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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.

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25 Of The Most Successful Business Ideas In South Africa

Find out who’s making waves in numerous industries and how they managed to differentiate themselves in local and international industries.

Nicole Crampton



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“Disruption is all about risk-taking, trusting your intuition, and rejecting the way things are supposed to be. Disruption goes way beyond advertising, it forces you to think about where you want your brand to go and how to get there,” says Richard Branson.

South Africa has its fair share of innovative and disruptive businesses taking both local and international industries by storm. From cutting edge space technology to reimagined logistics, and innovative business models, here are 25 of the most successful business ideas in South Africa:

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Colin Timmis Says ‘Position Yourself For Success By Starting With The Numbers’

People pay first who they feel pressure from, so people will pay you when they feel pressure from you.






Entrepreneur Colin Timmis founded South Africa’s first cloud accounting practice in 2011, Real Time Accounting. Then, a few years after being appointed as South Africa’s first Xero partner Colin became Xero Country Manager South Africa. Xero is the emerging global leader of online accounting software that connects small businesses to their advisors and other services.

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Two 20 Year Olds Reshape Entrepreneur Landscape With New Social Investment Platform

The Merge vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

Merge Connect




Vital Stats

It’s no secret that finding the right investor for your venture is a challenge that most entrepreneurs face. The current process of finding investment is one that is outdated, and limits entrepreneurs due to a lack of time, and network that is needed to find the right investor. But, this doesn’t have to be the case in today’s digital society, says Zander Matthee and Brandon Bate, co-founders of Merge.

“By making the Internet the middleman, we are able to connect with each other much simpler and faster than before” was Zander’s response. “We have taken advantage of this, and have created a digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors” added Brandon.

Merge is a social platform that connects entrepreneurs and investors. It aims to simplify, refine and accelerate the process of finding investment for entrepreneurs, and the process of finding investment opportunities for investors. From idea to developed, the platform allows entrepreneurs to present a brief outline of their venture to a network of all investor types. While doing this, entrepreneurs are able to browse through, and connect with investor profiles that suit their requirements.

Related: 8 Codes Of Success That Helped Priven Reddy of Kagiso Interactive Media Achieve A Networth Of Over R4 Billion

From Private Investors to Venture Capital, and everything in between, Merge allows all investor types to join. Investors have the opportunity to personalise their feed to suit their investment preferences, and will be able to connect with innovative businesses – that are looking for investment – at their fingertips. Only once there is a mutual interest in each other, are users able to enter a secure private chat where they can discuss further and share documents under the protection of a digital NDA.

The two boys became good friends during their time in high school at St Stithians Boys College. However, it was only in their last year, 2016, that they decided to pursue their dreams and create the platform. They didn’t know how to code, so rather ironically, they needed some form of investment to get the platform off the ground.


“We knew we had a mountain to climb, but we believed in our vision and that we were really trying to make a difference, and if we could get others to see that, they would be onboard.” said Zander.

Related: Lessons From The Rich And Famous: Manage Your Money Like Oprah To Avoid Going Into Debt Like Nicholas Cage

Chris Peters is one of these individuals that bought into their vision, and became Merge’s first investor. As a successful entrepreneur and part time investor , Chris saw how much value the platform could bring to all entrepreneurs and investors alike. His marketing and strategic background gave him insight into how Merge could play a vital role in a lucrative space, Brand involvement.

“Entrepreneurship and SME development are two key factors that drive economic growth in developing countries like South Africa. That is why brands are currently getting involved, and looking to support entrepreneurs through various means. We have built a platform that allows these brands to successfully market, and execute on the programmes they have created to assist entrepreneurs.” said Chris

Merge was created to assist all entrepreneurs and investors in finding exactly what they are looking for, regardless of age, race, sex, financial position or social status. That is why anybody can sign-up as an entrepreneur. As long as you are determined and willing to work for your dreams. For too long has the investor space been seen as an “elite club for the select few”, and Merge is here to change that. Whether you’ve gotten your bonus at the end of the year and looking for new investment opportunities, or are an active investor, you can sign-up. Whether you’re currently working, or a retired industry leader, you can join as a mentor.

Their vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

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