Durban student wants to inspire other women after bagging global tech award

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Nitasha Pillay.
Nitasha Pillay.
  • UKZN student wins award for being innovative and inspiring in the technology sector.
  • Since her appointment as Women in Tech South Africa Youth ambassador, Nitasha Pillay’s aim has been to champion the role of women in technology.
  • Her experience during her first year made her want to empower future first year students with the tools needed.

"I'm just a girl from Chatsworth, KwaZulu-Natal. I've never even been on an international trip before. I didn't think that things like this could happen for someone like me."

Nitasha Pillay, 21, still sounded shocked when she spoke to News24 about being announced as one of the winners at the Women in Tech Global Awards 2022 in Dubai.

The award recognises young women for being innovative and inspiring in the technology sector. Winning this award has taught Pillay that nothing is impossible.

"When Her Highness Sheikha Mozah bint Marwan Al Maktoum announced my name, it took a few seconds to register. My mom said, 'Tasha, you need to go now, they're calling your name.' I walked to the stage and thought of the verse my pastor always prayed over me, from Proverbs 18:16, 'Your gift will make room for you and bring you before great men.'"

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The University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) student is currently studying towards her BCom honours in information systems and technology. She is also the president and co-founder of Tech Society UKZN, which was established to promote learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Since her appointment as Women in Tech South Africa Youth Ambassador, Pillay's aim has been to champion the role of women in technology.

"I want to inspire girls and women across the board to bridge the gap in the tech sector," she said. "For me technology is problem solving."

Pillay's interest in technology started in primary school when she took part in a robotics competition.

Nitasha Pillay
Nitasha Pillay.

"When I got into university I [had] planned to study law but that didn't pan out. I was really disappointed because I was always a top achiever in high school. I then decided to choose the Bachelor of Commerce degree."

She said she struggled to fit in at university in her first year.

"I felt so lost. I had a very sheltered upbringing. At school you aren't really prepped for university life. They don't tell you the reality of it. It was hard because [throughout] school I was a high achiever and then in my first year at university I failed two subjects."

Her experience during her first year made her want to empower future first year students with the tools needed to succeed. So she joined a society at UKZN that deals with entrepreneurship and promotes and uplifts communities.

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"I started working on programmes that dealt with the education sector. This programme was recognised internationally and was one of the top-10 global winners in the Ford Fund challenge, which is a global grant competition that empowers college students to envision and lead change in their communities.

"I created programmes to empower young children and also headed a project called My DigiTutor."

Pillay and her team representing UKZN came second in the Innovate Durban Youth Innovation Challenge.

All of this led to her being nominated for the Women in Tech Africa Awards this year.

"My dad accompanied me to the regional awards ceremony which was held in Cape Town in September. I won the Women in Tech Africa Aspiring Teen Award, and I honestly did not expect it," she said, adding:

I am very humbled to have won because the other candidates were all so remarkable and I admire the work that they do. I didn't think it was possible for me to win when I compared myself to them. They did far greater things than me.

Even though she won the regional award, Nitasha was still in doubt as to whether she could attend the global awards ceremony in Dubai.

"I didn't have the funds to go. Getting the finances and sorting out visas on time felt so overwhelming but my pastor and my church convinced me to go.

"They held fundraisers for me, and my mom even took out a loan. I have never travelled internationally before so my mom accompanied me. My church has been extremely supportive, and they gave me advice on what to expect when travelling overseas. It was all new to me.

"I believe that it's only God that made this possible. Yes, I know I put in the hard work and the long hours but I also know without a doubt that this is possible because of God. I'm an Indian girl from Chatsworth and seeing myself on that stage showed me what is possible. Representation matters. I'm hoping that others who will come after me do even better than me."

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