“I felt strangled and knew I couldn’t continue” – How Zamokuhle Aja-Okorie left a high-paying job to tech

Onyinye Okonkwo
*After I had done it for three years, I realised the lifestyle isn’t very suited to me, so I moved – Zamokuhle Aja-Okorie

Zamokuhle Aja-Okorie‘s unique experience is influenced by German nuns who taught her to be a bold individual. Now, she is a South African impact entrepreneur, who owns OAO Investments, a novel entrepreneurial company driven by a Pan-African vision and an intrinsic commitment.

In this edition of Technext’s series on women in tech, we spoke to Zamokuhle Aja-Okorie, and her plans for the future. 

The Beginning

Aja-Okorie had her primary education under the disciplined watch of German Nuns in South Africa. After her stint with the Nuns, she attended Parktown High School For Girls, where she was placed on the front line of leadership and they reinforced that there is enormous potential and power in being a girl. 

Aja-Okorie continued to the University of Pretoria and studied for a BA in Psychology. After getting her first degree, she went on to pursue her dream of touring the world and getting paid for it; as a flight attendant.

I became a flight attendant for three years to tick off my childhood dream of seeing the world and getting paid to do that. If I were in my 20s in these times I would have probably been a travel influencer. After I had done it for three years, I realised the lifestyle isn’t very suited to me, so I moved from South African Airways to working in Hospitality, Marketing and PR, Infrastructure, Technology, Healthcare, Investor Relations, Chemicals and Mining.

Zamokuhle Aja-Okorie
Zamokuhle presenting at the Graça Machel Trust’s Women Creating Wealth launch.

Finding purpose through Tech

The very evolution of humankind is dominated by technological leaps which has changed the face of the modern world. As a result of these leaps I had no choice in getting into technology but was automatically placed in it like most people.

Zamokuhle Aja-Okorie

Aja-Okorie believes that “every business and every person is disrupted by digitisation.”

She explains how as an impact entrepreneur, she is passionate about ensuring Africa is brought up to speed in the global digitisation trend and how this affects the solution she is proffering in tech.

Her first real stint in tech was in 2010 when she founded an I.T company.

“I founded a tech company in 2010 called PAZ IT, alongside two other partners. But, nothing more than valuable relationships came out of that venture. I left the company, and worked in several other capacities but still felt deeply dissatisfied. I felt strangled and knew I couldn’t continue in a job that wasn’t feeding my soul” she said. 

Finally, “by 2020, I just quit a high-paying job against the advise of my husband. That’s how OAO Investments was found. After I founded OAO Investments, I knew that technology would have to form one of the main pillars of the holding company as we wanted to serve, inspire and transform vast lives. What better way than through a disruptive industry like technology? We knew that the tech vehicle would aid us in improving African lives exponentially and from that we birthed OAO Technology.”

Zamokuhle’s mission with OAO Technology

Our mission in OAO Technology is to accelerate the adoption of African Technologies.

Founding OAO Investment and the satisfaction from the work she does with OAO Technology, has given Zamokuhle the peace and satisfaction she sought all those years.

“I have finally found my place. I am at peace and know I am finally fulfilling my purpose. We all have a purpose that many of us never get to fulfil but thankfully I found mine and I’m doing it,” she says.    

Zamokhule X Winnie Mandela

Speaking on the business model and what makes OAO unique she says:

“OAO Investments’ business model is simply to help other companies become better through cultural, financial or technological change. OAO Technology’s business model, as a direct offshoot of the OAO Investments business model, is to help companies achieve technological advancement. This can be through AI, digitisation, cybersecurity, reconstruction from cyberattacks or our bespoke solutions meeting our clients’ needs.”

But, all that is not for free.

On unique value proposition, Zamokuhle believes it is their guiding principles and values that make them unique and a preferable choice for clients.

It is our guiding principles (our purpose, mission and core values) that make us unique.

Zamokuhle Aja-korie
Zamokuhle Aja-Okorie, MD, OAO Technologies

Read also: Myriam Awad talks about solving retail challenges using tech

Memorable experiences and challenges 

What Zamokuhle finds most memorable as a woman in tech is the access to a community of like-minded women all over the world being in the tech space has given her.

“Socially, it is finding a common ground with phenomenal women, connecting with them and becoming a part of a community that is shaping not only the African landscape but the world. I have formed relationships that give me access to have a conversation with people in Sweden, Amsterdam, and Nigeria, and that’s what I appreciate because through looking at improving the African tech space, I have built great relationships. I am also a member of Women In AI, an international non-profit organisation that aims to close the gender gap in AI by empowering women.”

Professionally, her most memorable experience as a woman in tech was when OAO Technology aided in the resuscitation of a company that had experienced a cyberattack.

“Our Digital Protection Strategy and the implementation of it resulted in saving them money, and, later, the CIO contacted us thanking us for our service as it mitigated further attacks and phishing scams.”

Speaking of challenges she has encountered as a woman in tech, Zamokuhle says she thrives in toughness and being a woman in the tech space has taught her so much and helped her discover more of herself. She also talks about how the popular buzzword of getting women into tech is often just lip service.

There are many initiatives in corporations to get women on board in technology at the entry-level. The challenge comes when climbing up that ladder, as there is a glass ceiling that you can only look through but you are not expected to get through. When you do, you are questioned a lot and not taken seriously, causing inner self-conflict leading to self-doubt and imposter syndrome.

Zamokuhle Aja-korie

However, she says it is different at OAO.

“OAO’s leadership team is 100% female and we are unapologetic about it. We are not saying we are better. We are acknowledging that we are different, we bring different values and practices to the table. This means we bring unique decision-making that is not based on historical practices of herd mentality. This thinking and operations have equalled positive results” she reveals. 

What the future holds for OAO and Zamokuhle?

Zamokuhle says she is excited about the future as growth is on the horizon.

We are expanding our partner network but mostly we are actively acquiring tech companies across Africa too and we are looking at penetrating the Nigerian market, a project aligned with our growth strategy, purpose and values.

Zamokuhle Aja-korie

She also speaks of her plans to introduce a special mentorship program for women by OAO;

“I am all about championing women and equipping more women. We are working on introducing OAO WOMEN later this year. It will be a program where we create a platform for women to have access to study materials online which I think has personally helped me in my own journey. In this workshop, we are developing target topics like persistence, resilience, quantum leap and the powers they have inside them, the aim is to help them unleash the power within them and put it to use, to learn useful and practical tips on how to deal with challenges, disappointments and rejection” she said.

Advice for women looking to pivot into tech? 

“You are God’s highest form of creation, think about that for a minute. Once you have done that you will understand that you are greater than you could imagine. Meaning there is no limit to your potential. We each possess unique traits that are worthy of shining, I call mine ZAMOTISM. How do you let them shine? By believing in yourself! Risk believing in YOU. It’s not a matter of taking a big chance but rather giving yourself a big chance. Test the limits of your potential. Challenge yourself!” 

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