Inspiration Session: Rapelang Rabana, serial tech entrepreneur & Prof Kelly Chibale, Africa’s drug discovery researcher

Our Inspiration Sessions are an exciting network of young professionals and part of Accelerate Cape Town’s aim of attracting and retaining talent in Cape Town. This Session sponsored by Allan Gray, showcased two inspirational speakers, Rapelang Rabana, founder of Rekindle Learning and World Economic Forum Shaper, and Prof Kelly Chibale, founder of H3-D, Africa’s first Drug Discovery & Development Centre and whose key project was named 2012 Project of the Year by Medicines for Malaria Venture for finding a potential cure for malaria.

Both speakers detailed their journeys of struggling with various challenges and poverty, to end up as leaders in their respective fields. Kelly, originally from Zambia, studied with no electricity but with a drive to demonstrate African excellence in science, he has become a leading professor at UCT and globally. He encouraged the audience not to demand respect but to demonstrate and earn respect.

Rapelang Rabana, coined by CNN.com as one of Africa’s Marissa Mayers, has had multiple ventures. She first launched Yeigo Communications in 2005 offering VoIP services for mobile and has now founded an educational app, Rekindle Learning. She quoted Steve Jobs who said: ‘Everything around you that you call life, was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use’. This was to demonstrate that you can be a creator of your own life and not follow others who actually don’t know more than you.

On choosing to live and work in Cape Town

Kelly: after getting my PhD at Cambridge and working in California, I wanted to come back to Africa and find a place to challenge Afro pessimism in science with structures and a city that worked for me. Cape Town was ideal for this.

Rapelang: Cape Town created an environment where I can indulge myself and be who I want to be. It has an ecosystem which supports media and tech entrepreneurs and where I anchor myself.

On the challenges of working in Cape Town

Kelly: regarding R&D in South Africa and Africa, there is not much history, so there’s a need to challenge this view in the eyes of the media. Also there’s a skills shortage but Cape Town is a very easy sell globally to attract other researchers.

Rapelang: because Cape Town is a small market, you need to look at other markets. While I do business development across South Africa and globally, I need my dose of Cape Town and it’s where greatness happens.

Rapelang and Kelly were certainly inspiring speakers with the key messages being that ‘hard work and excellence create value overtime in whatever you do’ and ‘there are no formulas for success – you are unique and the experience is yours’.

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