Technology is more than innovation and invention. It’s more than accessibility, efficiency and productivity. It is, for Marzanne Collins, CIO at Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator, the toolkit that allows for organisation and individual to drive change for social impact. For her, technology is the key that’s needed to unlock the potential in people’s lives and to transform their quality of life.

Collins’ love of technology has evolved alongside her career – from a student doing mathematical statistics at Nelson Mandela University, to a management consultant at Accenture, to completing her MBA at the IE Business School in Madrid, to where she is today. Harambee is a not-for-profit social enterprise that tackles the global youth unemployment challenge using data, partnerships and on-the-ground experience.

My move into technology was sideways

I enjoy analytical thinking and have been exposed to large technology programmes and data analytics roles throughout my career, from analyst to consultant to working with various incubators and accelerators. I learned the value of problem-solving and analytical reasoning from my MBA and realised that technology is less about the science behind it and more about how it can solve problems in society. It was this combination of analytical thinking, a love of technology and the realisation that these can be applied to solving real problems that led to my role at Harambee.

“I love applying my skills for social impact and leading technology-driven change.”

South Africa is a hotbed of creativity and talent

While studying for my MBA with my European counterparts, I realised that while South Africa has unique social challenges, it also has incredible talent and creativity. There’s an excitement here when it comes to solving problems and using skills to change things for the better that isn’t present overseas.

I love applying my skills for social impact

I’m doing something I love. Out of the many areas that I’ve worked in in the past, for the first time, I’ve realised that I love applying my skills to make a social impact. I want to lead technology-driven change for social impact and to work with purpose. This is our core vision and strategy and I love working with likeminded people who care about what they do and the impact they have. Unemployment is one of the country’s biggest problems right now and I think that technology and inventive thinking can help resolve this challenge sustainably. We are currently supporting one million people and have placed 150 000 people into jobs this year.

Technology can create division

While technology does offer people opportunity, can connect people to healthcare and education, it can equally create division. If you design technology that’s only accessible by certain devices, then you run the risk of leaving people behind. Technology should be something that everyone can access and use; it’s important to look at who is excluded and how to minimise those exclusions.

Be kind to yourself

I come across a lot of young people who want to map out the next 10 years of their life, but you need to be open to learning and not be hard on yourself if things don’t work out. Be kind to yourself as life is a learning journey. Don’t be scared to ask for advice, to listen and to build networks that allow you to connect with the right people in different areas of technology. Join the networks that are involved in data science or coding or infrastructure because you’ll discover where the industry is going and the people who are taking it there. There is one tenet that I believe in wholeheartedly. I call it Tech Bravery and it is defined by being bold and doing what is right.