Matina Razafimahefa : using IT to fight poverty

As the director of Sayna, an e-learning platform, Matina Razafimahefa wants to help Malagasy people escape poverty through IT careers. Her online school is open to everyone, with no qualifications, diplomas or applications required.

By Mérième Alaoui

Sayna is the Malagasy word for “intelligence”. It is also the name of a fun online learning platform. It offers a series of learning programs in the form of video games that last between three and six months. “The first thing is to learn about digital culture. I can assure you, it’s something you learn from a very young age,” says 25-year-old entrepreneur Matina Razafimahefa. “After that, we offer other more or less specialized qualifications with the aim of training web technicians,” she adds. There are six possible levels. To motivate students to continue with the course, Sayna offers paid micro-tasks to be carried out on behalf of the company or others. Each validated level increases the rates by 5%.

An ingenious development and funding system. The young Madagascan quickly realized that, however brilliant her vision, she could not pursue her ambition without a viable business model. And without adequate remuneration for those involved in its development. It has to be said that her mother, Sayna’s co-founder, has already been through this situation. “Mum is an entrepreneur at heart, she started her IT company twenty years ago. Unfortunately, although her mother also had the ambition to democratize the training sector, she had to close her business for lack of long-term funding. 

Role model

Financially, the Sayna startup is doing quite well. Step by step, Matina and her mother have managed to raise €600,000 from Launch Africa Venture, Orange Ventures and the Malagasy Investors Club (MAIC). Their partnership with Orange has also grown. So much so that Jérôme Hénique, CEO of Orange  Middle East and Africa and author of African digital champions 2023, published this autumn, wanted to include her in the book’s selected portraits, making her a role model to inspire young Africans.

Born in the Côte d’Ivoire, Matina Razafimahefa grew up on the island of Madagascar until the age of 10. She returned to France in 2009 after Andry Rajoelina’s coup. The country, already poor, was plunged into a deep economic crisis. The privileged family settled in the Loire-Atlantique region of France. “Because I played tennis at a high level, I enrolled in a sports study program. This partly explains her discipline and high standards.

Searching on YouTube, I discovered new ways of using the Internet

When I discovered the French school environment, the idea of creating Sayna began to germinate. “I went to a state school and education was free. Everything was possible, whatever your family background. That’s not what I experienced in Madagascar. I wondered why we didn’t have that in our country,” she recalls.

School education doesn’t always meet her needs. So she turned to the Internet to revise for her maths baccalaureate.  “By searching YouTube, I discovered new ways of using the web. It’s not just a platform for leisure and mindless fun,” says the girl, who ended up with a 16/20 mark in maths.

Ambitions for Asia

At the age of 19, while studying political science at the Sorbonne, she launched Sayna. Her compatriots who remained on the big island were not so lucky. Deeply concerned about social issues, Matina Razafimahefa wants to “train Madagascans in coding to get them out of poverty” and offer them concrete, long-term solutions. In fact, her online school is open to everyone, with no prerequisites, diplomas or applications.

However, there is a fee of €9.90 per month for training at Sayna Academy. There is a sliding scale of fees for student developers who complete micro-tasks. To date, Sayna has trained over 5,000 people and paid for 25,000 IT tasks. Matina Razafimahefa is aware that these jobs offer a better future for women and is proud that half of the trainees are women. Highly ambitious, she does not want to limit herself to the Madagascan public and has set her sights on Asia. And even France: “I talk about Sayna to every Uber driver I meet, to motivate them to join us,” she smiles.

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