Empowering Young Minds with Robyn Hobson

As we celebrate International Women’s Month, we’re sharing some stories about influential women in educational technology in our Edtech Superhero series.

Our latest EdTech Superhero, is Robyn Hobson, the Head of Sales and Marketing at Mobile Guardian. In 2021 she was named a “U35 Marketing Rising Star” and a 2022 Women of Inspiration nominee.

Day in and day out Robyn works to create a lasting impact in her organisation, community, and networks as she seeks to continue to raise the bar. Robyn leads the sales and marketing teams of Mobile Guaridan, who are based in South Africa, the United Kingdom, the Philippines, Thailand, and Spain. Earlier in her career, she led the Social Media team at Woolworths, which at the time served one of the largest online communities in Africa with over 500 000 fans. 

Currently, she is an OnDeck Fellow and a founding member of their 2021 marketing and growth fellowship. Robyn has also served as a judge on awards programs including the Stevie Awards, the IAC, and the MAA Worldwide Globes. 

Let’s jump in and learn more!

Nurturing future leaders

  1. Tell us a bit about yourself? 

I am the head of Sales and Marketing at Mobile Guardian. Mobile Guardian is a mobile device management platform that supports multiple operating systems in schools around the world. I find the work incredibly exciting as I get to oversee sales and marketing on a global scale with the help of my fantastic marketing and regional sales teams in different global markets. The great, hard-working team here makes my job a pleasure. 

  2. How do you get your day going in the mornings? 

The first thing I do when I get up is have a cup of coffee otherwise nothing meaningful will occur. Then I check my calendar and slack messages from the team to make sure I am prepared for the day ahead. I also put on some of my favourite music to get the day going. 

Something that’s been challenging with having team members spread across the globe, is that they have different working rhythms as they are in different timezones. So when you’re just starting, they’re already halfway through their day.

  3. Do you have breakfast with your coffee in the morning?

It depends on how early it is. When I was doing a 4 am shift there would be no breakfast, just some lemon water and coffee. Then later on I would have some yoghurt or eggs after 6 am. I am very much on team full breakfast. 

  4. What music are you listening to currently? 

I wish I could say something cooler, but it’s not going to be cool. I’m listening to an 80s playlist. If it was charted in the 80’s I probably love it, so we are talking Vanilla Ice and Tina Turner. 

“If it charted in the 80’s I probably love it”

  5. Are you team Google or team Apple?

I am personally on team Apple, however, looking at the education landscape, I would say I am very much team Google. I think what Google is doing for students and educators around the world is quite remarkable. The Chromebook is a brilliant, educational device that is very durable. The device is stress-tested through military-level stress tests to ensure it can withstand being dropped, stepped on and whatever other mishaps may happen in the hands of school students. It is also very cost-effective, when you are replacing a pen for a Chromebook, it only costs around $20. The Apple equivalent is far more expensive. So to answer your question, I am a big fan of Chromebooks in education but personally use Apple products. 

  6. Could you tell us a bit about your journey in education?

I sort of just fell into education technology, with an incredible opportunity to learn about space. Five years ago I was approached by Mobile Guardian and what they were doing sounded very interesting. On a personal note, I have always admired educators and it was great to help build something that made their lives a little easier. 

The last 4 years have been interesting in terms of the educational technology space. In South Africa, and in many parts of the world education technology hadn’t taken off to the extent it has now due to the pandemic. I found the space incredibly fascinating and found it very interesting that educators could be quite resistant to technology. It was about introducing the technology into the school in a way that was supportive of both the educators and the students. 

You had young students who had grown up with technology always in hand who were incredibly technologically savvy. Then you had many educators who were not, and some who were scared of the change. Learning about education technology on a global scale was even more fascinating. Challenges like the homework gap in the United States and the digital divide. The falling rates of enrolment in Uganda. The challenges facing education globally are immense and I could speak on these for hours but I won’t. 

Working within the education technology space in the last two years has been incredibly enlightening as the industry has been, much like most industries, heavily disrupted by the pandemic. My heart goes out to educators as I think they’ve borne substantial challenges. They have had to support not just themselves but students and parents through the unprecedented shift to remote learning. They’ve had to jump online almost overnight and for many, it’s been an incredibly steep learning curve. I do commend the perseverance of educators over this time. It’s been incredible to see throughout Mobile Guardian’s EdTech SuperHero series just how educators from all over the world have stepped up to this challenge and found unique ways of overcoming it. 

“…educators from all over the world have stepped up to this challenge and found unique ways of overcoming it”

  7. What are your thoughts on the Women’s month: Generation Equality: Realising Women’s Rights for an Equal Future?

Equality is incredibly important. Personally having worked in technology companies which can be heavily male-dominated spaces. I have worked in heavily-unbalanced spaces that lacked any kind of diversity and am a firm advocate for balance. I would love more women within the technology industry and it’s certainly a lot better than when I started 12 years ago. Young women need to look up and see female role models doing the work they aspire to do. It’s incredibly important for the next generation. I was very fortunate to have strong female bosses in my very first job and the examples they set and the advice they gave still rings in my ears. 

I have experienced life as the first female hire in a startup several times and it can feel quite isolating. I don’t believe women talk about these kinds of experiences enough. To realise a more equal future, we need to work towards creating space for females to want to start or join a company where they have an equal share of the voice. Women are shockingly underrepresented in c-suites and boards the world over, and while this is changing, it does feel far too slow. A recent Danish campaign highlighted that ​​only 20% of all board members in Danish companies are female. That’s 1 woman for every 4 men. And when they removed family connections, this number fell to 6%. 

“… I am always creating space not only for females to join the company but to have an equal share of the voice.”

I’m quite passionate about voices being heard. Whether you are an intern or the head of the company, you have both a seat and a voice at the table. While I am aware it is women’s month and that it is important to uplift and encourage women, to me it is equally important to raise and uplift and ensure young men have a seat and voice at the table. What I’m trying to carry through in my leadership style is to ensure that young people have an opportunity and that their voices are heard. 

We live in a time where how a 20-year-old consumes and interacts with technology is so very different to how a 50-year-old consumes and interacts with media. It’s incredibly important to hear the voices of both. 

“…my leadership style is just to make sure that young people have an opportunity and their voices are heard.”

  8. What does it mean to you to be nominated for Woman of Inspiration? 

Honestly, it means a lot and it’s always lovely to be recognised. The only reason I feel I am in this position is because of the incredible work the team has done over the last year. Every single team member stepped up during the pandemic. They went above and beyond, in some cases, we were able to help schools deploy in under 24hours and it was just incredible. To say that I’m proud of the work they have done would be an understatement. Women all over the world have been nominated who are doing phenomenal things, like starting companies and running amazing non-profits which are changing the world. It is an honour to be included in this group of women. 

  9. What do you think educators can take away from the last two years of the pandemic? 

Firstly, educators should pat themselves on the back. It’s been an extremely difficult time for them and they have risen to the challenge remarkably well. It’s been a challenging time for education the world over. If we look at Ugandan schools, they only went back to school for the first time mid-way through January, and they have seen a 30% decrease in student enrolment from pre-pandemic to now. We have a lost generation of students that we need to figure out how to reach and in many places, there is no technology, nor infrastructure to help facilitate this. While the pandemic has accelerated the embrace of digital technology in schools in the connected world, in others it has widened the access gap quite significantly.

“We have a lost generation of students that we need to figure out how to reach…”

In some regions of Germany for example, the digital infrastructure simply isn’t there. To try and keep students on track at the height of the pandemic, educators had to hand-deliver homework to students’ homes. Educators can take away that they are remarkable at their jobs and we should all be praising them, day-in-day-out.

“…educators had to hand-deliver homework to students’ homes.”

It also wasn’t easy for parents who had to deal with homeschooling whilst juggling full-time jobs in a world turned upside-down. Kids were learning all over the house while parents were trying to conduct meetings. And students were heavily isolated from friends and classmates. No one has had an easy time with things. 

The pandemic has accelerated their embrace of digital technology. A silver lining is that educators have a lot more front line experience of what it means to integrate technology into the classroom and use it in a remote learning environment under extreme circumstances. This should give teachers far more of a voice in technology investments, instead of these decisions being made solely by IT administrators or school leadership. Teachers now have considerable experience and insight into what practically works and what doesn’t. 

  10. Are there any educators that have done exceptional work that you would like to shout out? 

There are honestly so many. There was a teacher right at the beginning of the pandemic who built herself a green screen in her lounge so she could make her lessons more interactive. I’ve mentioned the German educators who had to hand-deliver homework. There was also a wonderful story about a teacher in the United States. One of his students was struggling with Maths problems so he went to her house and worked through the problem on a whiteboard outside her front door. I, unfortunately, don’t know any of their names off-hand but this pandemic has given us many stories of inspiring and wonderful educators stepping up and going the extra mile in really difficult circumstances. I want to give a shout out to all educators for getting not only themselves but their students, parents and schools through remote learning. 

  11. What is your mantra for 2022? 

My mantra for 2022 is to send the elevator back down. I want to ensure that whatever is being done, it is creating opportunities for others. That is incredibly important for me, especially coming from South Africa where youth unemployment is so stark and opportunities are limited. So I encourage everyone to send the elevator down and if there is no elevator then start building a ladder. 

“I want to ensure that whatever is being done, it is creating opportunities for others.”

More about Robyn

Thank you very much Robyn for your time and for inspiring me with these pearls of wisdom. I hope other women read this and are moved to action by your words. It was an absolute pleasure talking with you.

Read more about our EdTech SuperHero series, a series that was inspired by International Women’s Month. I’m exploring the themes in our greater series to draw attention to the role that we all play in creating a better and safer world for our students to learn and grow in. 

If you would like to have a chat with me about the state of Education in your region or globally, or would simply like to share some tools and tips with other educators, please don’t hesitate to reach out and contact me at panashe@mobileguardian.com as I’d love to have a conversation with you.

Onwards,

Panashe Goteka

Team Mobile Guardian

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