Women's Month 2023: Dr Mmaki Jantjies 

Women’s Month 2023: Dr Mmaki Jantjies 

August is Women’s Month, and this year the National Research Foundation (NRF) is celebrating the remarkable contributions that have been made by women researchers for the betterment of humanity. We thank all participants for sharing their stories with us.

Dr Mmaki Jantjies is currently the Group Executive: Innovation and Transformation at Telkom and an adjunct academic. She received funding from the NRF for her PhD studies.

What impact did the NRF have on your studies/career?

When I was enrolled for my PhD in Computer Science at the University of Warwick, I was one of only 10 people selected for the PhD Abroad by the NRF. The funding was impactful during my studies even though it was not enough to cover the full cost to study.

At the end of my studies, I owed the university money. I took my chances and wrote to the NRF about this, asking for support even though I knew it was out of the allocated funding mandate. To my surprise, the program manager was so understanding to my plea. The NRF then called my university and paid for the outstanding fees and I was able to graduate. To date, I wish I could meet the lady who helped me from the NRF because she went above and beyond at a time when I really needed funding support and considering that my application for this scholarship had previously been rejected. At the end, the support was impactful not only for my studies but also for my career.

What has been your study/career journey?

I did computer studies in high school which inspired my journey in the field. My first love was mechanical engineering as I really wanted to work for F1 car racing teams. This dream didn’t materialise but opened a path that would enable me to gain skills and allow me to contribute towards innovative solutions that impact society. As a young person, I was always fascinated by innovations that were able to bring significant impact to society at scale. I always felt that we needed more African-led innovations as much of our technology at that time was developed in the global north.

I completed my undergraduate degree with North-West University in Mahikeng, followed by an Honours in Informatics at the University of Pretoria, an MSc in Computing at Oxford Brookes University, and a PhD in Computer Science at the University of Warwick.

After spending a brief time working in technology consultancy, I was inspired by the impact of digital innovations on society and was passionate to ensure the contribution of African-led digital innovations. I then joined the NWU Department of Information Systems after completing my PhD and went on to lead the department. I moved to UCT and was appointed as a lecturer. I joined UWC where I became the Head of Department and later an Associate Professor in Information Systems.

I went on to join Telkom, leading the Innovation and Transformation Office. My career has been underpinned by using the power and scale of digital innovations to democratise access to quality services.

What is your research focus on/what is your area of expertise?

My research area has enabled me to explore how technology innovations can be developed and deployed to empower communities. My specific research area is in ICT for development with a keen passion on the role of technology in providing access to quality education.

My various roles have enabled me to provide a strategic roadmap of innovative solutions enabling digital inclusion and access to digital resources meeting the South African society local needs in areas such as education and health.

Why is your research/work important?

Digital inclusion enables not only access to key services which are innovative and context specific but also enables economic growth which is important for a developing economy. Access to key areas such as education through technology allows us as a country to also provide equitable access to quality resources leveraged through digital platforms. Research and innovation in these areas is thus important in helping us get closer to our collective vision of ensuring the participation and benefit of all South Africans in the digital economy.

There is still a long way to go to truly achieve equity and a sense of belonging for women, be it within the research community or society in general. How do you envision yourself contributing to this space?

In realising the need for diversity in the field of technology, I founded a non-profit organisation which has gone on to run digital skills clubs in underprivileged communities. Diverse volunteers, both in industry and academia, have supported the work of the NPC in reaching many communities. One specific project we are proud of was working with various partners to scale a teachers training program to empower teachers from various provinces in using technologies in schools post the pandemic.

What advice do you have for girls who are interested in STEM-related careers?

The field of technology requires people from diverse backgrounds. In digital innovation, we bring our unique views, our unique lived experiences and creativity. There is a seat for every diverse strength in the field. Know that you too are valid in the space. Mentorship is important for growth in any career path – find a mentor and community to support you, and be open to knowing that your mentor will not always look and sound like you. Enjoy the journey and wherever you can, pay it forward for others.

This work is licenced under an Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 South Africa (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 ZA) license. Please view the terms for republishing here.

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