Nkemdilim Begho, setting trends in the Nigerian technology space
I am always on the lookout for inspiring individuals whenever I am invited to an event. People whose lives’ tell stories that are intriguing and worth learning from. Such is the case of my ‘date’ for this week.
I was recently invited to a ‘Women in technology’ program where I watched young girls from different schools present their latest ‘techy’ inventions and I must say I was truly impressed. ICT has caused a dramatic change in our day-to-day lives that you almost feel you are still living in the medieval times if you don’t catch up with evolving technology. Like my friend said to me the other day about her six year old child “That boy knows so much about technology that I sometimes swallow my pride and allow him explain certain things to me about something as minute as features on the remote control. ‘He is still my son, whatever he knows, I am still his mother, he just borrowed my brain’ I always say to console myself”…I laughed at her comment but could not deny the fact that a lot of children are up-to-date on technology.
My ‘date’ for this week falls into this category even right from when she was very young and today, she has carved a niche for herself in ICT. Her father is an IT guru. Back then in her teenage years, they were introduced to ICT already. They had computers in their house from when she was three years old. “I remember when I was sixteen and dad said my sister and I would take programming lessons, I was like…what? why?…he said we would be having the lessons on Saturdays and Sundays. When our friends are catching their fun? Back then I did not think it was fair but that was our weekend life” she tells me and continues “We did not like the programming back then because we were forced but as we progressed, we saw the benefit at least I am into ICT now and I totally enjoy it.” She says.
Nkemdilim Begho graces this page this week. She is a seasoned professional in the IT service industry, and has served as the managing director of Future Software Resources Nigeria Ltd (Futuresoft) since 2008. Future Software Resources Nigeria Limited is a turn-key web solution provider for Nigeria and Africa. The company was founded in partnership with its American based sister company DigiRev LLC and its UK based sister company Paperless Staffroom UK to ensure global standards and competitiveness. Under her leadership, the company has been strategically re-branded and re-focused on three core areas namely: Online solution development, E-learning and IT security, thus establishing it as one of the top IT solution providers in Nigeria.
As a change catalyst, Begho recognised that the African technology space is in its infancy and requires significant innovations in order to leap-frog and compete in global spheres, this spurred her desire to design initiatives and solutions that ensure Futuresoft provides tailored made IT solutions for African businesses that are delivered in accordance with global standards.
Driven by her passion for delivering quality education to African children, the award winning i-Connect Project (www.i-connectproject.com), an ICT4D initiative focused on education and ICT was born. The project won the 2012 Etisalat prize for innovation and the 2013 ARCSR sustainable solutions showcase.
As one of a few Nigerian women in the industry, Nkem’s successes are founded on a passion for driving innovative thinking, building a globally recognised technology brand and setting trends in the Nigerian Technology space. She believes that innovation and change requires adequate support from the public sector and has thus been involved in various public sector initiatives and projects like the Wazobia Linux initiative, the E-Government interoperability framework project and The NITDA open standards framework project.
Nkem embarked on her professional career in Germany at the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for psychiatric research in the department for statistical genetics and proteomics and later worked at Affectis Pharmaceuticals AG, Germany before returning to Nigeria. She is a graduate of Ludwig Maximilian University (LMU) and Technical University Munich (TUM), Germany, where received a BSc. Hons in Bioinformatics.
Nkem is the first of three girls. Her mum is a German and her father a Nigerian. Growing up was indeed fun as she tells me when the interview began. It is not usually the norm to find such a beautiful person embracing technology all the way but she tells me that she had always loved the sciences and shared one experience she would never forget. Hear her “while I was in secondary school, I needed a make-over for my room with all the details I wished for. My father agreed to it but gave me the condition that I had to have an ‘A’ in Physics. I rose up to the challenge and guess what? I had an ‘A’ and my dad fulfilled his promise, my room had all I wanted it to even to the last details” she says with a grin on her face that made her dimples show.
“People find it weird when I tell them I am into ICT, their first impression is that I am either into entertainment, marketing or the likes…they always get shocked when they find out I am opposite of what they think. I really do not believe this should be so though. I remember while in the university, I and my other friend would wear our heels and our schoolmates just couldn’t put it together and my idea has always been ‘who says a techy girl can’t be fashionable?” she says.
After studying abroad, Nkem came back to Nigeria to serve by going for her National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and later established Future Software Resources Nigeria Ltd, a company that has been around for six years now; I asked Nkem how and why she started. Hear her tell it “Before I did my NYSC, I was working for a technology start up company who was working for Linux Company and working there, I realised that I had loads of ideas and needed to push it out there. I did my NYSC at a company called Specialised Outsourcing and I was in charge of developing a recruitment data base for them. I wanted to see how working in Nigeria would be. A friend of mine suggested I join in doing hosting and website design so I spent some time writing my business plan and I started telling people that I met what kind of work I do.”
“It was weird at the initial stage. I started and within a few weeks, I had one major client and from then till now, it has been an exciting six years. We have grown, our development team is based in India and they are forty in number. It includes graphic designers, system analysts, data base programmers and more. In Nigeria, we have project management and sales personnels.”
For a company doing so well, I sought to know why their development procedures are not done in Nigeria even though she works and stays here and Nkem explains. “Our development is not done here for two reasons firstly; it is hard to find really good talents here because of the outdated curriculum being taught here in Nigeria. Students come out of schools and have learnt programming languages that are no longer relevant to modern times are challenged with being up-to-date. Secondly, I realise that most of the developers are males and they have problems working for a woman because to them, being ‘techy’ means you have to be a man.”
“Also, you train people and then they apply to multinationals. There, they are being paid what you cannot pay and so staff retention is one of the hardest things especially when you have to compete with multinationals so we took our works to India. Our team structure is unique; our partners are in The UK and another in America. Our head of social media is in Lagos and she does what is needed to be done with minimal or no supervision at all, she works from wherever she is. Our Philosophy as a Technology Company is to use technology as a means of organisation. What matters is that we have a good structure. I would rather have a team that works hard whether they are under my supervision or not.” She insists.
Though Nigeria is gradually but surely catching up with ICT, I asked Nkem how the quality of internet services can be better and she proffers the solution with added opinion. For her, “The quality has improved over the years. A lot of companies are laying fibres now and with regards to what can work, I advice everyone to have enough back-ups. Infrastructure wise, it is not enough, the government needs to put in enough incentive to make sure this works, policies that help it work. Infrastructure is expensive, this country is massive but it is doable. There should be give-aways so as to encourage participation.”
One of the things Nkem tells me she is excited about as the interview comes to an end, is the lunching of E-learning for schools. “A lot can be done to help children learn better and faster. We are glad to be part of this because education is vital”.
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