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Jerusha Govender | Founder & Managing Director | Data Innovator

Jerusha Govender: Blazing a Trail in the Data Science World

Clarissa Pinkola Estés, in her book, ‘Women who run with wolves’ quotes, “A woman must be able to stand in the face of power because ultimately some part of that power will become hers.” And in today’s world, we have witnessed some extraordinary women who have stood and fought in the face of power for what they believe is right and man, did they win?  They did more than just winning, they ruled and inspired.
The time has come for the world to embrace the greatness of women leaders. Their boldness, self-confidence, intuition, integrity, compassion, and creativity are now challenging them to question conventional or social norms.
Undeniably, the rise of women leaders in this era has been due to their past pain. This pain has led them to find their purpose and they are using it, as fuel to lead changes. Here is where empathy comes in play. What women leaders do is not just for themselves, but for the minority who can become the majority. The positive legacy that they leave behind is for others to walk- in/on, inspire and take bold actions.
Alike many other women leaders, Jerusha Govender‘s climb to the top was fraught with obstacles. However, what she does with her power and influence is incredible.  Her journey to the top as the Founder and Managing Director of Data Innovator will teach women to change the game itself.
She believes that waiting around for others to represent your problems is of no point. And hence, when she observed that the industry did not represent or value her skills, she changed it. In spite of having an academic background in health science, Jerusha chose the less traveled road and shattered the stereotypes of women in innovation.  Here’s how she did it and why, in her own words.
Redefining The Non-Traditional Career
“I qualified with degrees in Biochemistry, Biotechnology and Pharmacology. But after many long and lonely days in a lab, I felt that it was not for me. I needed to do work closer to people and wanted to make a different contribution to society.”
“Then after completing a Masters in Public Health, I started my career as a Monitoring and Evaluation intern at a local NGO. I spent my days visiting public health facilities and tracking HIV and AIDS data.”
“I realized I loved working with data and saw the social good in using it in the right way. I continued working with other national and international development organizations for about 8 more years as an M&E professional. I worked in 6 African countries with various NGOs. In between, I experimented with ‘side gigs’ – none successful.”
“During this, I realized there was a gap not in the data but how data was used to understand and improve how organizations worked. I also found an opportunity to creatively experiment with ways of using data differently.”
“While my career progressed, I also became a mother of two children. At the end of my last employment, I was sent a letter which summed up “thank you but we will not be extending your contract” during my maternity leave and found myself unprepared for unemployed parenthood.”
“It is at this point that I chose to start Data Innovator. I used it as an opportunity to build a business that allowed me to be more creative but still work with data, and create a flexible lifestyle.”
Tenacity is the key
The proverbial, “Smooth sea never makes skillful sailors” clearly states, how struggles are a part of life, but what matters the most is a never-giving up attitude. Let us hear from Jerusha, how she overcame the initial trepidations and challenges.
“In the industry, I am one of the few black females running such a business. It means often meeting new clients is met with unintended bias, but we deliver high quality and help shift these biased mindsets.”
“I also faced challenges in finding and retaining good staff. Few individuals bring both strong technical and creative problem-solving skills which mean that once I find them they are also sought after by other competitors. This challenged me to find new strategies to retain staff for a longer-term.”
“Introducing creative approaches such as data visualization in very traditionally technical sectors was not always welcomed. Some of our approaches go against the traditional methods, but it makes more pragmatic sense to the users. Through a lot of sensitization of our target market at conferences and online dissemination, slowly views changed and now the sectors demand creative data collection, analysis, and visualization.”
Against the Tide
“Data Innovator helps organizations tell stories with data. We do this through consultancy services in evaluation, data communication, and analytics and out Data Artistry training programs. Our work is targeted towards the development sector. In these sectors, there is a high investment in social change such as HIV/AIDS, climate change and other areas.”
“However, as we have observed the investments have barely moved the lever in real changes. This is because there is no appropriate data that documents challenges and has no entry of changes being made or not made.  Even if one manages to collect the data, it is complex and hard to use.”
“Appropriate data allows influence-rs and change-makers to bring a difference. The industry has many great experts who talk technical data but few that can make real sense of it. This is the gap that we fill at Data Innovator. We consider ourselves ‘infomediaries’, creating a bridge between data, tech and insights.”
Changing the Industrial Dynamics
What happens when we have such fierce leaders at the helm of the company? The very foundation of business gets shaken. Jerusha’s actions are resulting in major shifts in the industry and in general.
“I have grown the team from a 1-woman show to a core team of 5 staff (all black and majority female) and up to 10 consultants/consultancy partners,” she quotes.  It would be enthralling to see what this team of brilliant influencers will do in the future.
When asked about her plans for the future, she replied, “In the future, I aim to grow a team of Data Innovator ambassadors across the globe, who scale the company in other developing countries. We are also building our online learning products to increase our product-focused revenue.”
I would like the company to be seen as a global leader in social conscious models and creative analytic services.”