrepreneurship could reshape Africa. Learn more in this week’s episode.

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Articles by Lindiwe Matlali

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