WIZA JALAKASI’S LIGHT BULB INNOVATIONS
Can you imagine a world without light bulbs? People have been leveraging technology in meaningful ways to make it useful for them at scale. We can agree that technology makes life easier in as far as it’s useful and ubiquitous. Malawi is getting to a point of understanding the power of technology, however, there is still a need for the creation of more structures that offer incentives for people to pursue full time careers in technology.
Wiza Jalakasi is a technology entrepreneur who is working to create more “light bulbs” that will be useful to people especially those on the African continent through technology that caters specifically to Africans through the widespread use of mobile phones at scale. His job is to turn software development into money for his employers and clients, with a focus on how money and value can be created from technological solutions. It’s one thing to have a tech solution and another to be able to able to turn that into a successful business, a process which takes skill and the ability to understand business environments and the capabilities of technology in each one. Most of Wiza’s ideas and innovation from the past six years of his career have been centered around creating handy solutions.
Wiza’s journey into the world of technology business development begun unknowingly around the age of 10 years old when his father familiarized him to the world of computers through his business of buying and selling them from South Africa at a time when they were first introduced in Malawi. With keen interest, he would watch his father set up the computers using software and instructions from Windows 95 floppy disks. After taking note of Wiza’s curiosity, his father began to give him the responsibility of completing certain tasks which led to his discovering the power of computers. Through a programming language called Basic, he learnt to program the computer to specific actions and by the time he had his first feature phone, a Sonny Ericssom W700, he discovered he could customize some of the phone features and apps. After joining an online community called sense.net, with around 200,000 phone enthusiasts, Wiza found himself drawn into the world of coding and mobile web development which led to his own start up, mwtunes.com, Malawi’s first ever music download website at whose peak got 30,000 unique visits a month, with most being local.
Then introduction of dial up internet in the early 2000s, by Malawi Telecommunication Limited, further led to Wiza’s discovery of the internet being an amazing place full of information and knowledge that can be harnessed into acquiring skills that would otherwise be inaccessible. As a side hustle in school, he would sell games he had downloaded onto floppy disks as executables from Miniclip, a website where flash games were downloadable, but that hustle soon came to an end, but only after learning the possibilities of creating digital value and realizing the piracy factor.
His journey of improving his passion and craft was driven by his natural curiosity and being online made it much easier for him to improve his skills from his personal experience of solving problems in previous years. Being a Malawian national studying in Kenya played a significant role in helping him understand just how big the world is and how there are so many “right” people to work and grow with on whatever ideas you might have. His perceptive on idea sharing and trying out innovations is that it is a necessary growth process so much that the fear of failure should not stop us from embarking on that journey of exploration, trial and error.
Thanks to his family and friends who supported his interest in computing at a very young age, Wiza attributes his focus and drive to having a strong sense of purpose of being born to make technology. He recalls arguments with his mum in Form 4 when he wanted to drop out of school and pursue technology full time. Looking back on that memory, he sees the good that came out of his mother pushing him to finish his education and thus far, his mother has been his biggest investor through funding eight of his crazy ideas out of pocket to costs amounting to one million kwacha in today’s monetary value. Through her encouragement, he found himself gaining a lot of experience and confidence in his craft despite having nothing concrete come from his endeavors.
To those interested in a career path like his, Wiza points out the importance of having patience and perseverance. He further adds that there is no such thing as an overnight success because those who become successful in technology have been learning lessons over a period of time. One has to think of the world as one place and not merely be limited to being African or Malawian especially if you want to be a part of the tech world, he says. In this tiny community that is global in nature and requires forward thinking to be able to grasp various opportunities, you have to be willing to share ideas, stories of success and failure as a way of exposing yourself to the ecosystem where people get to recognize you and your work, Wiza says. Open mindedness and the ability to take a few punches without giving up will ultimately take you anywhere in the world instead of stopping your own progress through throwing in the towel too soon.