Tech-preneur Sewa Matlapeng is combining her passions to effect social transformation
Using technology to change lives, and encouraging more women to become developers, is what fires the passion of software engineer Sewagodimo ‘Sewa’ Ednecia Matlapeng.
Born and raised in Rustenburg in the North West Province, the BSc Hons Computer Science graduate from UCT works as a software engineer for The Praekelt Foundation, a non-profit organisation that leverages mobile technology to deliver essential information and services to improve the health and wellbeing of more than 100 million people in over 54 countries.
Oprah Winfrey was a great inspiration to Sewa. Growing up, she and her mother used to watch the US media owner’s TV show together. “Oprah is so inspiring to me because of everything she went through and then turned those negative experiences into something great to help other people. After everything she experienced, she chose to be strong and warm and giving and gave the world so much more,” she says.
Sewa loves her work. She loves writing code and is working on the Springster app, a community-centric experience to keep girls engaged, informed, encouraged and connected. The content management system delivers 17 language versions and boasts 1.3-million users from 66 countries, supporting girls to achieve their full potential.
“I love the fact that we are providing a site to advise and help young girls, because I didn’t have that growing up,” she says. “And I love that Praekelt is inclusive. We have more female developers than most companies – three out of our five developers are women, and that is rare.”
Sewa is passionate about education and is also building her side hustle, a learning app called Buza, which means ‘ask’ in Zulu. At the same time, she also wants to further her academic studies, and is planning on taking her Masters degree, followed by a PhD.
Like many young girls, Sewa went through a time in her life when she didn’t want to be the “smart girl” because it intimidated others, especially the boys. But her Grade 9 maths teacher, Mrs Molausi, guided and advised her not to try to make herself smaller for anyone else. “I’ll always be grateful to her because she taught me not to try to be someone else, someone I’m not, to please other people, because that is the way to lose yourself,” she says.
Sewa learned to code at high school, Lebone II College, in Rustenberg in North West. “That was a highlight for me,” she says. “I was in Grade 10 and had never used a computer in my life before. I chose IT as a subject because I didn’t know anything about it, and I wanted to learn more. I’ll always remember walking into the lab not even knowing how to switch the computer on. Now I love looking back to see how far I’ve come.”
Home has always been a supportive place for Sewa. She was raised by both her parents and is the third child of four siblings. “Coming from a big family, I don’t know what it feels like to be alone. I have always had support and people around me,” she says. “I come from a family of matriarchs. Tswana people have a traditionally matriarchal culture. I always had women cousins and aunts around me,” she says.
Sewa’s mom raised her to be independent, take care of herself financially and not to depend on a man to look after her, while her father urged her to overcome patriarchal attitudes. That Sewa is now sending money home to her family is a point of pride for her.
Her selection to the Moshal Program has inspired her, as it has given opportunities to many students, who might not otherwise have been able to reach their potential, she says. “We could all have been excluded from the system if we hadn’t received the scholarship. There is so much talent that goes untapped because people don’t have access to opportunities,” she says.
She lives by her own personal motto: “Let the passion and drive in me come out into the Universe”. That passion and drive to create equal opportunities in education for all is what fuels her. “I would like everyone to have access to opportunities for education and to follow their dreams. I am committed to doing what I can to promote this inclusivity.”
Sewa’s life goal is to start a software company employing only women, that develops products to uplift the community. “I’m extremely passionate about uplifting people, especially in countries like South Africa where people’s access to internet technology is limited. I believe this is where I can make the most impact to effect change for the people who need it the most,” she says.
Sewagodimo means ‘sent from heaven’ in her native Tswana. For those who she is directly and indirectly supporting through her work and by being the strong, empowered young woman she is, there is no doubt that she lives up to it.