Hannah Olukoye is a Kenyan software developer working in the IT industry. She is a graduate of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Actuarial Science.
She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in Applied Information Technology at the African Nazarene University. Take a look at how her experience and expertise have opened doors for her as a Software Developer.
How did you get started in the Information Technology field?
I have always had a passion for programming even though I majored in Actuarial Science at the University. I started off with part-time courses in basic programming languages as soon as I graduated and combined that with a lot of online courses that were offered on free websites.
As an African woman, was it harder for you to enter the IT field?
I am lucky to be born in a country that believes in equality for both genders in education.
In the beginning, there were fewer women in IT compared to the numbers we see now. It was more male-dominated, especially in the local workplace. I would be in teams where we were only two female developers and sometimes, I would be the only female Information Technology expert.
What changes do you foresee in Software Development across Africa?
I see tremendous growth in the number of women sticking to IT, especially when you look at programs like AkiraChix and GADS that are providing more opportunities for developers. These programs provide opportunities to not only learn how to code but also teach them how to make their work stand out.
I am now part of a team-building an Android application that will use machine learning, algorithms to provide solutions to health workers across Africa. I gained confidence in my knowledge through the community.
Would you encourage African women to pursue a career in Information Technology?
Yes, I would! Most women have a hard time being in the IT field because they are treated unfairly and even underpaid, compared to their male colleagues.
This causes many women to be unable to advance in their careers. One of my goals would be to attain more senior roles in companies or organizations that are leading in the Tech field and change the status quo.
In 2018, Black Panther solidified its place in pop culture as one of the greatest movies of all time. In addition to highlighting #blackexcellence, the movie also normalizes African women’s place in STEM.
If you are an African STEM woman, here are 5 reasons you should be proud of according to Black Panther.
1. You are Ingenious
Wakanda is nothing without its Vibranium, and no one knows how to leverage this special resource better that Shuri – the Black Panther’s sister.
Throughout the movie, we can see how Shuri’s inventions have helped the Wakanda’s advancement in technology. From Blank Panther’s nanotechnology suit to the sound-absorbing sneakers, Shuri’s inventions solved a lot of problems for both Wakanda and her brother.
Shuri should remind you of why you are a STEM Woman – to create, invent, innovate and deliver life-transforming solutions to the world. The next solution the world needs is in you!
2. You are Important
While the movie is not called “The STEM Women of Wakanda” (Marvel, we wouldn’t mind a spin-off), if you take away Shuri’s inventions, the Black Panther would be a very different film.
As a STEM professional, you may never get billboard-sized recognition you deserve, but that doesn’t make your work any less important. Your solutions behind the great things your organization speaks volumes about how valuable you are.
3. You are Emotionally Strong
For those of us, especially in engineering, we see ourselves in positions to exercise physical strength but how about emotionally? Angela Bassett was the perfect actor for the mother of our superhero. Queen Ramonda was an embodiment of strength!
Sometimes, we see our products or solutions come to life only to die a few months or years later. Many times, we even see our ideas die before they see the light of day. No matter the odds, we are wired to stay strong and not give up.
4. You Know Your Stuff
Shuri, the STEM Gem of Wakanda, knew her stuff. She could explain anything to you and knew the workings behind everything powered by Vibranium. You could never catch her off guard.
As a STEM woman, you prove your worth every day by dazzling all with the depth of knowledge you have. Take pride in your investments to improve yourself every day!
5. You are Multi-Talented
Not only was Shuri a tech guru, she was also a warrior. She did not opt to stick to her lab but got involved in what made her work valuable.
As an African STEM woman, you have a unique perspective the world needs. You have been blessed to do so much, you should never feel streamlined to stereotyped functions. You can always step into new vacant shoes and know what to do – because you can!
Are you a #STEMWoman? Share this post and tell us what you are most proud of accomplishing.
The goal is to have a national coding competition where all the students will come to Gaborone and showcase their projects.
Captain Kgomotso Phatsima is best known in Botswana for her pioneering work as one of the few women pilots in the country. Her career began in the military, and she diligently worked her way up to becoming a real force to be reckoned with.
Captain Phatsima’s work as a pilot and her passion for youth development led her to discover that there were very few girls who were adept at – or even interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects, which are key for the aerodynamics space.
Not only are STEM subjects integral for becoming a pilot, or engaging in the aerospace industry, they are also essential for the development of human capital and the future of business in Botswana, Africa, and the world.
She founded the Dare to Dream Foundation (of which she is the President) in 2008 which deals with the advancement of youth, women and girls in STEM, aviation and aerospace as well as entrepreneurship development, with the intention to get young people interested in STEM-preneurship and the aviation and aerospace business.
When I was growing up, I never had the chance to sit like this with a pilot or get into an airplane until I had the chance to fly one.
After I qualified as a pilot, I sat down and thought: ‘What can I do to give the upcoming generation – especially those who grew up in a village, like me – an opportunity to do that?’.
I started Dare to Dream to give back to the community and to try and open up their eyes to opportunities that they wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to.
On the ‘barrier’ to girls’ entry into STEM & traditionally ‘female/male-dominated’ subjects…
I will talk about myself and my own experience here.
When I told my parents that I want to fly and be a pilot, my mother said ‘In our time, a girl could never fly a plane. You cannot be a soldier!’
Sometimes it goes back to our upbringing and the culture. A girl must be domestic, and boys also have prescribed activities.
So we separate ourselves from engaging in these things. The same mindset goes on to say that ‘Some things are hard, and are only for men’, like piloting or engineering.
With some of our families, their backgrounds are what can hinder the involvement of girls in certain subjects and limit girls to certain careers.
But as the times and technologies change, and with other women and organizations such as ours showing that it’s possible, there is more of an acceptance that you can be and do anything you want.
Is Africa / Botswana in a good position to keep up with the world’s “breakneck’ speed?
I think so because the demographic dividend of the youth in Africa indicates that young people make up most of Africa at 60 percent.
I think that the whole of Africa is at a good advantage to participate in the technological changes that are taking place right now.
There are a lot of young people who are interested in technology. I also think that Batswana are in a good position to take advantage of what is happening.
We just need to channel the youth in the right direction to take advantage of the technological era, and prepare them for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and the businesses of tomorrow, which will be different from the businesses of today.
How Botswana (and Africa) can prepare for ‘The 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR)’…
In other African countries such as Rwanda, you’ll find that coding and robotics are taught in schools and they are part of the curriculum.
Recently, President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa stated that coding will be taught in schools. We in Botswana are a little slower in catching on to these developments.
At Dare to Dream, we partnered with Airbus to sponsor 1,500 students across the country in rural places and trained them in robotics in order to prepare them for 4IR.
It was also important that they know that there are careers in the aerospace industry that are STEM-related that they can take advantage of.
We are looking forward to partnering with the Ministry of Education, but there have been some delays, which I hope will be overcome in the future.
Dare to Dream’s most engaged stakeholders…so far…
We have engaged Airbus and also partnered with Botswana Innovation Hub, the University of Botswana and Botswana International University for Science and Technology – BIUST.
BIUST created an initiative to encourage young girls to get into STEM subjects because they realized that the number of girls applying for these subjects was low. They had called 100 girls from Central District schools to participate.
We form partnerships with organizations with the same mandate as us. For example, Debswana is interested in the 4IR and getting young people engaged in it, so we have partnered with them and they have assisted us to roll out our programs.
We have also done work with Major Blue Air, who own planes. The girls get a chance to get onto the planes, and I fly the children.
It’s not just about STEM, it’s about exposing the girls to new experiences and igniting the passion within them. There are other organizations doing work in the same area, and we are looking forward to also having them on board.
There is something very powerful about collaboration.
We have also recently partnered with EcoNet, who have chosen me to lead the Youth Development Programme in coding and entrepreneurship.
What we are doing differently is that we are teaching the kids how to code and build websites, but also entrepreneurship and leadership skills. We have enrolled the first 500 participants and we are starting in July this year.
The role Dare to Dream is playing in the conversation (and action!) towards Africa’s readiness for 4IR…
Even though we have trained 1 500 students, we realized that there is a gap with the teachers, and so we are preparing to train teachers in order to fill that gap.
After going around the country and doing work in 40 schools, I realized that the teachers themselves don’t know about 4IR, coding or robotics. Coding isn’t part of our curriculum at the moment; only a few schools have robotics kits, but they don’t know how to use them.
So, then we pulled in Debswana and other sponsors to train the teachers for a week at the University of Botswana. From there, the teachers will go back to their respective schools and train the students.
The goal is to have a national coding competition where all the students will come to Gaborone and showcase their projects.
How young African women can be a part of The 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR)…
Larisa Bowen-Dodoo is the founder of Levers in Heels, a digital media enterprise highlighting African women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
She is also a member of the Global Shapers community, a multi-stakeholder initiative of the World Economic Forum.
What inspired you to found Levers in Heels?
In my undergrad years, I was one of four young women in a male-dominated engineering class. It was there that I realized the impact having female STEM role models could potentially have on me and my career.
So, I thought to myself, “If there is a wealth of real-life experience, insights, and knowledge out there from experienced women in STEM, I’d love to tap into that to motivate, inspire, empower and support women like myself.
What drives you to want to profile these women?
Levers in Heels is driven by my ethos and mission to give a voice to African women in STEM. We examine the barriers these women face from every angle in their respective countries. At the same time, we also amplify their achievements to inspire and empower our readers, particularly the next generation of African female STEM leaders.
Can you tell us more about your business as a social venture?
Women have made many strides in STEM fields, but their achievements go disregarded. These women are needed today more than ever to share their stories; contributions and struggles, to inspire girls into becoming the next generation of STEM leaders.
At Levers in Heels, I have been able to provide girls (from primary to senior high levels) with the opportunity to connect, through shared experiences, with our featured women in STEM via video conference calls. We have started this outreach project in Ghana and are looking for more opportunities to expand to the rest of Africa.
What four skills have you found yourself using/learning frequently since starting Levers in Heels?
Before I started Levers in Heels, I knew nothing about running a website, let alone a digital media enterprise. I did, however, learn not to underestimate the value, impact, and consistency of the content I was sharing.
Whether your digital content is for social good, business or both, consistency is key. This establishes your credibility and authority in the space you find yourself in.
It has also been important for me to learn how to communicate my passion and enterprise in an engaging way, both online and offline. The more often you put yourself and your work out there, the faster your communication skills will grow.
To improve your communication skills, you need to engage with the very people who find your content useful. One way I do this is through Levers in Heels’ discourse events.
Lastly, I don’t stop learning. It is necessary to keep your own learning and personal development active. There are so many courses online, both free and paid, that you can take to start your own enterprise. With such easy access to knowledge and resources, there really is no excuse that you can’t create your own opportunities.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in growing in this space?
The state of the digital publishing evolves every day. It is challenging having to keep up with new tools and resources if you plan on remaining relevant. It isn’t enough to have a great brand name these days.
Content generation can also be demanding, especially in my case where I have to do quite a lot of research to scout women in STEM across Africa for an interview.
Is the African Woman in STEM real? How do you think women in STEM impact the continent?
Africa is at a stage where it requires the expertise of STEM in solving its challenges. Today, we cannot think about development without considering how we can leverage STEM to move forward.
Women have an equal role to play in this as some of these challenges, more than often, affect them and their children. With our perspectives and ideas on these issues, we can come up with better solutions which will benefit the whole continent.
I can confidently say that the African woman in STEM is real, with all the evidence gathered from the amazing stories I share on Levers in Heels.
What is your long-term goal/vision for Levers in Heels?
My vision for Levers in Heels is simple – to be the continent’s leading digital media enterprise for African women in STEM.
You’ve spoken to so many women in STEM, what would you single out as outstanding?
I love the diversity that comes with every engagement. For me, there’s great value in recognizing the different perspectives in my conversations with them.
This helps me, and ultimately my readers, to better understand their point of view on specific questions or topics. It is about hearing and learning from them more than anything.
A lot of young African women are seeking guidance in the STEM space, what would be your key advice to them?
For weeks on end, Africa has been celebrated across continents. There has been a glorious showcase of its beauty, wealth, culture, resilience and diversity, on screen.
From both young people and the people, many around the world have come out to embrace the African heritage. The Wakanda fever has seen people dressing in African fabric, rocking natural and bald hairstyles, and chanting Xhosa battle cries.
But, beyond the outstanding representation of African culture, the Black Panther production also featured award-winning actors of African descent such as Kenya’sLupita Nyong’o, Zimbabwe’s Danai Gurira, and Uganda’s Daniel Kaluuya.
Currently, Nigerian-American writer Nnedi Okorafor is writing the ‘Black Panther: Long Live the King’ comic book. Using her unique brand of storytelling, Nnedi hopes to inspire others to re-create the African narrative.
With a worldwide box office record or $897 million according to Forbes Magazine, Black Panther has had a phenomenal influence on the world. Originally a comic book, this story has changed the narrative of black characters in comic books and in the media. And instead of the typical American superman, we are now seeing an African, black, superhero!
But this is not it! Other than T’Challa’s superhero skills, we see women who do more justice to #girlpower than Wonder Woman or Cat Woman ever would. Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), Okoye (Danai Gurira), Ramonda (Angela Basset) and Shuri (Letitia Wright), showcase the strength and power of women who slay!
Writing about women who slay is something that Nnedi is familiar with. Her award-winning Afrofuturistic novels combine culture and science to break the limits and the usual narrative of girls can do.
This passion is what led her to bring her unique brand of storytelling to Wakanda land. As the latest writer for this Marvel comic series, Nnedi seeks to remind us that our stories as Africans, as women and as superheroes, need to be heard.
In changing the African narrative, we help the world recognize that Africa can create solutions towards the world’s development. But more importantly, we showcase the depth and diversity of the African people and their heritage.
Finally, through her contribution to Black Panther, Nnedi hopes to challenge people to rearrange their thinking. It is possible to create a new Africa. By telling these stories of Africa’s great future and her present achievements, we will create this new world that others have no option but to believe in!
If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here.
The field of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) has a significant disparity quota of men to women. UNESCO reports that less than a third of researchers are women in African countries such as Mali, Nigeria, Angola, and Ethiopia.
This is certainly not due to (in)ability. Rather, other factors such as social conditioning or opportunity may be responsible. For a lot of women, getting into the field requires extra grit, push and determination; even when the odds are stacked against them.
This piece centers on three African women who when faced with peculiar life challenges decided to transform them into opportunity. They managed to squeeze those lemons for all they were worth, making lemonade out of them.
The result? Amazing careers and ground-breaking contributions to the field of STEM.
Hers is literally the proverbial rags to riches tale that begets many lessons for the African woman aspiring to make something of herself. Born into a poor home, Tebello Nyokong grew up in the mountains tending to sheep. Her dream at the time was a simple one: to own a pair of shoes.
A certain hunger fuels one to achieve success when it’s obvious you have no safety net to fall back on. For Tebello, this meant no trust fund, no inheritance, no cushy job promised by her parents’ friends, no comfort zone. Thus, it was going hard or go home; because going hard was the only option.
The experience fueled her desire to succeed in life and apply doggedness to her future work. She reminded herself that she could achieve anything she put her mind to, especially anything a boy could.
Tebello Nyokong was told not to follow her natural passion for the sciences because it was considered too difficult a path. After spending two years in the arts, she eventually she completed a degree in Chemistry and Biology.
Today she is lauded as one of the most influential women in STEM. She has also received several awards and laurels for her outstanding contributions to science and technology. Her current work is focused on creating an alternative cancer treatment known as ‘photodynamic therapy’.
An accomplished woman, Evelyn Gitau is a cellular immunologist and currently a Programme Manager at the African Academy of Science – Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa.
She is also a Next Einstein Forum Fellow; a program which selects the brightest African scientists and technologists to provide sustainable solutions to pertinent problems, and to encourage young people to develop careers in the path as well.
Evelyn Gitau tells a story of how her young son’s illness exposed her to her area of current interest. After being taken to the hospital for a fever and trouble breathing, he was tested and subsequently diagnosed with severe malaria and bronchitis. He soon recovered and was able to thrive fully in the years that ensued.
The experience made her realize something very important, a lot of other Africans weren’t as lucky. Communities continued to suffer from undiagnosed or misdiagnosed cases due to inadequate diagnostic facilities and funding for laboratory work.
Her findings indicated that between forty and fifty percent of infections affecting African children remained undiagnosed. As a result, medical personnel was forced to make educated guesses and children were building a resistance to antibiotics.
Her research work is centered on the development of alternative diagnostic methods and tools that are both more accurate and affordable to greatly reduce the mortality rate of children in Africa.
Growing up in a rural community in Kano State, Nigeria, Blessing Kwomo saw a lot of poverty and disease around her. All she wanted was to figure out a way to make practical changes to help the local people in her environment. She also had often recurring cases of typhoid fever.
Looking back, she realized a lot of those health challenges could have been prevented with better hygiene.
Blessing was particularly skilled in Mathematics while at school. She opted to become a nurse rather than follow her father’s path into engineering.
During her educational training, she observed that several patients were unable to achieve sustainable solutions to their illnesses. Some of these were simply as a result of low-economic standing and a poor understanding of healthcare.
Taking a pragmatic approach to healthcare, Blessing Kwomo decided to start up De Rehoboths Therapeutic Studio. Through this business, she offered home consultations which tackled the root causes of the ailments afflicting her clients rather than merely providing a band-aid.
The benefit was that if her clients understood how to take better care of themselves and their environments, they would have fewer recurring cases of diseases such as typhoid fever and cholera. Blessing Kwomo also provided holistic services in addition to conventional medicine to help achieve a more seamless outcome.
Blessing has gained recognition as an Anzisha Fellow for her work and remarkable entrepreneurial drive. The young entrepreneur’s aspiration is to someday become the Minister of Health in her country.
Despite STEM being a path less followed by African women, it is one that holds immense opportunities and fulfillment for those who dare to dream. For the women profiled here, it was a challenging but rewarding path.
These women have shown us that setbacks or difficulties should not hold you back, but propel you to tap into the opportunities they presents.
Do you have an interest in this field? What lemons can you exploit today? Share with us here.
Dr. Unoma Okorafor is the founder and CEO of Working to Advance STEM Education for African Women (WAAW) Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Education for African women, and working to ensure that talent is engaged in technology and innovation on the African continent.
A serial and social entrepreneur, Dr. Okorafor is also founder and CEO of Herbal Papaya, a health and wellness company that manufactures organic health beverages and supplements. She is also co-founder of Radicube Technologies Inc, a Big Data Analytics company. Unoma has been a speaker and thought leader at several events including SXSW, WISE Conference, Women’s Forum and Ashoka Foundation Changemakers.
She was a recipient of the 2013 Anita Borg Social Change Agent Award and was the 2016 winner of the GEM Tech Awards from ITU and UN Women.
You founded Working to Advance African Women (WAAW) Foundation over a decade ago. What inspired you to take this bold step?
Several factors inspired me to found WAAW Foundation in 2007 while I was completing my Ph.D. degree in Computer Engineering at Texas A & M University. At that time, I was the only woman of color in the program and my graduate education experience had been a very lonely one working mostly amongst men. I knew that I wanted to be an engineer and had the ability to be a great one, but I wished there were more women in STEM to support each other.
Additionally, I saw the huge impact technology could have in lifting entire communities out of poverty. I could see the rapid technological advances that were in the pipeline. For instance, I saw the advent of Google, PayPal and Amazon and some of my research was around the technologies that powered these huge companies and the impact they had on e-commerce, telecommunications, and the financial industry.
The images I saw in the media did not reflect the Africa I grew up in and the Africa I envisioned in the future and I realized at that point that if we could empower African women with education in Science and Technology and teach them to innovate and solve problems in their communities using technology, we could turn around the plight of our entire African continent.
It was a huge dream considering that at the time I was still a graduate student with two young children. However, I decided it was better to start and even if we could only impact one girl in Africa it was better than doing nothing. It has been inspiring to see how WAAW Foundation has grown.
In the last decade, what are some of the major milestones that WAAW has achieved? What impact would you say that WAAW has had on the way that STEM education is delivered in Nigeria and on the number of girls choosing to study STEM?
Like I mentioned WAAW started as a dream while I was a graduate student with no substantial resources to invest and no experience with running a fully-fledged organization. The first year we launched our website, we offered to sponsor one $500 scholarship for an African girl studying a STEM-related discipline at a University in Africa. It was all my husband and I could afford from our meager graduate student stipend. But this experience opened my eyes to the huge need and the relatively small amount of resources and funds needed to bridge this gap.
That first year we received over 400 applications. We were overwhelmed and I recruited my mother to assess the applications and select the one we felt was the most deserving. But there were so many who needed a small lift. Application after application, I shed tears as I read about AIDS orphans, child mothers, abandoned girls who were struggling to make it through school, doing well with excellent grades who just needed a little support. I was inspired to keep pushing.
To date, WAAW has provided over 30 Scholarships to university girls in STEM, reached over 500 girls through our STEM residential camps, trained over 200 university-to-secondary mentors in 17 university chapters across 10 African countries and we impact almost 20,000 youth each year.
In Nigeria, we have continued to engage with the community to push against societal norms that tell girls that a STEM education is not feminine. We have worked with government ministries, secondary school teachers, communities and especially parents of girls to educate them on the huge benefits of STEM education for girls. WAAW is looking to partner with Federal Ministries of Education, Science and Technology to re-invent what STEM education should be and retrain our teachers to incorporate hands on, locally available resources to promote innovation in the classrooms.
For all the girls and young women currently on the fence about whether a career in STEM is the right choice for them, what advice would you give to them?
First of all, let me say that we are not necessarily promoting the idea that a career in STEM is the right choice for every girl. Our broad message is that we are in the middle of a technological revolution where technology is pervasive in every facet of our lives and will be even more so in the future.
Consider the recent research that states that 90% of jobs created in the next 20-30 years will require some sort of skill in STEM. That means that people who have STEM skills will have a huge advantage over those who don’t. Whether they are applying those skills in core technology or in healthcare, finance, agriculture, business, transportation. I think that girls should participate in creating those technologies so we can solve some of the critical issues facing us.
WAAW is currently partnering with African Women Engineering Leadership and Entrepreneurship (AWELE) Academy to launch the She Hacks Africa Initiative. Could you tell the readers more about this initiative, who the target audience is and what the objectives are?
We launched AWELE Academy in 2016 with the desire to empower our WAAW college fellows and provide them with employable skills in software programming. AWELE academy provides a safe environment for direct project based, hands-on tutoring through regular courses, weekly real-life project and market analysis, coding activities and introduction to computer software that will inspire African youths to view software programming as accessible, fun and doable.
She Hacks Africa coding boot camp is a 3-week coding workshop designed to provide fun and engaging software programming training. It will help build the self-confidence of African youths between the ages of 18-35 years as community change makers and technology innovators while giving them relevant skills to build technology enterprises. Our participants will gain globally relevant skills, build their capacity in technology and benefit from leadership, mentoring, and networking events.
We had our first She Hacks Africa boot camp cohort in January 2017 in Abuja, Nigeria. Our Lagos edition started on Monday, April 24th, 2017. The training will also provide entrepreneurship sessions to enable the participants to identify potential areas of interest in Technology.
Outside of your professional work, you are also a successful entrepreneur and have several companies under your belt. The one that stood out most to me is Herbal Papaya, the health and wellness company you founded in 2010.
What sparked your interest in health and wellness? Where is Health Papaya active and how can our readers access your products and services?
Herbal Papaya is a US-based health and wellness company that manufactures herbal teas, supplements, smoothies, dried herbs and spices. It was founded in 2011 after I had quit my job as an Engineering Tech lead to stay home and have my third baby. I was focused on eating healthy for my baby and providing healthier meals for my family so I started researching healthy living. I learnt about the genetically modified foods that had flooded the food industry and their potential impact on our health.
It led me to organic papaya, which is a fruit that is hugely beneficial to healthy skin, digestion and immune system. I thought, if I am looking for this, perhaps someone else might be too. So, I did a quick market test and found there was quite an interest and that is how the company was founded.
Herbal papaya products are available to customers in the US, Canada and Europe via our website and on Amazon. We are also available in several independent retail stores and will keep expanding into stores over the next few years. We have also been discussing the possibility of expanding our brand into the African market but that is very preliminary.
You have been invited to speak at several high-profile events including SXSW, WISE Conference, Women’s Forum and Ashoka Foundation Changemakers.
Considering the target audience of She Leads Africa, which of the speeches you have given would you say is most relevant and inspiring for this group and why?
I would say that the recent speech i gave at the SXSW conference would be most relevant to the target audience of She Leads Africa and here is why. The speech focused on why women in tech matter and highlighted the fact that women need to be encouraged to stand up and lead in every facet of life and especially in technology which is very male dominated. When women lead in tech, in business and other areas, we give others the permission to step up and take up their place.
I particularly stressed the fact that encouraging more women to lead is not a zero-sum equation. It does not mean that we are taking the place of men. I encourage more men to get in on the agenda of supporting female empowerment agendas so that together we can elevate the human experience, solve the global challenges of our times and leave behind a better world for our children.
Evelyn Namara is bomb-ass in just about every way. When she’s not breaking ground in tech innovation in Uganda, she’s helping women start successful businesses. We totally get why she was called a “fearless influencer of society”.
Evelyn is the founder of Vouch Digital, a technology start-up building a verified digital voucher
system that helps simplify the distribution of aid for international aid agencies as well as
government programs. Her system helps eliminate fraud and corruption in the distribution of
goods and services for cash-based programs, but before that, she worked for Beyonic Limited and Solar Sister.
She is an Acumen East Africa fellow and also an IDEX fellow (January 2015 class) where she spent six months in India as part of the fellowship program working for Wings Learning Centres.
Here, Evelyn shares her passion for tech and entrepreneurship with SLA and lets us know her top five tips for start-ups.
What is one thing about Evelyn Namara that the world should know?
I keep a counsel of close advisers who I go to when I need advice and guidance on anything.
It is important for everyone to have a counsel of trusted friends who can genuinely give you guidance and also truthfully rebuke you when make terrible decisions. I have found that these people have helped me stay focused on my goals and have encouraged me when I have felt like giving up.
Tell us about Vouch Digital
Vouch Digital was born out of a need to find a solution to fight fraud and corruption in the distribution sector.
After realizing that most systems that deliver aid to end users lack efficient systems to track transparency and efficacy, I started working on our product. Our product is a verified voucher system that simplifies the distribution of aid to different program beneficiaries.
Beyond distribution, we are working on mapping beneficiaries who receive aid and do not have an identity by giving them digital identities through our system. The digital identity system allows these beneficiaries to access other goods and services such as financial services.
What needs to be done to increase the number of women in IT?
STEM studies should be encouraged from the grassroots. Girls, as well as boys, should know that the choice exists for them to take up technology as a career from an early age.
I believe that once we introduce STEM studies early on and put gadgets in the hands of girls as they grow up, there will be no need to “increase women in IT”.
We have a problem now because some outdated education systems allow girls to believe that some courses are not meant for them. That there are some simpler and feminine courses that girls should take up and unfortunately technology is not one of them.
Let’s focus on building capacity for the younger generation and open up opportunities for girls to live up to their full potential.
Besides that, we need to encourage more forums that are building capacity for women in IT. One of such forums is AfCHIX which continues to impart skills development in young women in ICT.
AfCHIX gives girls an opportunity to be better at their skills and thus compete favorably for jobs. It also links them to opportunities to attend conferences such as the Grace Hopper Conference which is one of the biggest women in technology conference that brings together thousands of women from all walks of life in the technology sector.
As someone who helps women start businesses, what are your top five tips for start-ups?
I draw my lessons from my start-up and I will share those with other start-ups.
Research the field you want to serve adequately. Carry out your baseline studies and understand your field. Know the other players in the field and find a way to make your start-up stand out in terms of product offering. It’s your uniqueness that will give you an edge.
Don’t wait until you have the perfect product for you to hit the market. Prototype early, test your prototype with potential customers and iterate. You learn a lot when your product is in the hands of customers and this allows you to work on early modifications before bringing out your final product.
Have a target market and work closely with them. Most start-ups are not very clear on who their target market is and this creates ambiguity in building your solution. Work on knowing who your target customers are so that you build specifically for them.
Build a pull of partnerships, these are key in giving you longevity. With the right partners, you can scale your start-up easily. Find those that complement your vision and work together to push your product or service.
Build the right structures. This is key if you are looking to build your start-up to scale.
You were an IGF Internet Society Ambassador in 2015, tell us about that.
Internet Society invests in Next Generation of Internet leaders. Through its Next Generation Leaders (NGL) programme, Internet Society helps Internet professionals between the ages of 20 and 40 develop their leadership potential in technology, business, policy, and education.
NGL participants gain a unique opportunity to advance their professional growth and build the experience and confidence they need to drive development in their own local communities and the larger Internet ecosystem.
The Internet Governance Forum Ambassadorship Programme lies under the NGL curriculum and gives an opportunity for Internet professionals to attend the IGF and participate in the dialogue that shapes the Internet ecosystem.
I applied and was accepted as a 2015 ambassador and the experience was enriching. Stand out topics for the 2015 IGF were Connecting the next billion, Net Neutrality and Zero Rating, topics that are relevant to the African continent. My interest as a member of civil society was on following and contributing to the discussions on connecting the next billion because we still face a challenge of connectivity which is hindering Innovation.
What is the best compliment you’ve received?
I was once called a “fearless influencer of society”. That’s the best compliment I can ever think of.
Service for society means a lot to me.
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