Guest post by Thulile Khanyile, 2022 Emerging Leader of South Africa
Editor’s note: Thulile Khanyile’s guest post is part of our series, Emerging Leader Voices, which invites TechWomen Emerging Leaders to share their voice, perspective and experiences with the TechWomen community.
Connecting science to the people
In a country like South Africa where it was against the law for people who look like me to study STEM fields, the result has been a deficit in diversity: the face of STEM fields is old, white and male. Additionally, STEM subjects and careers have gained popularity for their level of difficulty. These amongst other factors have led to STEM fields being inaccessible to especially marginalised groups such as women and indigenous African people. In turn, this technological era that is an exponentially growing contributor of problem-solving and, ultimately, economic growth, is one these marginalised folks are finding difficult to participate in and influence.
The impact of early exposure
As a third generation graduate with a mom that has a master’s in education, education was normalised in my household. The women in my life have often gone beyond their call of duty: my grandmother home-schooled children that couldn’t access school, retiring early to establish an organisation for adult-based education and training that assisted senior citizens in acquiring educational and vocational skills. In hindsight, I now realise that my need to learn and make an impact originates from that early exposure. Having had the privilege to study and work within STEM at a young age, I knew that my mission would be to ensure that many who looked like me had the opportunities I had.
Through working at the Council for Scientific and Industrial research I had the opportunity to participate in education-based outreach programs that aimed to popularize STEM fields to high school learners in marginalised communities. I became aware of the experiences and challenges they had. I wanted to play a part in alleviating these challenges, and in especially making STEM relevant, relatable and beneficial, but didn’t know how.
Finding my purpose in STEM
I knew that the application of STEM principles must be communicated and used to advance society. That mission has materialized into my non-profit organization, Nka’Thuto EduPropeller, co-founded with a former colleague. For the last five years, Nka’Thuto EduPropller has brought technology, innovation and entrepreneurship to school playgrounds situated in marginalized communities. I also have a podcast, Let’s Talk Science with Thuli, that connects science to the people through casual conversations with scientists and engineers to learn what problems they are solving.
Where to go from here
The impact I seek to make is in the development of ideas and solutions using research principles — the sweet spot where the results of ideas and experimentation reach the people it’s intended for. An understanding and execution of the processes required to successfully transfer research into communities and/or the commercial space in the African market is the goal. Africa is a melting pot of socioeconomic challenges fueled by the inequalities that seemingly continue to grow as the knowledge, technology and innovation era takes centre stage. The enormous youth and female populations need to be equipped to champion the realisation of solutions. Areas and systems that enable this to take place both in formal and informal settings within society are critical.
Through the work I do as an academic, social entrepreneur and podcaster I hope to make a difference in this area of STEM. The myriad expertise within the TechWomen network alongside the mentorship experience is what I believe will propel me forward in my journey. The combination of giving light to new ideas and connecting science to the people is the goal I work tirelessly to fulfill.
Thulile Khanyile is a molecular biologist and lecturer at the university of the Witwatersrand. Her research focus is on the development of DNA-based HIV-1 vaccines. She is a social entrepreneur and co-founder of Nka’Thuto EduPropeller NPO. Her passion for STEM and people has led her to content creation through her podcast Let’s Talk Science with Thuli. Her interest is in making STEM relevant and accessible to the people. She looks forward to playing a critical role in the commercialisation of ideas, technologies and innovation to the betterment of human life.