Women and Digital World, an Interview with Anzelle Robertson from MEF

Jun 17, 2024

The Emerging Sportech Opportunity


Anzelle Robertson is Program Director: DCB, Mobile Content & Digital Advertising at the Mobile Ecosystem Forum. Now in her thirteenth year in the Mobile and Digital fields, she understands the complexities and challenges faced by women in navigating a career in a predominantly male led industry. Recently, she was appointed as MEF’s Program Director, a key role, and with relevance to all companies in the sector. As a result, Telecoming benefits from clear and precise communication with the association and more accessibility to pretty much everything that moves in the industry.

Today, we have the opportunity to interview her in our blog to tell us about her career and the role of women in the digital world.

What inspired you to enter the digital industry?

It was pure chance, as most formative moments in one’s life tend to be! Working as a young lawyer in Johannesburg I was bent over a case file reading documents and taking notes on one random Tuesday afternoon in autumn. All the junior attorneys sat together in the same room, and I happened to be seated closest to the door that day. The Principal Attorney of that law firm (our boss, and one of my first mentors) leaned into the juniors’ office and threw a thick file toward the closest desk he could find: mine. “Assignment for a new client” he said, pointing at the file. “Go and find out everything there is to know about using SMS as an entry method for promotional competitions”.

That is how I went from doing Civil Litigation to learning the difference between an ‘MO’ and an ‘MT’, what a ‘MSISDN’ is and how to identify a sender by a shortcode. Slowly, over time, I gained experience more and more specific to the Mobile Payments and Digital Content field. That assignment landing on my desk ultimately set the course for the rest of my life, not only my professional career. Even now I still try to treat such novelties that come across my path with the same sentiment: “What if this seemingly insignificant new piece of information / task / meeting turns out to be a signifier for change that will echo through the rest of my future?” Looking at things that way certainly makes you pay more attention to matters that would otherwise seem mundane, and it keeps life interesting! Even on random Tuesday afternoons.

What have been the biggest challenges you have encountered?

Working in digital / telecoms often means working with and for individuals and organisations across many different nationalities and cultures. South Africans, whilst generally very hardworking, can also be very direct! Learning to be sensitive to, and mindful of other cultures and adapting one’s style was difficult at first. But it also poses a great opportunity to learn more about all the diversity in the world. Sadly, even in this day and age, in some situations a particular culture might dictate that a woman’s opinion is inherently less valuable than that of a man. In such instances it’s best to simply remain persistent in your points of view, and not allow emotion to control how you conduct yourself. Easier said than done, of course.

How can more women’s participation in the digital world impact society?

Nobel Prize winning author Alice Munro famously wrote: “Always remember that when a man goes out of the room, he leaves everything in it behind… When a woman goes out she carries everything that happened in the room along with her.” Women are so often the golden threads that run through their communities, tying everything they do professionally to other parts of society, be that in their various other roles as mothers, caregivers, confidants and simply as support structures of one another. A woman empowered with digital skills, especially in developing countries or underserved communities can open doors for those around her, and in doing so break cycles of impoverishment or oppression.

What struck you most about your new role at MEF, and what do you hope to achieve in the medium term?

MEF is well-known for the quality of the events they organise. MEF’s powerhouse Events Team, led by Susan Finlayson-Sitch, secures fabulous venues in which members network, share knowledge and craft thought leadership on various topics. The production value of MEF’s live-streams and online events is simply world-class. However, what struck me as I started speaking to organisations throughout the DCB, Content & Advertising community, is how few people realise that MEF serves a very valuable purpose and plays a key role in other functions beyond the physical- and online events.

MEF’s purpose is threefold and consists of the elements “INTERACT”, “INSIGHT” and “IMPACT”. Events are obviously a form of interaction, but that ‘interaction’ is only one third of what MEF is best at! My main goal for the medium term is to drive awareness among MEF members, and the greater DCB community, about the other two elements:

INSIGHT” means MEF pools the expertise of its members to create reports, white-papers and other educational documents. In addition, MEF’s “Data” department measures and benchmarks the mobile ecosystem, recording more than 170,000 data points across 218 countries covering almost 700 mobile network operators! All at the fingertips of MEF members.

IMPACT” means that as a trusted and independent authority, MEF can affect market behaviour. Our members collaborate on best practice schemes, industry code of conducts, anti-fraud initiatives, registries, regulatory consultations and more.

Once our members really harness the full potential of their MEF membership, I have no doubt that our collaborative efforts will set a solid foundation for a very long and fruitful future for DCB as a payment method.

What do you see for the future of the DCB industry, and how can we all foster a closer community?

The only future I see for the DCB industry is very much dependent on us all fostering a closer community. Because of the inherent role of the MNO in DCB as a payment method, and the fact that any payment method in itself is meaningless in the absence of something that consumers are actually willing to pay for, there’s a clear, theoretic link that ties MNO and premium brands/merchants if the ecosystem is to thrive. When MNO’s offer effective, seamless and robust DCB integrations, and merchants offer quality, engaging content to consumers, one hand washes the other. In addition: the role of intermediary payment processors or aggregators with good MNO relationships, and reliable anti-fraud and cybersecurity partnerships in the ecosystem cannot be understated. Neutral, reputable associations like MEF offer a platform to facilitate conversations within this ecosystem, and create a landscape in which these stakeholders can drive sustainable growth together.

What advice would you give to women starting their careers in the digital sector?

Firstly, a practical tip:

Even if you’re in a commercial role, learn some basic technical skills. If you’re able to understand an API, for example, you can spot commercial opportunities reading between the lines. “Oh look! In the call to the gateway we pass frequency of billing as a parameter! Does that mean we can determine the frequency? And can we A/B test weekly vs monthly billing?”

Then, never stop considering yourself a Work In Progress: there is always something new to learn. Draw your boundaries and guard them well. Shout it from the rooftops if they were breached. Many contradicting things can be true at the same time, learn to accept dualities.


“Sadly, even in this day and age, in some situations a particular culture might dictate that a woman’s opinion is inherently less valuable than that of a man. In such instances it’s best to simply remain persistent in your points of view, and not allow emotion to control how you conduct yourself. Easier said than done, of course.”

Anzelle Robertson, Program Director: DCB, Mobile Content & Digital Advertising at the Mobile Ecosystem Forum. 


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