Meet Sicelo Dube, Founder and Director of Elevate Trust and Lec Biotec
Sicelo is a passionate young leader championing education, girl empowerment and entrepreneurship in the field of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM). She is 31 years old and currently works as a Science teacher and Senior Lab Technician at Hellenic Academy. She is also the founder and Director of Elevate Trust & Lec Biotec and is President of the Zimbabwe Science Laboratory Technicians Association.
Sicelo Dube’s Bio
Sicelo is a passionate young leader championing education, girl empowerment, and entrepreneurship in the field of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM). She is 31 years old and currently works as a Science teacher and Senior Lab Technician at Hellenic Academy. She is also the founder and Director of Elevate Trust & Lec Biotec and is President of the Zimbabwe Science Laboratory Technicians Association. She is called STEM Lady because all her ideas are generated from this acronym. She is driven to grow scientists for future generations and serve the community. She has 7 years’ experience in the field of education and entrepreneurship and believes that “All we need to change the face of Africa are more graduates from STEM-related fields who are innovative, enterprising and passionate about solving problems in their communities through scientific research and development; young leaders who are upright and driven to make a change”. Sicelo holds an MBA from the University Gloucestershire (UoG), an MSc in Applied Microbiology & Biotechnology from the National University of Technology (NUST), a BSc in Biological Science and Biochemistry from the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) and a PDM in HIV/ AIDS from the University of Stellenbosch (AFRICA Centre for HIV/AIDS Management). She also has additional certificates in entrepreneurship and community development: a Certificate in Entrepreneurship from Drake University, USA, a Certificate in Bio Innovations and Entrepreneurship from SPARK, Stanford University, USA, a Certificate in Community Development and Project Management from the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) and a Certificate in HIV Counselling from UZ. She received her primary and secondary education in Matabeleland at Nketa Primary School, Minda Mission School, and Mtshabezi High School. Sicelo is also an active member of the Young African Leaders (YALI) and Women Advancing Africa (Graca Machel Trust) and strongly believes that she has a huge role to play in the rebuilding and re-imagining of Zimbabwe and Africa as a whole. Her slogan is “It begins with me, everyone needs to believe that, especially the youth”. Being an orphan at the age of 16, Sicelo is passionate about helping young girls attain education as she also got sponsorship to complete her education. Her work and ideas are driven by her love for science and technology and their potential to improve the livelihood of the communities in Africa. Her company LEC BIOTEC was founded in 2011 when she was 23 years old. The goal was to meet the needs of educational and research laboratories by providing the much-needed chemicals, consumables and equipment. Her vision was to fuel a practical approach to teaching science and technology in Zimbabwe. However, she believes there is still a problem. The solution will be to bridge the gaps between academia and industry as well as theory taught and its practical application. From her experiences as a supplier of lab equipment and chemicals and science teacher, she observed that Zimbabwe imports even the basic equipment and chemicals/reagents for science education. She strongly advocates for research that will lead to patenting and commercialization of our own products, especially for educational and research use. Her Masters in Science dissertation entitled “Isolation and characterization of novel lipases from fat contaminated water” was an eye opener on the possibility of commercialization of students projects contributing to Industrialization and job creation. After attending the SPARK Bio Innovation and Entrepreneurship Course at Stanford University in 2016, Sicelo came back to Zimbabwe and registered Elevate Trust as a step towards the bridging the gaps she had observed. Currently, Elevate Trust is working on a Science and Technology Incubator. This program will be open to scientists from all institutes of Zimbabwe with innovative ideas on chemicals, enzymes, equipment and medicinal products which can be commercialized. One of the programs in bridging academia and industry will be the Innovators Hub Club, which will focus on helping companies improve their products and systems linked to STEM. Elevate Trust projects have a bias towards the girl child/women – The STEM fem network. This is because Sicelo believes that increased participation of women generates faster income growth and improves livelihood in families. Moreover, this bias contributes towards achieving gender parity in the field of STEM.
Why did you get into STEM?
I have always wanted to be a nurse or doctor because my late parents always told me I was good at taking care of them. I was quick to massage them when they were sick and was not easily disgusted by a lot of things which disgusted my brothers and sisters. I did not get exposure to career fairs and career guidance but because I was one of the intelligent students, I automatically chose to do STEM subjects at A-level and went on to join the Faculty of Science at University as I did not make the grade for studying medicine. After graduation, I continued in the STEM field as a lab technician and science teacher. Due to my passion for teaching science and being a practical oriented person, I noticed a gap in lack of equipment and chemicals to fuel a practical approach to science. As a result, I started my company Laboratory Equipment and Consumables Pvt Ltd. to supply educational institutions with their needs for the adoption of a practical approach to teaching STEM subjects. In the process of pursuing my MSc in Applied Biotechnology and Microbiology, and at the same time buying and selling equipment, and chemicals, and interacting with teachers, research fellows scientists in tertiary institutions, I noticed another gap; the need to engage students in STEM to make the consumables I was importing into Zimbabwe. This led to the inception of Elevate Trust whose main project is the Science and Technology Incubator set out to fuel innovation and entrepreneurship amongst STEM Students.
What challenges have you faced as a woman in STEM and how did you overcome them?
Considering the fact that research and STEM projects, in general, require spending a lot of time in the lab, the challenges I have faced mostly have to do with social factors, specifically what a woman/mother/wife is expected to be and do in the cultural and social setting. Time spent in the lab equals not having enough time to spend with my daughter and getting home late, which is unacceptable for a wife as you can no longer cook on time and carry out other marital duties according to standard expectations. All these become the foundation of so many other challenges which end up resulting in gender disparities in the STEM workforce.
What do you consider your greatest achievements?
My greatest achievement in the field of STEM was attaining my MSc in Applied Biotechnology and Microbiology. I was pregnant during part of the period when I was pursuing this degree and then had exams and projects when I had a newborn baby – Little Miss STEM lady! The other achievement that I am proud of is the establishment of Laboratory Equipment and Consumables which now has 3 branches in Zimbabwe and is spearheading the practical approach to the teaching of STEM subjects through providing the necessary equipment and consumables. #growingscientistsforthefuturegeneration
What is your advice to budding women in STEM?
Do not tire till the goal is reached; let’s have dreams which keep us away from dreaming as we reimagine Africa through STEM lenses and thrive to be part of the industrial revolution driven by STEM innovation and entrepreneurship. Let us hold each others’ hands and cheer each other in this male-dominated industry so as to achieve gender parity in the STEM workforce.