Female Entrepreneurs – Leaders Born from “Disobedience”

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

You might have heard us say this before, but here at 4PSA many of our software engineers are girls – more than what you’d find in a traditional tech company. And we wouldn’t have it any other way. We’re ‘naughty’ like that 😀

As it turns out, there are quite a few benefits to “a little bit of naughtiness or disobedience,” as highlighted by Lauren Knight, author of a column on parenting in the Washington Post. Disobedient children are entrepreneurial spirits that end up earning more as adults, research shows.

Truth be told, the signs have always been there. Only by challenging the status quo do we think outside the box, and it takes wits to defy authority as a child. Disobedient children are good candidates for future businessmen and businesswomen. “Entrepreneurs tend not to play by the rules,” Knight concludes.

You know who else (besides children) innovate by disobeying? Women. If there’s one demographic whose chance at entrepreneurship is hindered from day one, it’s the female population. No need to expand on that, I’m sure. Yet there are plenty of female entrepreneurs who take the bull by the horns and show the world that positive change is possible by muffling the naysayers with action. Here’s one example that really struck a chord with me.

Whitney Johnson (Ubuntu Africa / UBA)

As I was reading the story about disobedient children making great entrepreneurs, I instantly recalled Whitney Johnson, Founder and CEO of Ubuntu Africa. Not the Linux Ubuntu – the HIV Ubuntu. You may or may not have heard of her because she doesn’t do business as usual out of Silicon Valley. While she certainly has the right mindset to make a great entrepreneur in tech, Whitney prefers to change the world in a different way.

Whitney made a decision that would change her life – and the lives of thousands more – when she was a junior at Colorado College: she decided to move to South Africa. There, she volunteered at an orphanage in a poor rural area outside of Cape Town, called Khayelitsha. Most of the town’s residents live in shacks with no running water and suffer from high rates of HIV (the human immunodeficiency virus that leads to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS).

Johnson saw girls her own age die or rejected from their families because they were ill. She carried HIV-infected teenagers kids with the body weight of a five-year-old into the clinic. She made it her mission to address the sobering situation because she knew that HIV-affected people could live completely normal lives with the proper treatment. So she created Ubuntu Africa (UBA), a nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of HIV-positive children in the impoverished country.

Talking about the roadblocks she had to overcome to help tread Khayelitsha’s HIV-stricken population, she said, “People told me over and over again that I was too young and didn’t have enough experience to make a difference. I was terrified that I would fail, that I wasn’t smart enough or good enough, but those children were in my mind so strongly. I knew the only way I would overcome my fears is by running toward them.”

Eight years later, her NGO supports hundreds of children living with HIV, and hopes to reach 2,000 of the 11,000 kids with HIV in Khayelitsha as its next goal.

Huang Shao Ning, Deputy CEO of JobsCentral Group

Here’s another success story, this time from the tech world. Huang Shao Ning is the Deputy CEO of JobsCentral Group, a media and services company in Singapore that she co-founded with husband Lim Der Shing. In order to focus on creating the company, she had to say no to a position at IBM that most people would kill for. Ning went against the tide and abandoned financial security for the sake of innovation with no guarantee that she would succeed. In only a few years, JobsCentral Group has grown from a 2 man startup to a multi-million dollar leader in the jobs portal sector. Now a household name, the firm serves over 3 million career seekers and over 20,000 employers and organizations per year (soon in Malaysia too).

Interviewed. Shao Ning said, “There are bound to be risk takers and those who are more risk averse. I would actually venture to say that risk-taking is in our blood for certain! After all, our forefathers were all immigrants– they had taken great risks to leave their home countries to come to Singapore for a better life.” Enumerating some of the ingredients for opening your own business, the young entrepreneur listed “tenacity/perseverance, flexibility/adaptability and most importantly, be able to step out of your comfort zone.”

Whitney Johnson and Shao Ning are only a couple of examples where challenging the status quo makes the path from nobody to somebody, while also making the world a better place. If your kids exhibit similar inquisitive behavior and tend to disagree with the opinionated heads around them, be sure to let them be. They may not get it right 100% of the time, but when they do, they could write the next chapter in the history of a major industry.

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