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Friday interview: Thandwefika Radebe, Qwili co-founder

From his roots in starting a student-led consulting organisation, Phaphama SEDI, in 2014 that first assisted seven entrepreneurs from Khayelitsha, Thandwefika Radebe has taken his idea of economic inclusivity to great heights.

He now counts himself as a member of the Harambe Entrepreneur Alliance that is striving to unlock Africa’s business potential. Radebe is a co-founder of the innovative smartphone platform service Qwili that has developed a more inclusive way to introduce technology into rural communities.

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With Yoco, Flutterwave and Andela graduating from the Harambeans, Radebe is hoping to replicate that success with Qwilli.

What does it mean to be a Harambean?

Harambeans are bound by one common purpose and that’s to bring prosperity to our people. As Harambeans our ventures have this goal in mind as we build our ventures.

What role do you think Africa can play in the next evolution of the global economy?

The fact that Africa lags other regions in most digital penetration indicators is a reflection of the lack of applicability of existing technologies to the African context. Africa can, therefore, act as the next major site of innovation.

You (Harambeans) boast about over 3000 jobs created already, how does that scale to meet the continent’s needs?

Our digital wallet and sales portal are not an end in themselves, they are a tool that enables us to shift the cost burden from users of the phone to other ecosystem players. As our users facilitate payments and transactions, they draw a commission, but also generate revenue for Qwili which enables us to make the phone available at below cost.

And within those jobs, how are you helping re-skill the current workforce for the jobs of tomorrow?

Our platform is used by users who either have no other source of income or are in low-paying employment to supplement their incomes. We intend to design a platform to enable them to sell any goods they already sell informally and offline, through our platform, introducing efficiencies and cost savings for them.

VB: What is the one piece of advice you would give to 16-year-old you?

TR: “Young man, it’s not a good use of time to convince people that something that has never been done before can be done… It’s easier to just go out and do it”

How is Qwili helping transition under-skilled Africans into the new economy?

Qwili has developed a unique voice-guided tutorial format that fast tracks as user’s onboarding to a smartphone and its various functions by focusing on building muscle memory.

If you had to start your business today, with all the knowledge you have now, what would you do differently?

Starting a business is extremely hard, but the journey doesn’t have to be lonely. I would seek out an advisor or a group of likeminded entrepreneurs a lot earlier than what I did to guide me through the journey. The reality is their hindsight becomes your foresight.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to 16-year-old you? 

My first ever investors told me that it is easier to go and do the thing that has never been done than to try and convince people that it can be done. People think your big ideas are crazy and their unsolicited “feedback” can be discouraging. The real issue is they fail to see the world the same way you do. So don’t seek out their validation, the only person that needs to be convinced is you.

Read more: Flutterwave raises $250M, now valued at over $3B

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