How African girls are Tech-ing Over

Africa’s tech community is fast growing, that’s the good news. Women are also getting more involved, that’s the best news.

Today we are being treated to the great news that four young Nigerian women have won the Global Technovation Challenge in the High School Category for developing Discardious– a mobile to tackle waste disposal in Nigeria. Under the tag of Team Nigeria, Praise David-Oku, Sonam Kumar, Nmesoma Ogbonna, and Grace Akpoiroro became the first ever group from Nigeria to come first in the Technovation contest which this year involved participants from 64 countries and featured over 300 app submissions. “They were exceptional,” Martha Alade, Founder of WITIN and Coordinator of the program in Nigeria enthused. “Their innovation can solve a major problem in Nigeria.”

A few weeks ago, another group of exceptional teenage girls from south Africa developed Africa’s private first satellite. The students, sponsored by the Meta Economic Development Organisation (Medo), engineered their own ‘jiggy-bot’– an electrical device that uses diverse mechanisms to light up a bulb and move– and will next create their satellite payload experiments and test them with the aid of high altitude weather balloons and radio communication. ”

These recent events, backed up by a growing list of African female ‘techsperts’, show women are rising to take a leading role in the male-dominated industry. Continent-wide conservative perception of female friendly occupations blocked most from venturing into science and technology. That wall is now being pulled down by women armed with the creativity, determination and passion to lead Africa’s ICT development. Among them is Nigerian Funke Opeke, the CEO and Founder of Main One, West Africa’s leading provider of innovative telecom services and network solutions for businesses. A former Chief Technical officer of telecoms giant MTN and Director in leading US company Verizon, Opeke is one of Africa’s most influential techpreneurs. Her company operates a 7000km submarine cable system that runs from Portugal through Ghana and Nigeria and delivers wholesale broadband capacity across several countries.

In the league of Funke are Kenyans Ory Okolloh and Isis Nyong’o, South African Rapelang Rabana, Senegalese Mariam Jamme and several other continental flagbearers. While the top, where these women occupy, is still heavily dominated by men, a lot more of their womenfolk are streaming in behind. Even as wedges remain on their path. Nigerian Nkemdilim Begho is one of the rising stars of Nigerian tech. Her company is–Futuresoft is a leading IT provider in the country’s fast growing ICT sector. But she had to fight to get there, against a culture and society that thought she should have no business with Tech. Many of her fellow women have not been rendered technophobic because of this societal discouragement.

Fortunately, attitudes are changing and the encouragement of women to take to tech is growing, thanks to platforms like the Technovation Challenge. “It has given our team a platform to use technology to solve problems in our community,” said one of the four Nigerian girls who just won the Technovation Challenge. For Sonam, Praise’s team member, the lesson is clear; parents need to enrol their girls in computer programmes at a tender age,  provide technology gadgets for use at home, allow and encourage them to participate in technology competitions and programs, and encourage them to pick and study science related courses.

Medo, the company sponsoring the South African satellite-making girls, is doing the same thing. “The intention of this programme is not to be a once-off, the CEO Judi Sandrock told News24. “It is to be the start of at least a decade-long drive to inspire young people to enter the science and technical fields.” Worried that today’s children are “not brought up in technically passionate households,” and that the number of technical degree applicants is decreasing year-on-year, Sandrock says the Medo programme seeks to to inspire young women to consider science, technology, engineering, and maths as a career.

And they are obviously getting inspired. “It’s amazing to see how all these bits come together to create something so technical and amazing,” enthused Siddiqah Latief, one of the satellite making girls. “It has never been my favourite subject, but I am starting to love science. I always thought it was for nerdy boys. Now I am thinking of making this my career.” Nina-Rose, another of the girls, was as excited too, “I never thought building things could be this interesting. I am loving this experience. It’s so exciting to be exposed to more than just drawing and studying ideas. Constructing stuff is so much better,” she told News24.

Such personal excitement and sense of fulfilment is driving more young women into tech, the result of which will be a more robust community of techsperts and further technological advancement of the continent. In a society with alarming levels of youth and women unemployment levels, nudging more young women to tech and innovation–both massive job creating ventures– is a sure way to real empowerment.

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