Shelli Brunswick Interview with Ruvimbo Samanga

Written by: Space Foundation Editorial Team


Well hello, and welcome to another Space Foundation Space Commerce Entrepreneurial interview. I’m Shelly Brunswick, the Chief Operating Officer at Space Foundation. Today I have the privilege to talk to Ruvimbo Samanga. Welcome Ruvimbo, we’re honored to have you with us today.


Thank you so much Shelli, it’s an incredible honor to be here and I look forward to this discussion.


Wonderful. Well I know our audience is excited to hear what you have to say but what I’d like to do is share a little bit about your background with them. So Ruvimbo is an attorney legal scholar and policy analyst with a master’s degree in international trade and investment law originally from and currently lives in Bulawayo Zimbabwe the country’s second largest city. She has been recognized internationally for her leadership in the emerging African space economy. So one of the things I did want to highlight Ruvimbo you took part in the first African team and winner of the 2018 International Manfred Lochs Space Law Moot Competition which dealt with planetary defense issues and liability for damages caused in outer space. You also were instrumental in launching the first space education E curriculum in Zimbabwe called Astro Zimba and now currently manages your time between your research as well as an early stage geospatial startup AgriSpace. So we’re really excited to learn more about all your activities and all the things and your background but the first question I always like to start with is tell us about your journey I mean how did you become a space lawyer?


Oh, wow it’s it was nothing short of a soul searching journey and I often tell people that I don’t think I necessarily chose space law I think space law chose me and I’m exceedingly grateful for it. It came at a time when I wasn’t completely sure which direction I wanted my legal career to take but when I was in my penultimate year of my undergraduate degree I found myself at a crossroads of sorts and in fact calling it a crossroads is putting it quite mildly the road seemed to fall into at least a dozen different directions and the truth of the matter is I hadn’t quite found a career path that excited me. At that point I was studying towards a degree in law but I didn’t know what specialization I wanted to go into so I sort of flip flop through a number of degree programs before I even ended up at the law degree to begin with and quite frankly are both feel like a failure but despite this personal dilemma however I’ve always prided myself in my ability to take risks to put myself out there and I figured the more shoes I tried on the better my chances of finding ones that would fit and I suppose I was right because one day I took my shot at a rather unorthodox pair of shoes so I decided to take part in a space law competition which you mentioned which for the benefit of the audience is a mock trial competition for law students and I could almost taste the incredulity of it all you know being a lawyer in space but also being young curious and naturally space inclined from youth it seemed at the very least to be an endeavor that would bring a much needed spark to my personal journey and perhaps even motivate me to continue researching on this path of self-discovery. So we ended up doing quite well in that competition so well that we advance to the world finals as you said my stage fright unfortunately got the better of me at the semifinals and we were knocked out in the competition rounds but I was hooked nonetheless and I decided I would coach the incoming team for the same competition the very next year and guess what this time we not only advance to the world finals but we ended up winning and we became the first team from Africa to do so in the 26 year history of the competition and would have picked it really was and it was also a deeply revealing moment not only about my leadership journey but also my career journey and I’ve sort of just continued on the same momentum since then making the most of my network opportunities to grow my knowledge base and also just contributing to the development of the body of law which is really beginning to evolve I would think.


Wonderful. The next thing I kind of want to share with our audience is you have been recognized you know again internationally for your leadership in the emerging African space economy that you were a Mandela Rhodes Scholar a Ban Ki-moon Global Citizen Scholar and a Robert Bosch Fellowship holder for the European Forum Alpbach. What I wanted to ask is during this journey did you have any individuals that help partner with you or help mentor you and guide you along to help you get to where you are today?

Oh for sure, definitely.  I don’t think any human is an island and there are two names that come to mind in particular.  Firstly, when it comes to mentors I’d have to mention professor Timiebi Aganaba-Jeanty, she models a lot of what I would want to achieve and contribute to space law she’s also a space lawyer and she’s created a number of opportunities not only for myself but for other youth in Africa including hosting the first Space Governance Innovation Contest which was much like the moot court and this was really my first space law oriented competition on the African continent and even though my team didn’t win I did still come away with a research fellowship with the open lunar foundation from that so it opened many doors as well. When it comes to partners I think of my current partner Giuliana Rotola who is also a space lawyer and she’s done a great deal in sharing her unique experience from the European Space Industry with me and apart from being a great friend I think we make a very great team as well. We are so fortunate to have met during the Open Lunar Foundation Fellowship and we decided then to embark on a blog and podcast initiative together which was supported by the foundation as well and through this initiative we release fortnightly episodes on various themes relating to lunar settlement and development and generally all exploration of our planet’s closest heavenly neighbor. We’ve also just recently been selected by the International Astronautical Federation for this year’s next generation plenary for the IAC which is a highly competitive program and we were also selected for the emerging space leaders award to attend the IAC so as you can probably tell we share the same initiative and desire to contribute especially women’s voices to space law and policy development.


That’s wonderful and again it highlights that finding the right people along the journey partners and mentors as well as being a mentor and a good partner in organization, so I think that’s wonderful. The next question is you know I think our audience is really interested especially the entrepreneurs with your insight and intellectual property start up law and IP because you know when people initially start a business they don’t always think about their IP they don’t think about what some of the startup laws are so could you I know that’s one of your areas of expertise would you share that with us?


Of course so I’ll begin firstly with intellectual property laws and to start off with some of the core topics under intellectual property includes patents copyrights trademarks trade secrets and even cyber law and intellectual property law is very important for fostering innovation because without the protection of ideas entities wouldn’t receive full benefits for their ideas and they would then focus less time on research and development as we know research and development is the basis of any industry especially the space industry. So we do need it to develop powerful insights and just a quick fact here over 2000 spin-off technologies have been derived from outer space everything including cardiac imaging systems to MRI scans to even the vacuum cleaner and fireman suits and cloud computing these are all technologies that have been derived from outer space but have been fostered by intellectual property laws that allow entities to derive benefit from the innovation so it’s so important for an entrepreneur especially to invest in this kind of legal project management in order to ensure that they get the most out of their innovations but in tandem with that we can also speak about startup laws and these are basically just the legal requirements for starting a business it’s everything from registering a company name insuring your business and also acquiring the necessary licenses and permits like a satellite launch license in the case of a space startup in the satellite industry and compliance with these laws ensures that the startup can maintain a good public image as well as build customer trust which also feeds into a company’s ability to source funding to achieve political and public support as well as foster international collaboration and all of these are very important for sustainability but just to briefly touch on ICT laws as well this is otherwise known as technology laws or legal informatics and these are the rules governing the dissemination of data data is going to be very important in a future digital or knowledge driven economy so having data policies as part of your enterprise is very important ICT laws help us basically manage and maintain the value the accuracy the correctness the relevance timeliness and especially the safety of information that we generate and shared through ICT systems like satellites and ICT obviously poses new and complex challenges which obviously require novel legal responses all of these work hand in hand you’ll find in in enterprise most business blockages are actually due to a lack of regulatory compliance so as I said before a strong legal project management is vital to ensure your entity has a strategic policy road map which is a must for entrepreneurial success I believe.


Well that’s excellent now let me follow that up with what are some of the biggest challenges you see entrepreneurs encounter in your experience?


Oh I would speak from a developing country context but I think it would go up to the board and that is access whether that’s access to funding access to education or access to Policy support all of these three are I think images and I can’t emphasize enough especially in the context of democratization of space why we need to improve development finance educational awareness and opportunities as well as regional collaboration these are all important in order to share the benefits and the cost as well so enterprise is really a communal effort at the end of the day and ecosystem that requires a conglomeration of different stakeholder efforts but I believe in the context of Africa Africa has the unique challenge of having first world needs that need to be addressed with third world tools unfortunately so keeping with the rest of the global economy can be quite difficult because the playing field isn’t equal and this is another challenge that most entrepreneurs face which is entering an unequal playing field but this doesn’t mean that Africa doesn’t have anything to offer just um gauging what is to trade off and what can you offer the next person we have the blessing of a resilient population and a lot has been achieved on the continent despite the lack of resources and Africa is a continent which is rich with experience and culture and as a result our research output is particularly unique so for instance my research at the Open Luna Foundation looks at drawing lessons from the African extractive industry in order to develop an economic framework for institute resource utilization on the moon or space mining so in future I think entrepreneurs need to understand what is the value that I’m contributing what can I contribute to the next person because at the end of the day entrepreneurship is identifying a problem and solving that problem and then placing financial resources and taking on risk to solve that problem and in the context of Africa then when we consider bilateral and multilateral partnerships in the future we may not be able to provide technology we need technology transfer but we can trade off with research which is still a vital aspect for growth in the space industry.


that’s really insightful and helpful for our global audience watching us today. What I do want to ask you is what has been some of your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?


My biggest challenge is I suppose for myself and for most entrepreneurs the biggest challenge would be quantifying risk and I think that also feeds into a challenge of a lack of project management and entrepreneurs I said at the end of the day someone who spots a problem that needs to be solved and they spend time and money to start and manage a business so they’re on resources and they’re taking on financial risk in order to derive a prophet the higher the risk the higher the profit spanning across all industries where it’s important to calculate your risk at the end of the day risk perception is something I’ve honestly struggled with for instance you know different factors you might need to consider our do I have a family to feed do I have employees to pay you know what is the economic environment where I’m trying to start this business for example in Zimbabwe this can often be very difficult to manage so there will always be risk involved when you want to grow something for instance when you want to invest in an education program or go to university there’s obviously the investment you make in the program but there’s the risk that you may not graduate or that you may not get the job that you want after you graduate so at the end of the day you just need to determine for yourself what is unhealthy risk I think this is something I personally have checked had challenges with and I perceive other entrepreneurs have as well and quantifying your risk or quantifying what unhealthy risk is really just goes down to how much knowledge you have around what you’re doing so it’s important to make sure to educate yourself on what you’re getting yourself into so for instance are you willing to put so much into Bitcoin or doge coin and I think project management is very good I would encourage everyone to acquaint themselves with the analytical hierarchy process it’s a math it’s a mathematical statistical process that just helps you quantify your risk according to different categories that you would deem important at the end of the day challenges in project management really are related to prioritization of activities within your business or what’s high priority and what’s low priority and I think when you get a better sense of that it streamlines your approach and you really avoid making a loss on your endeavors.


I think that’s great and being that I’m a project manager myself I  totally understand understanding your risks and then the cost schedule and performance of that what I do want to share with our audience is that you have been recognized as an African Emergent Space Leader by the Space Generation Advisory Council a Top Ten under 30 in the African Space Industry by Space in Africa and a Top Talent under 25 in the world by the German magazine GenZEO so with those wonderful accolades and well deserved what I want to ask you is what are some of your biggest successes?


Oh wow those are definitely some of them but I think at the top of the list I would say aside from the space moot court victory it would be becoming a research fellow at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa simply because I’ve always had a dream to work for the UN since I was at least 10 years old and this year I finally got to work on a research survey on the integration of geographic information systems and statistical information in Zimbabwe to creation of a regional policy framework for Africa but aside from that in academia as you already mentioned I’ve been privileged to receive a number of scholarships one additional one which I might not have mentioned already was that I was selected by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics for the inaugural space traffic management diverse dozen cohort which is a cohort for STM advocates from around the world I’ve also received a number of awards most the most outstanding being the recognition of being one of the top ten professionals under 30 in the African space industry by Space in Africa as well as receiving the African Space Leaders Award from the Space Generation Advisory Council and as you already mentioned Top Talents under 25 and as well the Emerging Space Leaders award but I think the biggest success in a nutshell at the end of the day is just defying the multiple odds to proceeds career.


Wonderful what we many times we have individuals who watch because they’re learning lessons or they want mentorship and guidance or entrepreneurs who are looking for lessons learned so I wanted to kind of ask you for both those who are watching who are looking for mentorship and guidance or those who are entrepreneurs looking for your insight what are some lessons learned you’d like to share with them?


I’ll get a little bit philosophical here and say that one of my biggest life lessons is just learning the value of commitment and I believe commitment is what transforms a promise into reality it is the words that speak boldly of your intention and the actions which speak louder than words commitment is making the time when there is none and it’s coming through time after time year after year and it has the power to change the face of everything and it’s the daily triumph of integrity over skepticism. I’ve also learned that great things in life are not achieved by one person but a team of great people I’ve really come to recognize the value of collaboration as well and finally I have come to acknowledge that I would much sooner or we would much sooner achieve our dreams if we got rid of the fear of criticism and it’s OK to be confused especially if you are what they call a trailblazer because you are blazing a new path a path that’s never been trodden before but I think that determination to learn and grow towards a final destination can never be without Yeah it can never be without criticism and disappointment even but what matters is learning not to move on but to move forward regardless.


That is great insight for all our entrepreneurs as well as the individuals out there looking for insightful mentor ship. Another question that many times I like to ask is can you tell us about the importance of advocacy and awareness especially about the space ecosystem and as you highlight Africa, the rising tide of entrepreneurism in space in Africa can you share more about advocacy and awareness?


I would say on a scale of 1 to 10 advocacy and the winner is probably aren’t in the importance indicator but I think we need to consider how we can empower the next generation whether they are entrepreneurs or they’re future space professionals and how we do that is through space education because at the end of the day we need citizens and we need individuals this folks and awareness in order to interact with this industry and to bring about the kind of democratic towards industry one that brings out inclusive changes and decision making we need to develop a community of individuals who are informed not only about the impact of the space industry on the economy but also on their daily lives and I’ll give you a short little anecdote of space junk which Flew over our territory not too long ago and for the life of us a lot of people had no complete idea what it was and if this had caused any damage to property or to person people might not have the legal recourse to take you know another example is the fact that the International Space Station frequently flies over Zimbabwe but the first time I actually saw it from Zimbabwean territory I was quite shocked at how it really just looked like a plane you know flying above it was a small white orb and if it weren’t for the speed of it I might not have known it was anything other than a plane and I stopped to think how many curious Zimbabweans might have seen it and not understood the magnitude of this huge scientific project flying overhead so in order for future space lawyers engineers journalists politicians all of them to advocate on behalf of especially developing countries and communities we need to equip them with the necessary skills and knowledge to do so and hopefully they can then share the knowledge that they derived through this and especially when it comes to the use we are the future beneficiaries of sustainable development we also deserve to contribute towards it and we cannot do that without some form of investment in our personal and career development so I believe that’s where advocacy and awareness play a role.


Wonderful we completely agree with you at the Space Foundation as well, being that we have our Center for Innovation and Education and we totally believe in having that awareness that access training connecting and mentoring and space inspired curriculum as well as teacher training is a critical first step and help creating that future workforce so we share that passion and this brings us to another question we talked about the workforce in Africa we talked about your start up a little bit but what is the space ecosystem in Africa? For some of our viewers in the US or other regions of the world they’d be very interested to hear about and again Africa is a very large continent so what’s happening in Zimbabwe might be very different than Nigeria but I think our audience would really like to hear your perspective of what is transpiring in Africa and how can international players participate?


Oh it’s huge there are a number of growing opportunities in the number of developments as well so this is probably my favorite question of the entire show. So I prepared some very interesting here but as of the African Space Industry Report prepared by Space in Africa the African space industry is growing at an astronomical rate pun intended it’s currently worth $7.34 billion and is expected to be worth 10.24 billion by the year 2024.  Over 44 satellites have been launched by 13 countries in the last few decades recent launches include Mauritius which just last week launched it and as well countries like Ethiopia which recently launched their second satellite not too long ago and plans for future launches by country such as Zimbabwe Senegal Tunisia and the Ivory Coast are also in the pipeline. It’s expected that by the year 2024 at least 110 satellites have been launched which is remarkable for an industry that has just begun to grow and the majority of satellites in Africa have been small satellites in fact the satellite industry is obviously Africa’s largest market segment and it incorporates products ranging from earth observation global navigation satellite systems fixed and mobile asset tracking maritime surveillance as well as ground station equipment manufacturers and communication services and the latter being of course the largest revenue generator within the market industry. 19 countries have established or are establishing space programs and the new space industry is also growing quite rapidly we have over 90 startups which are operating both in the upstream and the downstream using space products and services for sustainable development in Africa. With all of this activity and to coordinate the activities of all of these burgeoning stakeholders the African Union Commission is actually establishing the African Space Agency which will coordinate all of the different regions and initiatives and this agency is expected to be hosted in Cairo Egypt by the year 2022 and it will support other existing regional initiatives which also include the largest radio telescope array in the whole world called the square kilometer array an international partnership being hosted in South Africa as well as Australia and on the international collaboration front one of the largest projects we have is the GM years and Africa project this is a €30 million program between the European Union and the African Union to basically expand earth observation based services on the continent and concerning regional collaboration we also have the ARM constellation or the Africa Resource Management constellation which is a satellite constellation owned by Nigeria Algeria Morocco and South Africa and basically hopes to use earth observation again for sustainable development so there are a number of things happening on the continent and I’m exceedingly excited to see also how we delve into lunar exploration and extraplanetary exploration as well because these are other developing fields in the African space industry so I’ll definitely say it’s an industry to watch in the next few years.


That’s fascinating and wonderful to hear and I do know the African Space Agency they’re trying to have their first conference I think it’s now been rescheduled to September so hopefully the Space Foundation will be there as a participant and a speaker as well so lots of great things happening. Is there anything else you’d like to share with our audience?


Definitely and I’ll close off by saying that being an entrepreneur is crucial for the economy not only are you creating jobs and for enhancing your personal freedom end of the day you are essentially a social impact and that requires you to be very intentional about your entrepreneurial journey and I think we should all aspire to be lifelong learners the world is changing by the day and that requires us to stay up to date with developing trends so we need to risk go and apple consistently and constantly and technology is the future of humanity at the end of the day and the space industry really represents one of the sectors that will dominate in this field so as an entrepreneur you need to consider how you place yourself your career and even your business in a technologically oriented direction so as a closing thought you know consider features that might be important and relevant for you whether that’s in blockchain and data science or even coding which I’ve heard will be the language of the future and will be a job requirement just as we are expected to know how to use Microsoft Word but at the end of the day just staying encouraged staying within community and staying passionate are really just all you need to keep going an I really wish everyone the best on the entrepreneurial journey.


Well thank you Ruvimbo that was exciting, and we’re honored you were joining us today to hear and learn more about what’s taking place in space in Africa we hope you’ll come back and join us again.


Absolutely I’ll be waiting for the next invite and I’d absolutely love to. Perhaps we can talk about something else next time perhaps space education or even just space law in a more in-depth way but thank you so much for having me.


I look forward to that. Well the Space Foundation is passionate about space inspired education as well as space law so let’s let’s plan to have those conversations this fall add to it. Wonderful well for our audience if you’re interested in learning more about our Space Commerce program or watching other entrepreneurial webinars go to our website at and check out our Space Commerce series we want to thank you and we look forward to seeing you again. There’s a place for everyone in the new global space ecosystem.

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Shelli Brunswick Interview with Ruvimbo Samanga