Rekindle Learning founder Rapelang Rabana on education technology

Pragmatic and forward-thinking, Rapelang Rabana is a business intellectual with uncanny prescience. This techpreneur has never been one to stay in her lane – and she’s reaping the rewards of her boldness

Rabana’s raising the stakes of Africa’s involvement in education and learning through technology. She has an impressively long list of accomplishments for someone so young: a former World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Shaper and curator of the Cape Town Hub, she was also one of the youngest Grand Jurors for the UN’s World Summit Awards and is an ambassador for the same programme, as well as a 2007 Endeavour “High-Impact” Entrepreneur.

Her most recent honour was being selected as a 2017 WEF Young Global Leader. “I’m thrilled to have been chosen,” she says. “The WEF has been amazing for my career, because I’ve met people who share my outlook, passion and commitment.”

GETTING TO THE MONEY

Always proactive, rather than passive, Rabana’s response to problems is to seek solutions – which is why she’s also involved in private equity. She says she didn’t want to be 40 years old and sitting around and complaining about the lack of funding for techpreneurs and so she joined Nisela Capital, an advisory, asset management and private equity firm that has several years of investment banking and transactional experience in sub-Saharan Africa.

“It’s been a tough journey, but I drive myself more if there’s lots on my plate,” says Rabana. “It would have been easy to stay in my tech comfort zone, but it’s important to have a diverse range of skills. I’ve learnt a great deal since last November, when I had only about five per cent of the 60 per cent industry knowledge I have today. I see myself one day running a successful tech fund – and this is how I’ll get there.”

READ MORE: Smart ways to save for your child’s education

Rekindling Africa’s passion for learning

Despite her IT success, Rabana says pedagogy has always been an issue close to her heart. “Learning is a huge issue in Africa. How do we, as a continent, jump through several hoops to become a global leader and stop lagging behind? Learning and educational skills development is a big area and technology has to be a part of the solution. I trusted that this was the journey I had to pursue.”

Rekindle Learning (now in its third year of operation) aims to change the way people learn. The focus is on micro-learning – ie, taking in small chunks of information at a time via mobile phone or the web, rather than a single, big lump of material.

It was only at the end of last year that Rabana understood how she could grow the business. “We’ve been working with call centres, banks and fast-moving consumer goods companies to upskill young people in less time. Companies don’t allocate a lot of resources to training and learning: instead, they simply hand out thick manuals and expect students to master the contents. We’ve repackaged this same content into smaller components with interactive questions, so you can track how people are going through it and the knowledge they’re retaining. This gives you a real grasp of what they know.

READ MORE: Bathabile Mpofu on tackling SA’s science education crises

Rabana partnered with a bank to repackage the Financial Services Board’s regulatory exam’s pendulous training manual into a nine-module course. “The exams are particularly difficult for those with poor educational backgrounds, but we’ve seen significantly improved results from those who’ve used the module. I wrote the same exam and I passed, using just the modules. The system works!” she says.

The potential uses for the technology are limitless and can be adapted for industries that require knowledge of complex regulations or dense reams of information.

Rekindle Learning’s more recent foray into the education and academic space has been trickier to navigate. “It took me a long time to figure out the angle from which to enter,” she says. “I didn’t want to start from scratch, as that takes too long to get to market and there are already some good products out there. So we partnered with an Austrian company which already had the technology, revamped it significantly for the local market – and made it an African solution.”

The technology’s already being used by some 7 000 students, but Rabana aims to expand that to at least 25 000 users in the next three years. The program’s currently only available through private limited access for universities, but she’s also seeking to make it more widely obtainable.

“The two biggest issues facing education are financial inclusion and skills, so I’m working on one of those tangents. I don’t want to travel to the USA or Europe to hear about Africa’s problems. We already have a solution for educating people, but we have to change the trajectory of growth when we’re dealing with billions of them. We have the technology: we just need a different approach,” she says.