Confidence Staveley: And till today, I think my parents are the bravest people I know because there was a reference point. The way I was telling them the path to get a degree was unconventional, but they could see the passion. They could see that I saw how this thing was going to work, whether or not they understood it. They had to just trust that this child is passionate about this thing and she's been spending so much time on this thing. She sorts of understands it.
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: Some people have the gift to see ahead of their time, and some are willing to take unusual and risky steps to go after what they see. Confidence Staveley towed, a rather daring path to become who she is today.
Welcome to another episode of Expert and African, where we spotlight African tech specialists and their journey from newbie to expert.
In this episode, we explored the life of one of Africa's finest cybersecurity experts, Confidence Staveley, and her journey to building CyberSafe Foundation, a company driving cybersecurity best practices across Africa, especially for the most vulnerable in the society.
Confidence Staveley: If I wanted to be a bit glossy, I would call myself a cybersecurity queen. I am a cybersecurity evangelist as well. And I've added on a new hat recently as a cyber talent developer..
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: Confidence learned that the attention that online safety gets today pales in comparison to its importance. So she thinks if awareness can increase, that's more people interested in helping others stay safe online and even taking it as a career.
Confidence Staveley: A lot of the work I do is driving awareness about cybersecurity best practices, especially for the most vulnerable in our society. The big coys, for example, they spend a lot of money on on cybersecurity. They have a lot to lose and they realize that it's an important thing really early. But the most vulnerable among us, for example, older people, children, and SMEs might not come to the realisation until it's late, until they become victims. I'm building the next generation of cybersecurity professionals, to take up opportunities in the cybersecurity industry. So, one of the key things I also do personally is to show up and say 'Cybersecurity is an option of the path that is in demand, it's also very fun to be in'. My visibility also really lends to that, I've heard people get inspired, and want to start careers in cybersecurity and I've heard this over and over again.
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: Aside from being strong on the professional front, Confidence is also a G 100 global chair for cybersecurity leading 100 women across 100 countries to ensure women's online safety and give them the opportunity to pursue professional careers. And she has gotten both continental and global recognition doing this. To mention a few.
Top 50 women in cybersecurity in Africa 2020, Young CISO of the year award, the prestigious cybersecurity women of the year in 2021, CovenWorks top 10 powerful women in technology in 2021, 100 most inspiring women in Nigeria in 2022 by leading ladies Africa, IFSEC global Influencers in security and fire 2021, and she's also an Obama African leader.
The popular nursery rhymes "good, better, best. I shall never rest until my good is better and my better best" typifies Confidence's drive.
Confidence Staveley: I'm the founder of CyberSafe Foundation. We have a 2-part mission to drive inclusion and scale digital access across Africa. The digital safety bit of things is really where a lot of our skills, upskilling, reskilling. and then get the people to gain the skills to get started in their career really lies within.
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: To answer the question of how Confidence got into cybersecurity, she calls it an
Confidence Staveley: Accident
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: It's hard to tell her story without first looking at the hurdles she had to overcome. Confidence grew up under harsh economic realities, but she can't put her present exploit past her parents' efforts.
And this is not because her parents had a privileged background that informed their resolve. They were simply out to make sure there children acquire the best skills that would set them apart from others.
No wonder Confidence wouldn't miss the chance to speak highly of them.
Confidence Staveley: My parents, they are amazing people. They were wealthy, but not rich. When I mean wealthy,, they didn't have money, but they had really lofty dreams about their children and wanted the best for us but with financially staunted realities that they had to live with every day for their children.
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: But then there's another detail that's impossible to miss.
Confidence Staveley: None of my parents to graduate. My mother, for example, didn't attend university whatsoever. My father doesn't have a BSc, he has a diploma, so my father really was big on education.
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: After her secondary school education, her parent compelled her to take a gap year before sitting for JAMB, which is the Nigerian entrance examination for tertiary institutions. for tertiary institutions. What Confidence thinks, in retrospect, was that her parents needed time to pull funds together for her undergraduate studies.
Now, the direction they were hoping for their brilliant Confidence was either Medicine, law, accounting, engineering, or similarly high-ranked industries at the time. Little did they know that a surprising turn of events awaits them. The gap year eventually became a game-changer in Confidence's life. It was a time when an IT training institute just launched in the South-southern part of the country where she resided. Her parent in a bid to keep her engaged enrolled her in that Institute for computer training.
Confidence Staveley: So, that 'go and learn computer,' was what opened my pandora's box. I went there and got introduced to computing, to coding.
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: What if I told you the excitement in Confidence's voice as she narrated this part of her experience was as vivid as what she might've felt 13 years ago?
Confidence Staveley: The first day that they taught me how to code, I could create things, I could write scripts in C, in C sharp, in Java, I started coding. I just knew that just knew that medicine was not my calling.
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: This is where it got interesting. Software engineering was quite unpopular at the time in her vicinity. So she had to find a creative way to convince her parents about her newly-found future ambition.
Confidence Staveley: I knew how to use powerpoint, but I didn't have a computer to take home to do it.. So I did my slides on cardboards and I presented to my parents. How tech was the future. And I showed them how passionate I was about this. How it was going to be the future.
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: With an admission letter to study medicine at the university already with her, she needed her parents to come on board with what looked like a ridiculous idea that involved her forfeiting her admission and continuing her training at the institute to get a diploma certificate in software engineering, and then going abroad for a first degree in software engineering.
For a household with a less-than-ideal income level, the possibility of funding this dream was far from reality, but they trusted her decision. Confidence says she considers this bravery on their part.
After completing the diploma course, she took an IT role at a government establishment.
Confidence Staveley: At that time, I'd started helping in the government house, I was building their websites, I was maintaining their server.
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: Meanwhile, she already got an admission to study information technology and business information systems at Middlesex University, London, but there was no funding.
In a twist of fate, opportunity met preparedness. A top executive who noticed her problem-solving skills recommended her for a government-sponsored scholarship opportunity. And she got it. She went and made a first class in the first degree. Then she got another scholarship for masters at the University of Bradford, where she graduated with a distinction.
But when did the switch happen?
Confidence Staveley: It was during my masters, when I was picking electives, I had the options of picking a lot of courses. But I realized that the courses I had as electives, they were very similar to my first degree. I derive my adrenalin from challenges, and I need something that is going to keep me very excited and on my feet. That's exactly how it works for me. So I went for the one that wasn't familiar, the one that had this word on the street that 'no, it's so tough'. So I went for that cryptographic course and that was it. Cryptography was my entry into cybersecurity.
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: From there, she began self-studying. And with the help of a mentor, she towed this career path and continued in it to date. Between 2013 and 2015, Confidence served her state government to drive digital literacy, but there were no opportunities to effectively utilize her professional skills in cybersecurity.
Before fully focusing on her company, CyberSafe Foundation in July 2019, Confidence worked in companies where she could use her skillset especially in cybersecurity consultancy, threat management, and research.
Behind any successful business is someone who has an idea and is ready to do everything it takes to bring it to life. And that is what confidence is to all the five initiatives she currently runs.
By the way, the idea for CyberSafe Foundation came to Confidence in the most unusual way.
Confidence Staveley: At the time I was doing a bit of cybersecurity awareness, but not really strongly. My mom became a victim of cyber crime. Again, I saw how it impacted her and how we tried to get her to recover. So I just knew that I wanted to ensure that more and more people do not experience this.
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: With a decision to take awareness seriously, she brainstormed with her partner to get a name and NoGoFallMaga, which is loosely translated as don't become a victim, came to be the name of an initiative that three years down the line has helped thousands of people escape, cyber fraud through online campaigns and markets tours.
Confidence Staveley: We were looking at really innovative ways to drive awareness around cybersecurity and making people see the importance of it in the first place and how it applies to them as individuals and helping them take actionable steps to become safer online. But we're doing it in a way that is not overwhelming.
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: This campaigns were done either through memes, videos, songs, and especially by utilising social media platforms. Initially intended to be the company's name, it was hard to register NoGoFallMaga as a corporate entity. After another brainstorming session, CyberSafe Foundation was born, and the registration as a legal entity was successful. But NoGoFallMaga remained an initiative under the company.
Confidence Staveley: In retrospect, that was the best thing that happened to us because if we sat down and it was only cybersecurity awareness we're doing, we would have realized that that name wouldn't have been able to cover the breadth of what we're currently doing, because there are many other gaps that we needed to fill that that name won't have helped us do.
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: Asides this initiative, CyberSafe Foundation has five other initiatives or programs targeted at different segments of the society. One of them is CyberGirls, aimed at training and mentoring young women between 18 or 28 years in cybersecurity skills for free. It now serves young girls in six other African countries outside Nigeria and also facilitates jobs for them.
Another one is ShineYourEyes, a senior citizen version of NoGoFallMaga. Then there's Cyber Smart Child, a program that finds novel ways to teach children cyber safety. Then there is DigiGirls which teaches digital skills, setting the trainees up for employability and forming, the basis to understand cyber safety. And finally the Enugu cybersecurity learning program that is done in collaboration with the Enugu state government.
The decision to become a founder was necessary for Confidence as she didn't see anyone doing something similar that she could have volunteered for or probably collaborated with. In a way she might have imbibed her mom's entrepreneurship spirit.
Confidence was willing to take the risk of running a non-profit organization in such an industry. But why is she offering so much for free?
To her, the plan is to democratize access to learning these skills for those people who could otherwise not afford it.
Confidence Staveley: I have a history of not being able to afford things that have changed my life. So for me, that's very personal as well. If I didn't get what I got at the time when I, you know, I wouldn't be here. And I'll give you an example. We had a girl who came through our program, she didn't know how to use a computer. Today. She's a very skilled pen-tester, she's currently working for a top cybersecurity consulting firm. That girl doesn't even have a degree yet. When she finished our program, she was top 1% on a global ranking platform.
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: And that is only one of the hundreds of lives that have been changed. DigiGirls, for example, has trained 6,000 people. If anything, this is Confidence's major drive to want to do more.
She's proud of the progress they've made so far in terms of getting funding, support and collaboration from all over the world. Notable mentions include the US department of state, the UK Government, Facebook, and some Nigerian state governments.
Explaining why she thinks cybersecurity is unpopular in this part of the world.
Confidence Staveley: First, it's an industry that really thrives on trust. And it's still a growing industry. A bunch of the jobs are not advertised. They are just referrals. That's why cybersecurity communities are very helpful.
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: Confidence is involved in several roles at CyberSafe foundation, which include developing learning content and ensuring quality control, managing partnerships and leading a threat intelligence team. Outside CyberSafe, she teaches, consults, does research work, and accepts speaking opportunities.
Now, how does she juggle all these?
Confidence Staveley: So for me, my calendar is my gospel. That's how, every hour in the daytime is accounted for.
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: Also behind her is a supportive partner, a capable executive assistant, and a committed team that makes her work less stressful. She's proud of how she's keeping it all together, but she still wants to do more.
Confidence Staveley: I want to do more leadership programs. I've started with with some of them, but I really want to do more certifications that are leadership-inclined in my sector.
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: Confidence admits to having her own share of being underestimated, especially with stereotypes around women, that look a certain way. She's however, learning the art of negotiating better to avoid being undervalued because of her past kind gestures.
Confidence Staveley: I want to stay in my glory, but stay humble and accessible but not taken advantage of or taken for granted.
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: For Confidence, the idea of getting a work-life balance is tricky because you might not always know if the time you allocated to a part of your life is ever enough. So she's of the opinion that people should instead, focus on seasons.
Confidence Staveley: Life will have different requirements from you at different times.
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: She advices young people to chase whatever makes them happy and watch every other day become fulfilling.
To unwind, Confidence spends time with family and friends either indoors or outdoors.
Thank you for listening to Expert and African. I am Oluwanifemi Kolawole.
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