Anna Zawilska

We may have lost Anna Zawilska briefly to Oxford, where she is doing her DPhil in Computer Science on a Rhodes Scholarship, but her work there will make a big impact here one day. Zawilska is driven to finding technological solutions to empower those who would otherwise have no access to critical resources. From designing a system to enable disabled people to control gestures and body movements to her latest research into how online education systems can be better designed to encourage students to participate and learn, she is looking for ways in which technology can make a real difference to people’s lives rather than merely be used for entertainment and comfort. Zawilska’s academic achievements are impressive. She received her BSc in Electronic Engineering summa cum laude and her MSc in Engineering cum laude, was awarded the Vincent Maphai Scholarship for the most academically outstanding postgraduate student at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and won the 2010 Women in Science and Agriculture Scholarship and the Eskom Academic Award, to name just a few of her achievements. In a world where most people are obsessed with buying the latest gadgets we need more people like Zawilska to make appropriate technology more accessible to the masses. “I hope to become one of those people who are using technology to make a difference in people’s lives,” says Zawilska, who takes her inspiration from social entrepreneurs such as the founders of Coursera’s free online educational hub. Following the dictum of South African-born pioneer of artificial intelligence Seymour Papert that “the point is not to predict the computer future, the point is to make it”, Zawilska loves the fact that she can use her skills and knowledge and all she is learning right now to empower people in the future. Proving her point, she is already engineering her own bright future. — Caroline Cowan