Meet Linda Shachinda, a Zambian entrepreneur with a passion for helping to bridge the digital and technological gap between the rural and urban areas in Zambia. Linda has participated in Global Game Jam (GGJ) and other events, has taught programming and game development to children and is currently running as an independent Member of Parliament in her birth town of Nangoma in the Central Province of Zambia. Get to know Linda and how she plans to drive a mindset shift in Zambia through game development.
Tell us about yourself, Linda
That’s a tricky question, well, I run a digital marketing agency, FDMC agency, and I am also working on a Financial Technology (FinTech) company that helps small business manage their finance administration and transact or keep records of their finances. I have a farm so I do a bit of fish farming, and I am running for Member of Parliament in the upcoming elections in Zambia.
I have a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) called EHub Zambia that focuses on bridging the digital gender divide among females and males, we train young women aged 18-25, though sometimes 15-25, in computer programming. We have been trying to work with people in rural areas but mostly we work with people from peri-urban areas.
You have a Computer Science background. How does that come to play in your daily life?
All of the projects and businesses that I run are centred on my Computer Science background because I am all about helping people develop their skills, even the entrepreneurial business I run, the digital marketing agency exists because of the Computer Science background I have, and the FinTech too. Because of my background in Computer Science, I am always looking for the most innovative way to sort out any issues or challenges I come across.
You have used game development to teach coding to kids before. What tools did you use and what was that like?
It has been a while since I last held a game development class but off the top of my head, I would say that the tools I used throughout were mostly Sonic Pi, we would make music while programming using Ruby Programming Language, and Scratch Programming. I still use Scratch Programming to this day, it is a good foundation tool especially when you are working with kids who have never touched a computer before and I feel it is the most basic tool we can use so before we play around with the android app, we start with Scratch Programming. Just being able to make an animated cat say hello is something mind-blowing for kids who have never even played with a computer or a smartphone before.
You took part in Global Game Jam a few times. What was the experience like?
It was kind of exciting and to a certain point, distressing. For the last game jam I took part in, I used Stencyl, we were creating an interactive game but the depressing part is that we would rarely have women and girls, I kid you not if we happened to have three females at the event, it would be like “WOW!” because it would mostly be a meet up for guys. In the last meeting I participated in, I took some girls that I was teaching Computer Programming, Scratch projects, and other programs, and the girls, four high school girls, were the only females there!
So, it’s exciting in that it makes you feel like you are part of the world of game development in Zambia but the sad part for me as someone who is pro-women empowerment is that every time I take part, I always feel like we need to do more, we could have had more women and girls, why don’t we have more of them? And how can we get more of them involved?
Another reason I get so depressed about not having more females in games is that currently, in Zambia, there’s a certain mind-set among the males, though some are more modern thinking men, traditionally, most men would think “a girl can’t do game development” so the change that will come about once boys or some males attend GGJ and they are in a group with a female, they get to go away thinking “oh, we were working on the same project” because usually, tasks are allocated and everyone is given something to do so that at the end of the day, the males can go home thinking that girls can program. Currently, when males invite people to play video games, they just invite guys, and when they see a girl playing they say “oh, you’re acting like a boy” and that’s wrong because video games are for everyone not just for a particular sex.
You’re currently running as an MP for the Nangoma constituency in Zambia. What is that like and what motivated you to run for office?
Oh my God, campaigning has been crazy, it’s nothing like I expected. I am coming from being an urban voter, as I used to vote from Lusaka, then I went to being and campaigning in a rural area. It’s different and especially for me because of my Computer Science background and programming, everything I see I’m like, “how do we utilize computer science?” So, among the cooperatives that I have, I want to introduce ICT labs or just a lab so that people can be exposed to computers.
I am the type of person who can’t stay without internet for an hour, I’ll be going mad but I’m now in an area where there’s no internet AND no network coverage for just normal phone calls but it just goes to show how much of a gap there is and for me it’s more heart-breaking honestly, campaigning there. I went down to one of the places and broke down in tears, you can’t be 120km from the country’s capital city and experience so much lack of development, no infrastructure, no roads, and people live 20km away from the nearest clinic and they don’t have vehicles, they have to use motorbikes. One time I had to take a sick woman to the nearest clinic and we had to drive 30 minutes to get there. If there was no car, she would have had to be put on a motorbike and it was so cold out.
There is this huge gap, kids in urban areas like Lusaka are being taught how to code because coding is the language of the 21st century but then what happens to the kids who can’t even access proper network? It is very heart-breaking, but in as much as it is heart-breaking, it is also eye-opening because after this campaign, for EHub Zambia, I am changing my focus area altogether. I would rather use the Raspberry Pi and start giving computer lessons in rural areas just to see how we can work with people in areas with no electricity. We underrate how big the gap is between urban and rural areas.
How did you get started in politics?
I have always worked with politicians especially with the digital marketing agency, we do branding, we do reputation management and in the previous elections, my team came up with the digital campaign strategies for most of the political parties, and in the background, I have been doing a lot of charity work especially in Nangoma because that’s where I was born and I was raised there until I was nine years old, which explains the way I pronounce certain words because since preschool to grade three, I was learning in Ila, the local language in Nangoma (Ila and Tonga), so I learned how to read in local languages before I learned how to read in English.
I have a project called Nangoma Stories Foundation, I believe that no one can tell our stories better than we can so the project is focused on telling stories of successful Nangoma people, and we also have a scholarship program to help change people’s storylines in Nangoma. I realized that most people in Lusaka don’t even know where Nangoma is so I wanted to change that and to develop Nangoma. I am also concerned about the health centres and especially the labour wards which currently don’t even have enough mattresses for expectant mothers.
How would you use game development positively in Zambia?
My focus is to bridge the gap between the urban and rural areas in Zambia using game development, and I know I keep saying that, HAHA! But the gap is much bigger than we thought. I would like to help change the mindset of people here who currently believe “we are supposed to live like this because that’s how things have always been” this is especially true for women. But I am not only targeting the women but the men too because if we leave them out, they will bring up their daughters the same way. I want to have some game development classes for both girls and boys in Nangoma and we can even have exhibitions just to show that a girl can do that.
Unfortunately, it is a reality here that if parents had to choose who to educate between a girl and a boy, they would choose to educate their son and just have their daughter married off. Girls here a seen as a means to obtain wealth through dowry (cattle), it is crazy because these are things that I thought were in the past that are a reality in my area, my constituency. We may not do it in one day hopefully in five years, something can be done slowly.
What would you like to see more of in the game development/gaming scene in Africa and globally?
I think in terms of game development, we need to have more tools to work with the rural people across Africa, we need tools that can work offline like that encyclopaedia we had when we were young, the Inkatha, it was like Google that was offline, we need more of such software and tools.
Anything else you would like to tell us? A fun fact about yourself?
I am not sure if this is fun, haha, but I am a trained coach in four sporting disciplines and these are Football, Volleyball, Netball, and Badminton.
Linda is campaigning as an MP for Nangoma constituency in Zambia for the 2021 elections