Interview with Evelyn Namara: Technologist & Start-up mentor

‘’You’ll get knocked down many times and there’ll be tears, sweat and self doubt; but dust yourself and keep moving. That’s the go-getter spirit’’


Evelyn Namara is a technologist and social entrepreneur passionate about women in technology, innovation, Education Technology and youth empowerment. She is founder of Pearl Innovators, a start-up empowering young girls by giving them access to quality educational content and life skills. Evelyn was influential in setting up Solar Sister Uganda, which empowers women with economic opportunity where she was Country Director and helped scale it from a pilot of 10 entrepreneurs to a network of close to 400 women entrepreneurs in less than 2 years. Her work with Solar Sister and Girl Geek Kampala earned her the Anita Borg Institute Change Agent Award for 2012. Evelyn is an Acumen fellow, IDEX fellow and an IGF Internet Society (ISOC) Ambassador for 2015.


You’ve shown strong leadership participating in the frontline of a lot of important areas capturing the world’s attention right now – eg technology, education, entrepreneurship. How do you get to be involved and how do you typically create opportunities for yourself?

“Your network is your net-worth” is a quote I hear a lot and I believe it’s true. My strategy for everything I’m passionate about is to invest in knowing 2 to 3 people more knowledgeable than me about my area of interest and purpose to learn from them. Humility is knowing that there’s always someone better than you at something and that there’s always someone who wants to learn from you. I invest in building a strong network of people I look up to and also build a similar network of people I can help mentor.  Through research and utilizing my networks, I create a lot of opportunities for myself.


You are passionate about technology for innovation. How do you define innovation and what are some of the innovative things you have been part of?

Technological Innovation can be a driving force in creating long term solutions for many of the issues we face in our communities today. My definition of innovation is finding a new way of problem solving that’s relevant, resilient and disruptive of the status quo in nature. When I look around me, I see many problems that need to be solved in different sectors; energy, water and sanitation, health, education to mention just a few. What’s happened over the years is that millennials are more empowered to step into the entrepreneurship and innovation space to come up with ways to solve some of the most pressing needs using enterprise and innovation. This space excites me a lot because the possibilities are endless. I’ve been involved with lots of innovations as a mentor and implementer.


You were involved during your stint in India recently with providing ‘’sustainable learning environments for students to find their wings’’ What did you learn about what level/kind of learning helps one to fly so to speak?

Learning that is personalized, unique and treats each child as different is key to helping children thrive. When children are in one big class, it’s easy for educators to treat them as equals but what you don’t realize is that each child is unique and learns differently. Some thrive in a group setting, some grasp the information quickly from a teacher, and others prefer to learn on their own. What’s important is finding unique aspects of each child’s learning ability and capitalizing on that to make them better that’s why the concept of Blended learning where teaching is done partly using technology and traditional teaching methods works better for young children. It can be as simple as using technology and complementing that with a teacher, or adding different aspects like peer-to-peer learning, self learning, technology, and a lot more models. The blended learning approach helped children learn better and retain the knowledge more easily.


Budding entrepreneurs often complain about the lack of access to capital. As someone involved in the start-up industry what would you say are the other key challenges they face and what entrepreneurial skills sets would help them?

The start-up scene is not for the faint hearted. You have to be all in and fully invested in making your start-up a success. Beyond capital, entrepreneurs need to invest in knowing their business well. Do your research about the space you’re involved in. Ask yourself questions such as; Who are your primary competitors? How do you set yourself apart? Who are your potential customers? Have you tested your product with potential customers enough times? How useful is the feedback you get from customers? As an entrepreneur, you constantly have to go through an iteration of these questions. This process can be daunting for most entrepreneurs and end up putting out a product or service that is not well tested and doesn’t deliver the results needed. The best entrepreneurs are the ones who are resilient, passionate and know their market.


Some of your awards including Acumen fellow and IDEX fellow are quite prestigious. What earned you these and what platforms have these accolades afforded you?

Both fellowships invest in human capital and lead fellows through a leadership journey where we challenge our assumptions, reflect deeply about the world and social challenges and develop a moral compass. When I got accepted as an Acumen fellow, I was leading a social enterprise and didn’t have a lot of experience in the sector. The fellowship gave me a chance to connect with like-minded change makers who were running amazing organizations. I learned a lot and was able to be better at my job. The IDEX fellowship gave me an opportunity to live in a different continent and use the skills I have to create tangible and impactful results for a start-up organization.


Many women want to accelerate their advancement and these days that would ordinarily include leadership at some level. What kind of mindset would you say young women in particular need to develop in order to succeed?

Women need the LEAN IN attitude that Sheryl Sandberg talks about in her book. Know your strengths and use them to your advantage. We have to know what we want and pursue it without fear. Self advancement is something I also wish a lot of women learn to do. If there’s a certain skill-set you need to get you to your dream job, invest in knowing that skill set. Do not settle at any stage because you feel comfortable. I always say, unless I’m at the very top of where I want to be, I will never stop being hungry for more knowledge, more opportunities and more self advancement.


What are some of the less obvious obstacles that you’d urge anyone wanting to rise to prepare for and what would be your tips on how to overcome these?

I would urge them to be aware that not everyone will like what you stand for. Not everyone will be happy with your achievements. It’s always good to be aware that success comes with ‘’challenges’’. Stay authentic to who you are and above all stay humble.


You describe yourself as a ‘’go getter’’ and your achievements to date reflect that. What would you say to someone who asked how they can develop the ‘’go getter’’ spirit?

 I would say I’m truly humbled and blessed with the little I have achieved to date, and I still have a long way to go. I describe myself as a go getter because when I put my mind to doing something, I’m determined to see it through. Throughout the process, you get knocked down so many times, and there are a lot of tears, sweat and self doubt; but ultimately when the day breaks and another starts – you have to be willing to get up, dust yourself and keep moving. That’s the go-getter spirit.


What would you say have been your key milestones on your leadership journey and what helped you accomplish them?

I would say the recognition from Anita Borg Institute as the Change Agent Award winner still tops my milestones. Helping a couple of start-ups gain a foothold and start operations, and also lending a hand in helping mentor young women in technology are other key ones.


What are some of the specific things you do regularly to keep yourself growing and developing?

I’m a fitness freak, so I love to take time off to do meditation and yoga, jogging and high intensity interval training are some of the things I do besides researching and reading.



For more information on Vera Ng’oma’s work and resources in leadership, personal and career development and excellence building, click here.


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