When you don’t have toys as a child, you have to figure out a way to make them yourself.  This was the reality for Tshepo Mahloko, head of the SAP Co-Innovation Lab in Africa, who grew up in a small township in Africa.

There he learned that innovation was all about remaining curious, never giving up your creativity and starting where you are.  “Regardless of the resources you have available to you, it’s important to just start,” he says.

This article is part of the SAP Pioneers series, which features innovators at SAP who are charting new horizons in the cloud and guiding companies across the globe through exciting areas of innovation.

Curiosity Fuels the Cat – And Sparks Innovation

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Curiosity Fuels the Cat – And Sparks Innovation


For Mahloko and his friends, it started with having to make kites and cars from any material they found lying around their communities in order to be able to play as children.

He later developed a love for computers at an early age when his mother brought one home with her from work. Mahloko learned to use the system himself, spending countless hours studying the manual. He always knew that technology was important for his future, but even more so for the future of his community.  This passion is what fueled his curiosity for all things tech.

Mahloko would go on to build a software point-of-sale system with a friend to help his local town’s Spaza shops run better, something they very much needed to help ensure success with their business.

Shortly after that, he landed a job at SAP, working with partners on new innovations to improve people’s — and animals’ — lives. Mahloko led SAP’s participation in the Elephants, Rhinos & People (ERP) initiative, which helped reduce elephant poaching to zero in the areas the technology was used.  He continues to work with our partners to help them build innovative solutions on the SAP platform, doing so through a “hack to build” initiative that aims to bring these solutions to market very quickly.

From Mahloko’s perspective, Africa has a great opportunity to leapfrog when it comes to innovation because it is a country that doesn’t have many legacy systems.

“When you’re aiming to solve a problem, but you don’t have much to work with from the beginning, you tend to go back to the fundamentals,” he said. “This forces people to think outside the box and I think that works in Africa’s favor. It’s where we get our creative and innovative edge, and I love being a part of this space.”

Read more stories from the SAP Pioneers series.

Jackie Montesinos Suarez is head of Communications for SAP North America.