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Obami: Barbara Mallinson

An online marketer turned entrepreneur creates unique social networking platforms for South African schools.

Juliet Pitman



Barbara Mallinson

Sometimes gaps in the market are so obvious that people automatically assume they’ve already been filled. Take social networking for example. If there’s a community out there, it seems to have been digitised on a social community platform.

Except there’s one obvious community that no one had thought of creating a social platform for – schools. It seems incredible, given that school children are among the biggest users of social networking sites. But there you have it. However, a young South African entrepreneur saw, and is now filling the gap. Enter, a social networking platform aimed specifically at South African schools, connecting teachers, parents and learners in a highly effective virtual community.

Creating a new community

The idea is the brainchild of Barbara Mallinson, who started as a generic social networking site in the United Kingdom, but with the saturation of the market had to reconsider how to niche it to a particular community. “Consider the fact that school kids spend on average 15 hours a week in virtual societies. More than any other group, this is their new natural environment – but no one had created a social networking platform specifically for school children that focused on education. In a way, it was an obvious market,” she says.

The elegance of the idea lies in its simplicity. uses the Facebook model for education purposes. It allows for communication between teachers, parents and learners on a virtual platform. The possibilities are endless. “Teachers and principals can post school notices for learners or their parents or set assignments online, learners can upload assignments to their teachers, sports teams and societies can create their own sub-communities, teachers can share notes, or the PTA can remain in touch on key issues,” Mallinson explains. also allows for SMSs to be sent out to the community, obviating the need for endless notes and newsletters to be sent home to parents through their children, and ensuring real-time updates on things like event cancellations.

Providing security

But for all its myriad advantages and applications, Mallinson knew that would have to answer the obvious questions related to the security of its vulnerable users. The reality is that social networking sites targeted specifically at children also attract cyber predators.

“When you’re talking about children and social networking, one of the first things you need to bear in mind is their security. I knew Obami would have to be able to guarantee that it protected children from the predatory aspects inherent in most open social networking platforms,” says Mallinson. Her solution lay in creating a completely closed community. “It’s closed to outsiders. Joining is by invitation only and only for Obami-registered schools.

And schools can create their own flexible privacy settings. So correspondence between teachers can be closed to learners for example, or a learner can upload an assignment that can be viewed only by the teacher. Generic notices can be available to all users,” Mallinson explains. And while learners can send private messages to each other, parents are automatically notified of any friend request their child receives, providing them with an important sense of security about the people with whom their child is interacting.

Doing her homework

With the security issue taken care of, the next question lay in whether South African schools were ready for this level of technological interaction. Learners were no problem – they are among the most sophisticated consumers of digital and social networking media – but parents and teachers presented Mallinson with a different challenge.

This is why solid foundation research was critical to the success of the business. Mallison spent a full year-and-a-half talking to schools, principals, teachers, parents and learners. “They are all very different markets, with different needs and different levels of Internet competency. If Obami was going to work, it needed everyone to use it, not just the school kids. What I learned was that the teachers need an initial time investment to familiarise themselves with the site. Once they see what it can do, they love it, but it’s often a battle to get them to sit down and look at it,” she said.

Growing for the future

She first piloted the site with St Mary’s School for Girls, her alma mater, and today has six schools online, with a further six in the process of being integrated. Around 50 schools are waiting to come on board. Schools need to have Internet access and Mallinson worked hard to get Obami recognised as a member of IASA (Independent Schools Association of South Africa), whose schools have around 98% computer penetration. The closed nature of the communities means that the number of users is limited, but user logins are encouraging. “Current users log in for around 20 minutes at a time and one third of them log in more than 30 times a month,” she says.

Apart from the optional SMS functionality, the service is free to schools, which makes it doubly attractive to its target market. Revenue streams come from advertising, listings, sponsored content and affiliations, all of which are closely vetted and approved as suitable for and not harmful to the target audience. Mallinson’s current focus is to get as many schools on board as possible. “I want a huge presence in South Africa, where I think there’s the opportunity to do great things in education,” she says. The same can be said of the African continent, and it’s to those markets that she’ll extend her focus. Watch this cyberspace.

Player : Barbara Mallinson
Est 2006
Contact: +27 83 215 8112

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.


27 Of The Richest People In South Africa

Here are 27 of South Africa’s richest people, but how did they achieve this level of wealth? Find out here.

Nicole Crampton



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Learn the secrets of SA’s most successful business people, here is the list of the 27 richest people in South Africa:

In a world with growing entrepreneurship success stories, victory is often measured in terms of money. The feat of achieving a place on this list is, however, years of hard work, determination and persistence. “One has to set high standards… I can never be happy with mediocre performance,” advises Patrice Motsepe.

From the individuals that made the 27 of the richest people in South Africa list, actual entrepreneurs and self-made business people dominate the list; while those who inherited their fortunes have gone on to do even bigger and better things with their wealth. Over the years, some have slipped off the list, while others continue to climb higher and higher each year.

  1. Elisabeth Bradley
  2. Sharon Wapnick
  3. Bridgette Radebe
  4. Irene Charnley
  5. Wendy Ackerman
  6. Paul Harris
  7. Wendy Appelbaum
  8. Mark Shuttleworth
  9. Desmond Sacco
  10. Giovanni Ravazzotti
  11. Markus Jooste
  12. Gus Attridge
  13. Gerrit Thomas Ferreira
  14. Cyril Ramaphosa
  15. Adrian Gore
  16. Raymond Ackerman
  17. Michiel Le Roux
  18. Lauritz Dippenaar
  19. Jannie Mouton
  20. Stephen Saad
  21. Patrice Motsepe
  22. Allan Gray
  23. Koos Bekker
  24. Ivan Glasenberg
  25. Christoffel Wiese
  26. Johann Rupert
  27. Nicky Oppenheimer
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Watch List: 50 Top SA Black Entrepreneurs To Watch

South Africa needs more entrepreneurs to build businesses that can make a positive impact on the economy. These up-and-coming black entrepreneurs are showing how it can be done.

Nicole Crampton



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Early-stage South African entrepreneurial activity is at an all-time high of 11%, according to Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, and entrepreneurial intentions have also increased to 11.7%. With both activity and intentions growing significantly year-on-year, there are more businesses opening up around South Africa than ever before.

The increase in entrepreneurship has seen the rise of more black entrepreneurs across numerous sectors. From beauty brands to legal services and even tech start-ups, these are 50 top black entrepreneurs to watch:

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Watch List: 50 Top SA Small Businesses To Watch

Keep your finger on the pulse of the start-up space by using our comprehensive list of SA small business to watch.

Nicole Crampton



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Entrepreneurship in South Africa is at an all-time high. According to Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), total early-stage entrepreneurial activity has increased by 4.1% to 11% in 2017/2018. This means numerous new, exciting and promising small businesses are launching and growing.

To ensure you know who the innovative trailblazers are in the start-up and small business space, here are 50 of South Africa’s top establishing companies to watch, in no particular order:

  1. Livestock Wealth
  2. The Lazy Makoti
  3. Aerobuddies
  4. Mimi Women
  5. i-Pay
  6. AfriTorch Digital
  7. Akili Labs
  8. Native Décor
  9. Aerobotics
  10. Quality Solutions
  11. EM Guidance
  12. Kahvé Road
  13. HSE Matters
  14. VA Virtual Assistant
  15. Famram Solutions and Famram Foundation
  16. BioTech Africa
  17. Brand LAIKI
  18. Plus Fab
  19. LifeQ
  20. Organico
  21. 10dot
  22. Lenoma Legal
  23. Nkukhu-Box
  24. Benji + Moon
  25. Beonics
  26. Brett Naicker Wines
  27. Khalala
  28. Legal Legends
  29. The Power Woman Project
  30. Aviro Health
  31. AnaStellar Brands
  32. Data Innovator
  33. Fo-Sho
  34. Oolala Collection Club
  35. Recomed
  36. VoiceMap
  37. ClockWork
  38. Empty Trips
  39. Vula Mobile
  40. SwiitchBeauty
  41. Pineapple
  42. The Katy Valentine Collection
  43. OfferZen
  44. KHULA
  45. Incitech
  46. Pimp my Book
  47. ART Technologies and ART Call Management
  48. Prosperiprop
  49. WAXIT
  50. The Sun Exchange
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