Thoko Miya is the direct result of hard work and never letting anything get in your way. I met this incredible woman in 2016, my first year of varsity. Even then, she was driven. Who knew six years later, we would be sitting on a Zoom call talking about our hair while telling each other how much we loved and respected each other and their achievements.

Thoko Miya is a tech entrepreneur and the founder of Start-up Thoko – a business incubation and innovation site. In a 2-part series, we will give you all the details of this amazing achievement, but first, we will get to know her a little better. 

Who is Thoko outside of the Start-up Thoko brand?

I would say I’m a woman of resilience, power and somebody who is focused –  a game changer. Essentially I am set on changing the agenda and changing the narrative. I am disruptive, and if you have a deck of cards, I would be the wildcard.

There is still too much pressure on women to conform and be a specific person. But I think the more we think out of the box, the more we can disrupt, innovate, and build systems that are just, that we can trust, and equitable. And the time is now, and it’s more important than ever before. I am an empowerment advocate. I’m looking at changing millions and billions of people’s lives through the work I do – whether it’s at Start-up Thoko or within the grassroots organisations I work with. My focus is on building a more equitable future that allows open access, online access, and the participation of all people regardless of their ability, race, gender, or class. Any of that.

You’ve accomplished quite a lot in your career. Are you where you had dreamed you would be and where to go from here?

Bruised heels still step on the serpent’s head; that’s exactly how I feel about where I am. I’ll wake up, and that’s the first thought in my head. My career path and how I got here are not exactly conventional. I’ve had significant resources available to me through the support of my family, and I’ve made sure that I’ve exhausted those and used my resources to help improve the underlying problems in our society to improve the lives of others.

I greatly understand how the challenges faced by our society can be alleviated, hence Start-up Thoko, my business incubation website, which also allows entrepreneurs and prospective clients to team up. At its heart is capacity development. But I believe that no matter how many people have access to resources, it’s not until we have a total look at our government, market systems, gender disparities, equality, equity, and inclusion frameworks that digital transformation can lead to social change.

I advocate not just for the resources I’ve had but the resources that others have not had. My grandmother was a cleaning lady her whole life. And that’s because she was the product of a system she had no power over. And for the fact that she worked and raised seven children through that system. I’ve seen the strength, courage, the fortitude that my grandmother displayed, despite an inferior apartheid education. Unfortunately, when I go back to my community, I still see too much evidence of the legacy of that system.

And that’s what I work to plug into the framework, looking at entrepreneurs, investors, and tech talent who can see that underlying system and say, these are our social challenges. These innovations and inventions we will create for an altered, transformative future – that’s equitable, inclusive and shows real digital advancement.

It’s Women’s Month, why is it so important to support and push women?

Understanding intersectionality and achieving gender equality are so integral to supporting systems change. And I don’t mean from a philanthropy point of view. The bias of gender, class, disability, race, sexual identification and other exclusion markers is the major reason our social systems don’t work. And the reason why people end up being excluded is that they are backed into those systems.

For women who look up to you, especially those working in the tech industry, what inspiring words would you have for them?

As a woman, you need to be explicit about your ability to address discrimination barriers such as gender bias. More specifically, you need to come up with backed and designed solutions to disrupt the social norms around you. Be a game changer; persist in problem analysis, create products that drive change, and catalyze the development of a future of inclusivity that we all want to see.

In the second part of this series, Thoko Miya will tell us more about how her business incubator works. 

Tell us: Do you agree with Thoko Miya that real and lasting change in the tech industry first requires the underlying social inequality to be eradicated?