Today, I am excited to meet Stefanie Garises, a young African woman, located in Windhoek, Namibia. She is a Data Analytics Consultant, a CIO of a fast-growing Namibian computer manufacturing start-up, and a passionate performer of rap music. Stefanie was selected as one of 700 Mandela Washington Fellows by the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), out of over 60,000 applicants, in 2018.
Her path to where she is today was not an easy-going one and was paved with major uncertainties and barriers. This wonderful multi-talented young African woman impressed me deeply with her mindset of openness, resilience and endurance to always keep on going despite unfavourable environments. In this interview, she talks about leadership qualities for today’s world, her personal recipe to keep optimistic in times of crisis, sharing her start-up experiences in Namibia, and what managers can do to effectively increase diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
Eva: Dear Stefanie, first of all thank you so much for taking the time for this Human Facts meets. To begin with: You have been selected as one of 700 Young African Leaders – congratulations! What, to you, makes a good leader in the 21st century?
Stefanie: I believe that a leader must have certain skills in order to lead effectively. These are: being able to communicate effectively, being able to delegate completely, being respectful of those they lead, being accountable, and being decisive.
Secondly, a leader must have a strategy that is informed by all stakeholders that are impacted by his/her decisions. This, to me, is already a great start to risk management. When you involve all essential opinions and insights during the planning phase of any endeavour, you can mitigate certain risks before they materialise.
Last, but not least, a leader must anticipate change. A leader can do this by keeping in touch with the global and local trends that impact his/her stakeholders, and by engaging on platforms on which people discuss and debate potential areas of change. I think leaders should be comfortable being outside their comfort zone. They must be willing to change with the times. They must be willing to redesign entire systems that have worked in the past in order to implement new, future-proof systems.
Eva: We currently find ourselves in times of major existential uncertainties coming along with the global pandemic crisis. This is shaking confidence everywhere around the world. Particularly in Europe, where we enjoyed rather stable environments over a long period and thus took them for granted. You have grown up with unstable and uncertain environments and encountered these along your whole life and career path. What helped you to keep going, and to keep believing that things will turn out for the better? What coping mechanisms can you recommend?
Stefanie: It’s true. I have grown up through numerous stages of uncertainty. From being on the brink of homelessness to not knowing where my next meal would come from. Even saying that seems so dramatic, because it’s such a norm for me and many others. Around here, these are the uncertainties that the majority of us regularly face.
I learned and developed a number of ways to cope. The first of which is music. As an African, music speaks to my soul and my spirit. Whenever we celebrate anything, there is music involved. I use music to condition my emotional state. If I wake up feeling negative or down, I simply whip out my “favorite music” playlist and play a song that reminds me of happier times. If I don’t have an avenue to play the music, I simply sing it. It’s a form of therapy to me. If I focus too much on the temporary realities that surround me, I’m robbing myself of the opportunities to pursue the preferred realities that I envision for myself.
Another coping mechanism I have used is being active. Growing up, I always did sports. Be it tennis, crossfit, or basketball, I always found a way to physically move. This changes the energies in my body and ensures that I feel accomplished and refreshed. Even if I lose a game, at least I competed and learned something about myself in the process.
Other coping mechanisms have been writing music and poetry, building things with my hands, touching base with loved ones, accomplishing smaller tasks, and taking breaks. Taking breaks is an extremely important one for me, because I consider myself a workaholic. Simply doing nothing is usually enough for me to reset and better manage whatever crisis I’m facing.
Eva: From your experience: what helps you to develop such resilience and endurance? What mind-set - or heart-set does such resilience and endurance require and how do you develop it?
Stefanie: A positive mindset. I have always chosen to search for the bright side in any situation. I may even be considered too optimistic at times.
I would rather hope for the best and prepare for the worst.
That to me is a positive mindset. Whenever I’m confronted with disappointment, instead of thinking “oh my gosh! This sucks so bad.” and dwelling on it, I grieve the loss of an opportunity. Sometimes I even cry. It’s a quick and effective way to deal with the overwhelming emotions that accompany disappointment. Then I start to think of how I can use the current situation to my advantage. How can I pivot and get back on track? The best way I can advise anyone to do this is to ask yourself why you were pursuing that opportunity in the first place? What was so pressing that motivated you to go for it? Keep track of the answers to those questions, and you will be able to course correct no matter what.
If you are more passionate about the problem you want to resolve rather than any solution you can develop, you will always be able to get back up and try again. That’s what I do.
Eva: I experienced that sometimes a question has more power to change our lives than recommendations, messages, or statements. What question inspired you to successfully make changes in your life?
“What if I succeed? What if I get it right?”
The answer to these questions excite me to my core! I can’t help but embark on a thought process exploring all the possibilities that could exist after finding success. I have an incredibly vivid imagination and I’m a planner. So when I start thinking about these possibilities, they become undeniably real to me. This makes them easier to pursue because I can think up numerous routes towards a single goal. Thus, when an opportunity presents itself to pursue the goal, I already have a strategy for how I will approach the opportunity. I’ve used this method of manifestation so many times in my life and my achievements are proof that it works.
You can also watch Stefanie's answer in the video below.
Eva: I guess it’s your unshakable openness and resilience that allowed you to recently kick-off your entrepreneurship career beside your consultancy job. You joined PEBL, a growing local start-up in Namibia that manufacturers small and affordable computers, particularly for the youth and the young at heart, as the CIO. Could you please explain to our European readers the purpose behind PEBL and why it might positively contribute toward the fight against inequality?
Stefanie: The PEBL ethos is to deliver versatile, energy efficient and quality computer hardware solutions, which offer an integrated user-experience; providing seamless contemporary convenience for the modern, digitally savvy African consumer.
One of our numerous goals is to provide access through technology to as many Africans as we can. Once people have access to technology, they are one step closer to participating in the new digitally connected world where opportunities for development are seemingly endless. We intend to use PEBL to create opportunities for development for those less privileged such that they are able to sustain a living for themselves and reduce inequalities caused by poverty, lack of education, and lack of opportunities.
We want our brand to represent the celebration of the uniqueness of every individual. One of the ways we do this is by allowing our customers to customize their hardware to their preferred specifications so as to provide a more personalized experience to them.
Eva: I learned from my various stays in Namibia over the last years, that entrepreneurship is still a small, yet very necessary growing part for Namibia’s Economy. What kind of support helped you most in establishing your start-up?
Stefanie: An entrepreneurship support system which is in its infancy, and yet, is already extremely helpful. PEBL won its first foreign investment opportunity in 2017 on a platform called Pitch Night. This platform was created by an organization called FABLAB Namibia, which supported entrepreneurs and start-ups in their early stages. PEBL was then incubated in the FABLAB and they helped us refine our business model and networks.
Organizations like these reduce the amount of work that entrepreneurs have to do on their own by sharing their expertise, resources, and networks with us.
Eva: What words of encouragement could you find for young African or European entrepreneurs thinking about engaging in a start-up? Any advice, suggestions or thoughts you would like to share?
My first word of advice is, “Just start!”
It may seem cliché because everyone says that, but some clichés really are true. No matter what you start with or where you start, just start. When you don’t do anything, you have too many options and potential routes. When you do something and produce a result, that result determines your next steps. It reduces the complexity of trying to figure out what to do for each potential outcome. Each next step will reveal to you what to do next or at least where to search for answers.
Even if an idea, product, or service already exists, you can always make it better. Even if you can’t make it “better”, so to speak, you can always make it your own. If something appeals to you, it may very well appeal to others, because human beings have a lot of similarities, needs, and desires that you can cater to.
Last, but not least, I advise you to always keep learning. Whether it’s by reading books, watching educational and insightful videos, or even socializing with knowledgeable individuals. Always keep learning.
Eva: As a young African woman working in a technical domain, you personally unify at least 4 “diversity criteria”. Here in Europe, companies do try heavily to increase diversity and inclusion in companies. However, despite longstanding efforts (and recent acceleration by the current “BLM” (Black-Lives-Matter) movement), empirical success is still quite disappointing. What would you recommend European businesses do in order to support this movement, such as implementing diversity and inclusion initiatives in an authentic and effective way?
Stefanie: The first part has probably already been done by most European companies, which is making diversity and inclusion part of the company’s strategic goals. The next step is to set up and assign an entire team exclusively toward implementing diversity and inclusion within the company. Next, this team must develop specific goals that address where and how they want to implement diversity and inclusion in the company. Then they need to develop processes that will ensure that these goals are met.
The key to these steps is identifying what kind of diversity the company is willing to achieve. Is it gender diversity, race diversity, diversity in experience, diversity in skillsets, generational diversity, all the above? The answer to this question will help them to prioritize their goals and appropriately define the team responsible for achieving these goals. The rest should flow organically.
Of course, all of this is my opinion and not fact. I trust that the leaders within European businesses know what they want. Perhaps they only need some assistance in bringing it to fruition.
Eva: Last but not least, we've been talking a lot about how you paved your own career path as an African woman with a lot of resilience and endurance energies: is there anything you would like to share with young European women in business? Any concluding advice, suggestions, thoughts?
Stefanie: Firstly, I would like to acknowledge every individual, organization, and experience that has shaped my career. Although I searched for and pursued opportunities relentlessly, the privileges afforded to me by those individuals and organizations played an instrumental role in my development.
One of the many challenges that female entrepreneurs face, to my knowledge, is the constant need to prove ourselves whereas our counterparts are simply trusted.
My advice for this challenge is to focus on the skill. Don’t pay too much attention to opinions and other subjective factors. Focus on strengthening your skill and delivering quality products and services. Use the fact that you are a woman to your advantage.
In my experience, women tend to think fast on their feet, solve problems more creatively, have empathy and are more considerate of the user experience when designing solutions, and are generally more resilient. I believe that women have endured much hardship over the past years, and thus, are emotionally stronger and emotionally more intelligent. Emotional intelligence and endurance is one of the must-have traits of any entrepreneur, because entrepreneurship is gruelling. As women, I believe we have the upper hand in that area.
Eva: Anything you would have loved I ask you?
Stefanie: I believe you covered everything quite well. Your experience is demonstrated in how well you curated the questions. Thus, I can’t think of any other questions at this time.
Well, thank you so much for your time and sharing so openly your experiences! It’s very inspiring to learn from your perspective, Stefanie! I wish you all the best for the future and that your question “What if I succeed?” will unfold further meaning in your life! Please stay safe, healthy and energized!
Stefanie Garises was supported by B360 education partnership foundation during her studies to develop necessary career development skills and was selected to complete an internship at an international company in Switzerland. Retrospectively, this was in her eyes the starting point to being motivated to continuously develop further her multiple talent potentials and career paths. As a board member and volunteering expert engaging for B360, I met her at several B360 events.
Watch Stefanie's answer when asked what question inspired her to successfully make changes in her life.
Thank you for sharing your most inspiring life-changing question – we are happy to bounce the collective wisdom back to you!