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Juliana Rotich Walks the Talk of Harnessing Technology to Transform Lives

“If you want something you never had, you’ve got to do something you’ve never done.”

This is the Maker Manifesto – Maker Faire Africa.

In another life, Juliana Rotich would have been a medical doctor or, had she followed her father’s wishes, an architect. However, she found her true and natural calling in the world of technology, where, along with a team of extraordinary developers, she continues to leave an indelible footprint.

Currently, she heads the fintech integrations department of Safaricom, the world’s largest mobile money company. She works to scale the integration of fintechs and Africa’s super apps: M-PESA for business and M-PESA Africa for consumers. Previously, she co-founded iHub Nairobi, one of the largest innovation hubs in Africa, and Ushahidi, an open-source software application that uses user-generated reports to collate and map data.

As an intellectual and thought leader in the global tech space, her contributions to innovations whose impact on society has been instant, her influence cannot be gainsaid.

Take the Kenyan post-election violence of 2007/08, for instance. As the violence raged following the announcement of the presidential elections, the government imposed a media blackout, plunging the country into darkness. The country was on the brink of an unprecedented civil war. An estimated 1,500 people were killed and over 500,000 displaced. With so much uncertainty, how would people get to know about the violent hotspots for their own safety?

Along with Erik Hersman, Ory Okolloh, and David Kobia, they established Ushahidi. The platform allowed people to report violence hotspots through user-generated web, email, and SMS reports. Their platform would play a critical role in mapping out the extent of violence and the damage caused. It has since been deployed in various crises, including the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami, the Ebola outbreak in Liberia, and hurricanes Sandy and Harvey in the United States.

As their Executive Director, Juliana helped Ushahidi to scale up to 120 countries and can now be accessed in 48 languages. She also oversaw the transitioning of Ushahidi into a tech company that is not wholly dependent on grant funding but generates its income from implementing crowdsourcing projects worldwide.

Presently, Ushahidi is transitioning into a data company led by Angela Oduor Lungati. She started off as a developer for Ushahidi before ascending to lead the organization. All the founders of Ushahidi have gone on to shine in their respective fields.

Juliana’s Journey into the tech landscape began way back in Kabarak High School when she chaired her high school’s Computer Club. After graduating, she moved to Kansas to pursue a degree in computer science at the University of Missouri, Kansas City.

After college, she worked in various roles in the U.S. tech company Sprint(and its subsidiary Intercall), where she garnered valuable experience in the telecommunications industry. In 2007, she joined Hewitt Associates as a Data Analyst to advance her career. At the same time, she accepted the position of Environmentalist Editor at Global Voices.

With this academic background and exposure, it is no surprise that she has co-founded the three aforementioned platforms that have changed lives globally: Ushahidi, BRCK, and iHub. The platforms utilize technology to address emerging societal challenges.

Platforms enable ecosystems. They are “multi-sided,” like exchanges and marketplaces, focused on simplifying interactions between participants. As David Weinberger said recently, the smartest person in the room is now the room.

-Platforms, Institutions and Ecosystems

She has also had experience in the C-suite, having been the Managing Director of BASF East Africa Cluster in 2018. Ever the entrepreneur, she co-founded and led a Fintech company as CEO before joining Safaricom PLC.

Joining Safaricom

In 2022, Juliana joined Safaricom as Head of Department for Fintech Solutions. Here, she has engaged her skills and experiences as a transformative fintech leader through scaling the integrations business at M-PESA. She has played a major role in various initiatives aimed at supporting the fintech, developer, partner and tech community in the country and the continent.

Additionally, Juliana’s work at Safaricom has consistently emphasized the importance of strategic partnerships, security, and data minimization. She and her team organized the M-Pesa Integrations and Data Minimization Partner Forum, where the main topic of discussion was strengthening the M-PESA platform and empowering emerging fintech players in Africa to innovate responsibly. This is the result of her people-centric approach to technological development and her diplomatic engagements to facilitate the growth of fintechs and the general tech ecosystem.

Her engagement in tech is multifaceted. Juliana hosted U.S. Ambassador Meg Whitman and facilitated a roundtable with key industry leaders, where they discussed M-PESA’s role in Safaricom’s mission and its influence on the regional economy. Her dialogue with Ambassador Whitman and other tech leaders focused on the successes and future plans of M-PESA, including the development of the M-PESA Super App and its Mini Apps, which open up new opportunities for consumers and businesses across the world. Juliana also touched on the support provided to the Fintech Community through M-PESA APIs, which are important to the financial services ecosystem.

It’s impressive that she (Her Excellency Meg Whitman) already knew about M-PESA and that she had been monitoring it since she invested in Paypal some time back. The conversations circled around our ecosystem as well as the work we’ve done and continue to do in driving financial inclusion, not just in Kenya now but in the region.

-Talking Tech in Diplomatic Circles & Sector Roundtables

Engagements like these show that her efforts include fostering innovation through the synergy of diplomacy and technology.

Back to The Future: Spark Accelerator Program and The Daraja Platform

The Spark Accelerator program is a platform designed to support bold entrepreneurs in expanding their businesses. Juliana was part of the collaborative team that worked to bring this accelerator partnership between Safaricom, M-PESA Africa, and Sumitomo to life.

The Daraja platform has also seen significant contributions from her team under her leadership. She has facilitated the creation of innovative applications and services that leverage Safaricom’s financial platforms, such as M-PESA. This has been a key factor in the growth of mobile money services, which now contribute heavily to Safaricom’s revenue, even surpassing revenue from voice and text, which are their core traditional services. Developer experience has improved, and the team is continually working to provide enhancements.

Juliana actively shares her skills and experience in the boardroom. She is an A.I Ethics Committee Member at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She also serves on the Advisory Board of Atlas A.I. and as a board member at Girl Effect.

As a servant leader, Juliana has used and continues to use her skills and influence to build impactful technology, fix problems, and help others. She is a highly sought-after leader and inspiring speaker who motivates the upcoming generation of innovators and technologists worldwide.

Her work has attracted global recognition 🌍✨:

  • Forbes s Over 30 under 50 – Trailblazers leading change 2024πŸ’Ό
  • Forbes 20 Youngest Power Women in Africa (2012) πŸ’ΌπŸ‘©
  • Monte Carlo Woman of the Year Award (2016) πŸ†πŸ‘‘
  • CNN World’s 50 Greatest Leaders (2014) πŸŒŸπŸ‘©πŸ’Ό
  • Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship Social Entrepreneur of the Year (2011) πŸš€πŸŒ±
  • Ted Fellow (2009) 🎀🧠
  • Digital Life Design – Digital Woman Award (2013)πŸ…
  • World’s Top 100 Women – The Guardian (2011) and many more accolades

Juliana continues to empower communities, use technology for social good, and encourage innovation in Africa and beyond. Her dedication demonstrates the transformative power of technology in the hands of passionate, purpose-driven people. In her words, “Out of adversity can come innovation”, and her mantra is: Build impactful technology, fix problems, and help others.

She is conscious of the platforms she creates and the ecosystems she is building and participating in.

“I am reminded that with the deluge of data and complexity of networks, not to forget that when systems are highly complex, individuals matter. What is my contribution as an individual? What is yours?” Juliana wrote in one of her blogs.

π·π‘œ π‘¦π‘œπ‘’ π‘˜π‘›π‘œπ‘€ π‘Ž π‘‘π‘Ÿπ‘Žπ‘–π‘™π‘π‘™π‘Žπ‘§π‘’π‘Ÿ 𝑖𝑛 π‘‘β„Žπ‘’ π‘‡π‘’π‘β„Ž πΈπ‘π‘œπ‘ π‘¦π‘ π‘‘π‘’π‘š? π·π‘œ π‘¦π‘œπ‘’ π‘€π‘Žπ‘›π‘‘ π‘‘π‘œ 𝑠𝑒𝑒 π‘‘β„Žπ‘’π‘š π‘“π‘’π‘Žπ‘‘π‘’π‘Ÿπ‘’π‘‘ π‘Žπ‘›π‘‘ π‘Ÿπ‘’π‘π‘œπ‘”π‘›π‘–π‘§π‘’π‘‘ π‘“π‘œπ‘Ÿ π‘‘β„Žπ‘’π‘–π‘Ÿ π‘Ÿπ‘’π‘šπ‘Žπ‘Ÿπ‘˜π‘Žπ‘π‘™π‘’ π‘π‘œπ‘›π‘‘π‘Ÿπ‘–π‘π‘’π‘‘π‘–π‘œπ‘›π‘ ? π‘†β„Žπ‘Žπ‘Ÿπ‘’ π‘‘β„Žπ‘’π‘–π‘Ÿ π‘ π‘‘π‘œπ‘Ÿπ‘¦ π‘œπ‘Ÿ π‘π‘œπ‘›π‘‘π‘Žπ‘π‘‘π‘  π‘€π‘–π‘‘β„Ž 𝑒𝑠 π‘Žπ‘‘ 𝑃𝑅@𝑓𝑖𝑛-π‘‘π‘’π‘β„Ž.π‘π‘œ.π‘˜π‘’ π‘Žπ‘›π‘‘ 𝑙𝑒𝑑 𝑒𝑠 β„Žπ‘’π‘™π‘ π‘ β„Žπ‘œπ‘€π‘π‘Žπ‘ π‘’ π‘‘β„Žπ‘’π‘–π‘Ÿ π‘Žπ‘β„Žπ‘–π‘’π‘£π‘’π‘šπ‘’π‘›π‘‘π‘  π‘‘π‘œ π‘‘β„Žπ‘’ π‘€π‘œπ‘Ÿπ‘™π‘‘.

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