#BossLadies: Are women in tech finally starting to bridge the gender gap?

Slowly but surely, ladies are taking the tech space by storm in Africa Click To Tweet

This former man’s world is about to be shaken. Slowly but surely, ladies are taking the tech space by storm in Africa and continuing to build that proverbial bridge over what is still one of the widest gender gaps on the planet. Some of the most promising software startups coming out of Africa today boast female founders that have faced the tech boys’ club head on, and they’re not backing down.

The women of the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST) are speaking out about their experience as software startup founders and voicing the need for more women in STEM fields. MEST is a training program, seed fund, and incubator for aspiring tech entrepreneurs in Africa and is headquartered in Ghana. From just 10% women in its first class in 2008, MEST now boasts 30%, and it wants to see even more.

The ratio of women to men in tech isn’t where it should be

Head of Recruitment at MEST, Amma Baffoe, notes that though on the rise in Africa, the ratio of women to men in the tech sector is not nearly where it should be. The team is now on the hunt for even more driven, ambitious ladies to show the world how it’s done.

“We collectively need to ensure that as tech continues to thrive, we also take the necessary steps required to bring our women along with us by actively seeking to identify, recruit and mentor more African women into tech. This has enormous potential to empower families and create new opportunities for generations to come.”

Communications Director, co-founder of startup Skrife and former MEST student Kelechi Udoagwu feels the bridge is already getting stronger: “These are exciting times for women in tech – in Africa and all over the world. We are increasingly becoming visible and accepted in the tech industry, and this gives us to room to innovate and be creative in creating solutions for problems that are peculiar to females alone.” Of course, visibility isn’t nearly enough – but it’s a pretty promising first step.

A number of successful female-led startups

Female-led startups coming out of MEST have been blowing up over the past few years. Tress, the African woman’s go-to app on hair trends, styles, products, and stylists, was recently selected for the prestigious Y Combinator accelerator program in Silicon Valley, an honor founders Priscilla Hazel, Esther Olatunde and Cassandra Sarfo don’t take for granted.

“It’s been a great experience…I learned that what I’m going through in my startup is the same thing someone in another country is going through – bootstrapping, looking for money, trying to get users, or coming up with value for your users. It’s the same issues that many startups around the world face…And now I have a network of people to ask for support,” says CEO Priscilla Hazel.

Of course, visibility isn’t nearly enough - but it’s a pretty promising first step Click To Tweet

“I love the fact that by working on something that we are passionate about and is at the same time very personal to us as cofounders, we are creating value for black women all over the world.”

Current MEST student Stella Ngugi notes how influential it’s been to work with changemakers and tech stars like Priscilla: “Sometimes you don’t know what you’re missing until you get it. I didn’t know the true value of women tech makers until I came to MEST. There’s no denying the snowball that is women tech makers; we are driving change throughout Africa, moving fast and paving a way with no boundaries.”

Encouraging others

Outside of their startups, the MEST ladies are going even further to encourage more to follow in their footsteps. Former Entrepreneurs in Training (EITs) Linda Ansong, Angela Koranteng and Lady-Omega Hammond have been leading the way in STEM subjects since university. After swapping stories about the incredible gender division they saw in school, they decided to get serious.

It was exposure to strong, successful women in STEM that encouraged these ladies to pursue their passions from the start, and they wanted to ensure the next generation of African women could find the same exposure.

They hunkered down in a MEST classroom to decide how best to approach the issue, and very quickly, STEMBees was born. This non-profit is now filled with smart, successful, buzz-worthy women who offer computer literacy training and career exploration for future female changemakers in Ghana.

Lady-Omega, who is also the CEO of Ampersand Technologies Ltd, believes that change is already happening. “I believe awareness around the potential of a woman being maximized outside the home is growing more each day. It’s encouraging to see men around us becoming more supportive and women being role models and actively engaging with other women, young or old. This changes mindsets and gives us women the opportunity to grow to our fullest potential.”

Lady-Omega: 'It's encouraging to see men around us becoming more supportive' Click To Tweet

Breaking barriers with force

These female tech entrepreneurs are breaking barriers with force. But so are many of our male colleagues. According to Cassandra and Priscilla, it’s important that we don’t attribute too much of our success to gender alone.

“Everyone can go into the technology field, whether female or male,” Cassandra says. “It’s just about your drive, your passion. If you have a passion for something, you can achieve it. It doesn’t matter your sex – everyone can do it. I’m doing it, so believe it.” After all, the keyword here really is equality.

Thanks to these #MotherlandMoguls in Ghana, general interest in technology from young girls has drastically increased since the program was founded in 2008. Girls from the community are seeing the number of African female founders from MEST being recognized globally, and as a result are seeking some of that tech startup glory for themselves. Here are some #humblebrags from the women of MEST:

Anne Amuzu, CEO of MEST-incubated Nandimobile, was named one of Forbes 10 Female Tech Founders to Watch in Africa. The Tress team, led by female entrepreneur and CEO Priscilla Hazel, raised $150,000 USD from Y-Combinator before even graduating from the MEST program and was named one of 5 African inventions to look out for in 2017 by the BBC.
Female-led Beavly has raised $40, 000 and created more than 200 job opportunities for people on their platform.

These are great first steps, but we’ve got a bridge to finish building. What are you waiting for?

Sante Nyambo: Education is the most important gift you can give yourself

My father always told me, education is the most important gift you can give yourself... just go for it! - Sante Nyambo Click To Tweet

“I remember standing still in a dark room for a long period of time with one hand on my face and the other on my phone… On that day, the news beaming from my phone lit up my life forever.”

This is how Sante Nyambo recalls the moment she received the acceptance letter from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US, where she later obtained her B.Sc in Civil Engineering. At only 18 and filled with courage and a desire to positively impact her nation, she flew across the world to pursue knowledge that would change her life forever. This Tanzanian probably never dreamed that her story would be told in film. She’s now one of the stars of “One Day I Too Go Fly”, a documentary film about 4 African youths’ journeys to become engineers at MIT. It is directed by Arthur Musah, a Ghanaian engineer/filmmaker who seeks to create powerful new narratives about Africa and Africans in cinema.

You can view a glimpse of the footage of the film on Kickstarter, where Arthur and the team are rallying up support to fund post-production editing of all the footage: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/arthurmusah/one-day-i-too-go-fly-documentary-post-production


Take us back to that moment when you got the acceptance letter from MIT, what went through your mind in that moment?

I was still up at 3am on Pi day (March 14th 2011). I stayed up because I could not fall asleep. The letter came in around 3:30 am via an email portal notification. As soon as I read the beginning of the letter, I immediately thought I was on the waiting list. I had the biggest smile on my face. I felt happy to have been considered. I sighed with relief. As I kept on reading on, I began to cry. I remember standing still in a dark room for a long period of time with one hand on my face and the other on my phone. I was overwhelmed and overjoyed with happiness as my smile turned into a pool of tears. When I read the end of the letter saying “Now go party and have fun! See you on campus…”, it was a day that I will never forget. On that day, the news beaming from my phone lit up my life forever.

Before you left for MIT, what ideas did you have about the world and about yourself (as a young African woman) and how have they been refined since your studies at MIT and your exposure to a different way of life in America?

I was 18. I did not know a lot about myself at the time as I do now.  I still feel have not changed much. I am still all about having fun with life and remaining strong and persistent to follow my dreams. As I got to America, I thought I knew what I wanted out of myself and life. My way of thinking gradually changed slightly during the school year and internships.

I vividly remember the look on my father’s face as I made my way to the departure gates in 2011. We both felt the same way. I was nervous. My father was skeptical about letting me leave. I literally had to convince my family. It was not easy because I could not predict or control the future. The fear of the unknown. I never thought a lot about myself. I cared more about my family, cousins and grandparents. I grew up with a very close knit family with my mother as my best-friend. I knew that I would be leaving a void. I also strongly felt that I would eventually strengthen the bonds when I returned home. I felt that I was given a great opportunity to be challenged and one of tremendous growth.

Being introduced to a different way of life in America, have you found it hard to decide how much of Africa to hold on to and how much of America to absorb? What are you holding on to that is African and what American ideals are you absorbing, without losing your African heritage?

Coping was a combination of a sine and a cosine curve. It had ups and downs. Immersing yourself in a new environment really has a way of molding you. It reinforces your foundations. After graduation, time to time, I watch the first “One Day I Too Go Fly” Kickstarter video that was launched in 2012. It looked back into the past and it captured moments in my dorm room where it showed how I decorated my room with Arusha region decorations (Maasais dancing). I do hold on to my memories of home and my heritage as a chagga woman. I think the ability to cope presents a challenge, however it is a function of resiliency. We can to some extent control that.

What new narrative about Africa and Africans is the film, ‘One Day I Too Go Fly’, aiming to share with the world?

7 years ago in Dar es Salaam, I was sitting on a curb on a very warm sunny day after a long basketball game. I was waiting to catch a daladala when a young lady walked up to me looking for directions. In our conversation, she told me she attended MIT and how much she enjoyed it. She went on to mention that it is the best university in the world and I should consider this opportunity to study abroad. I had never heard of such a college or considered being an engineer at the time. I enjoyed and loved STEM and despite my strengths lying in engineering, I thought I wanted to be a doctor. I went home that night, I reached out to her for help with the applications. For me, the film is a way to create exposure to the world about opportunities in general. The exposure about life abroad while in college. The film will tell a story that may inspire people. It captures a glimpse that most people are scared to share. Their lives. It is difficult to be very transparent to everyone and potentially the world. I want to be part of making a positive impact. Even though I cannot give riches, I can give and share other things. I would like to encourage people to strive above and beyond their abilities. The film has the potential to be what the young lady I met was to me. My father always told me, education is the most important gift you can give yourself, therefore we should try and not let circumstances dictate when or how it should happen, just go for it!

It has been suggested that STEM subjects be taught in indigenous languages for African students to understand mathematics and science subjects better and fear them less. What is your take on this?

I have had this debate before with some friends. Most of us agreed that as long as something is taught despite fear, the subject matter will eventually stick regardless of language used in administering the topics. If we make language of instruction the barrier, this will be impeding growth. May be the individual can take initiative to learn other languages. It is possible by creating an encouraging environment to do so in schools. For example, I have a friend that moved from West Africa to America at 16. She learnt how to speak English in two years by reading books with her friends for fun. My father and his family grew up in the mountains of Kilimanjaro, speaking and being taught only in their indigenous language (kichagga). But they ended up being doctors, engineers , diplomats, etc, and fluent in English. My take away was that it is possible, however I do not deny that learning how to speak some universal languages early is a good thing.

Do you perhaps foresee a future where Africans no longer necessarily need to cross the ocean to get ‘world class’ studies and degrees, and if this dream is ever possible, how would you propose we get there or how do you propose we start?

I think this is very possible. Being educated in the West grants us new networks and exposure to a new culture and ways of operating. Education is knowledge at the end of the day, it is where and what you do with it that counts. Therefore, yes, I do foresee a future in which we do not have to cross the seas if one opts not to. I believe that I live in this era and the trend is booming. Examples I’ve heard about are Ashesi University in Ghana and the African Leadership University. Both of those were started by Africans who stepped out into the world, picked up knowledge from other countries, and returned to the continent to experiment with new ideas for teaching and learning.

On 4th July weekend, while waiting to party with my friends, I watched a TED talk by South African former investment banker, Euvin Naidoo, that talks about investing in Africa. As I watched the talk, I recalled the conversation I had with Mohammed Dewji at Harvard Business School (HBS) this year. As we sat at the roundtable discussion with my fellow Tanzanians that morning, I truly felt that we had the same goal and we shared a vision. We have to let people do what they can to improve themselves so that they can actively contribute to the goal. Away or while in the west all contributions count. If they do decide to head back to the continent, they have to have a plan. The plan is the most important part. You need to figure out what problem you are going to tackle and how. Despite your education, the moment you get the drive and figure out how to implement or execute your plan, you will define your own excellence. Most people that are educated in Africa, move on to be Presidents, doctors, lawyers, engineers, nurses, teachers etc.

In the Kickstarter video of ‘One Day I Too Go Fly’, very few hands went up when you asked pupils from a school in Tanzania how many of them were interested in doing engineering. How will you use your position as a qualified engineer, whose ideas about the world and herself have been refined, to change this?

8/13/13 {Brighton Xxxx}

“hello sante,

mambo, hope you doin good .i like how u presented when u came at ardhi university u motivated & inspired me alot …..thanx for dat! I have got so many questions to ask but I guess it would be best if contact you via watsapp [xxxxxxx] or facebook {xxxxxxx} if its fine with you, looking forward for your reply

regards.”

This is one of the many letters I received from my trip. I spoke to over 400 students on separate occasions. Junior year in college, I spent some weekends speaking to some of these students via social media, email and calls. As I sat in my dorm and discussed with my friends at MIT’s Women’s Independent Living Group (WILG), I realized that the recurring problem is systemic. I think that people not only feel that STEM is a challenging field but also that the rewards are not worth pursuing. The question is how do we engage people to build a nation when we offer no significant incentives. The growth seems to only benefit a few. The students that I spoke to throughout the trip are well qualified in STEM, however, they are scared and some told me that they do feel helpless. The what if question always holds people back. No incentive and fear is a bad recipe. Solutions need to be at the personal and the government policy levels. Individuals can mentor others, which is why I am taking part in the film, to show that engineering, even though it is tough, is tractable. That could help remove the fear factor. And then our governments need to create an environment where the people are rewarded for developing their talents for engineering and science, and for applying them to their country’s needs.

You are in a bookstore and you have to choose between buying a captivating novel or a good textbook on Thermodynamics, with your last money. Which do you choose?

:)) Trick question. I would pick up the narrative. Two reasons. I did so much of thermo in college, I am all thermo-ed out now lol. I can never say no to some quality time with a great book, some tea and a snack!


A documentary about Sante’s experience is currently raising funds on Kickstarter. Click here if you’d like to support.

Lindiwe Mashinini: I work hard to ensure that I create a legacy for my girls

Our generation has been privileged to be brought up in an era where everything is online. I’m pretty sure the next will literally be raised by technology and that by then pens and paper will be in museums. Software development or coding is an IT skill that is highly demanded, but it so happens that we don’t have enough coders. Generally, the IT industry is perceived as a man’s field and what we need is more ladies to challenge the norm. 
Some African girls have been blessed to have Lindiwe Mashinini the Founder and CEO of Africa Teen Geeks. Africa Teen Geeks is a non-profit organisation that educates school children and the unemployed youth on how to code. Lindiwe holds a BCom degree from the University of Cape Town and recently completed a General Management Programme at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS).
Lindiwe is currently studying towards an MS in Technology Management from Columbia University in New York as well as a Graduate Certificate in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Stanford University. Her numerous accolades include being among the Young Business awards top 3 finalists and recently named Innov8tive Magazine Top 50 Visionary Women in #Tech To Watch in 2017.  

There are several pathways to take in IT. Why coding?

Africa Teen Geeks’ main mission is to inspire a generation of Africans who will be creators of technology, not just consumers. Ten years ago less than 18 percent of the world’s population had access to the Internet. Last year roughly 3 billion people -approximately 43 percent of global population- were online. This is phenomenal growth and the pace of change is continuing.
The digital economy has a great impact on South African growth and economic opportunity. In 2014 alone the US exported roughly $400 billion in digitally deliverable services accounting for more than half of US services exports. Africa’s digital exports have been negligible.
 Africa’s economic growth and competitiveness depend on our capacity to embrace the digital economy.  For  Africa to be competitive in the digital economy it has to equip the youth to address the legacy of colonialism where skills are concerned and to level the playing field for the previously disadvantaged.
Coding is one of the ways in which we can raise a generation of innovators and tech entrepreneurs. With the majority of Africans lacking access to capital, technology is one of the few industries where one doesn’t need money to start their business but only sweat capital.

From your experience with the coding classes. What is the common hurdle?

Their main hurdle is access to computers and the internet. This is common for most Africans since less than 10% of Africans are online. We are addressing that by removing both the computer and internet access as a barrier to learning the basics of coding. In that way, we can really talk about “Computer Science for All.

Africa’s economic growth & competitiveness depend on our capacity to embrace the digital economy Click To Tweet

Africa Teen Geeks is a non-profit org, how would you pitch to get investments within your organisation or in the tech industry as a whole.

We see ourselves as a social enterprise and are working hard to create an organisation that is not donor dependent. We have just launched our first coding boot camp as well as an entrepreneurship lab through our partnership with the Unreasonable institute.
Ultimately, we are a movement that empowers, equips and elevates Africa’s next generation of game changers.

Let’s talk startups. How good should a coder be before starting their own coding company?

I think they need to be good enough to be able to create a prototype of their idea. They need to be able to demonstrate their solution to potential customers and investors.
The aim of this programme is to create a pipeline of African women in tech -Lindiwe Mashinini Click To Tweet

Generally speaking there is a gender gap in our IT industry. How can we close the gap and break the stereotypes?

Obviously, early exposure is important but also is having female role models in the tech sector. That’s why we have a Girl Geek programme in partnership with Standard Bank. At the Girl Geek programme we don’t only teach the girl how to code, we also expose them to the industry.
We also provide leadership training and mentorship from Standard Bank developers. The aim of this programme is to create a pipeline of African women in tech by removing all the barriers that keep girls from pursuing tech careers.

Knit2code, now that’s genius! Please share with us how this came about and how you executed your idea.

Knit2code was inspired by the lack of female role models for girls and also the situation on the ground where less than 10 percent the population are connected to the internet. For example, only 5 percent of South African schools teach IT due to lack of infrastructure and qualified teachers. But also only 23 percent of IT learners are girls. Knit2code includes the female caregivers who learn to code through knitting.
What happens to girls when they go home? For many, their mothers and grandmothers (who are most often their caretakers) are overwhelmed by technology. They do not think they have any skills to support their daughters in their training and to discuss their work. Sadly, girls interested in STEM are often told they inherited a “male brain”; technical skills are not seen as a part of a woman’s feminine legacy.
Many women, of any generation, either knit or know about knitting. They see it as a useful handicraft, one that can create garments for their families.  Without knowing, women who knit have already learned the basic concepts of computing. Helping women recognize this connection is what Knit2Code will seek to accomplish.
Knit2code will bring together 8-10-year-old girls and a female family member to learn, re-learn or enjoy knitting and, at the same time, to learn the basics of computing. While no “real” coding will happen in the class, all students will be able to graduate to the Python computer language after the program. The required materials are minimal: balls of yarn, knitting needles, and posters. But this is enough for all the students to learn how to think of computing in a supportive environment and be able to go home and continue their learning in knitting and computing.

What scares you the most and why?

My biggest fear is not being able to achieve all my goals. I have this strange feeling that I may not live long so I try to work as hard as I can to ensure that I create a legacy for my girls.
That sense of urgency I guess is what drives me the most, being constantly aware of my mortality. I don’t procrastinate because I don’t think I have too much time. It’s been like this since high school so I credit my fear for achievements too…
I have this strange feeling that I may not live long so I try to work as hard as I can - Lindiwe Mashinini Click To Tweet

I can only imagine the feeling after being named one of the 50 visionary women in tech to watch out for in 2017. How did you know and what was going on in your mind at the time? Tell us all about it.

I must say I was shocked to tears because I was humbled to learn how other people view my work. I have tried to shy away from making our work about myself but the children whose life we are impacting. What inspired me also was that I was named by a publication that we never had contact with.
Also, I am so inspired by Anie Akpe so the tears were because it was someone I also look up to. I also felt the pressure that we have to live up to the accolade.

What plans do you have for the future and how do you intend to reach your goals?

My vision is to ensure Africa Teen Geeks has a geek club in every village in Africa whether it’s online or not. I would like to get 1 million girls coding by 2018 through our Knit2code programme.
We have removed the biggest barriers for African kids to learn coding by removing the computer and the internet from the equation.

I believe to be a successful entrepreneur you have to be a great leader. So Lindiwe what’s your leadership style?

I believe in servant leadership but also being accessible. I am accessible not only to my team but to any young person that needs that word of encouragement and support. Literally, I am always a tweet away.

What’s your favourite day of the week?

I love Monday because it’s a beginning. That sense of feeling like it’s a beginning is what inspires me to work hard so that I can have something to show at the end of the week irrespective of how the previous week ended.

Finally, what last impression do you want to leave?

I want to inspire African girls to believe that dreams do come true. I want them to know that irrespective of their reality we live in a time where everything is possible. While other continents have reached their full potential we live in one of the few continents where they can still make a great impact and create a real legacy.
I want to get them to believe that they can also be their generation’s, Nelson Mandela. Africa is rising and they are the ones who will rise with it.

If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here

Kagure Wamunyu: I always see opposition as an opportunity to grow

Kagure Wamunyu she leads africa
Kagure Wamunyu: I think figuring out what it is you want to do in life, early in life, is key Click To Tweet

It’s always great to see our African sisters take on non-traditional fields such as technology and engineering. One such woman who has literally made technology her niche is Kagure Wamunyu.

The 27 year old is the current head of logistics and operations at Uber Kenya. Kagure is changing the way women lead in the tech industry by following her own path and refusing to take no for an answer. She has carved her way into the industry meticulously with not one, not two, but three degrees under her belt.

Kagure quickly returned to her beloved home-town, Nairobi to use her knowledge and expertise in improving the transport and urban planning industries, two things she is very passionate about.

Diana Odero, our SLA contributor had a great chat with Kagure to find out what it is that keeps her motivated to do what she does and why she believes in always paying it forward.


Word on the street is that you were Uber Kenya’s first full-time employee. How did you bag that role coming straight out of uni?

I was recruited to join the organization during my last year as a postgraduate student through LinkedIn. I think what they really liked was the fact that I had picked a particular course and specialized in it throughout my academic career and work experience.

All my research projects were transportation planning based and I mostly focused on Nairobi so I knew the topic and the area very well. Reading up on Nairobi gave me great knowledge on the industry there, which I used during my interviews with them and that resulted into me getting the job.

Your road to Uber has been quite fascinating. An internship at the UN just before joining the company, a Masters degree from UC Berkeley and you also completed two degrees concurrently in college —all funded by scholarships might we add…

How did you manage to study abroad for over five years and what would you advice young girls striving for the same to do?

I was fortunate enough to go and study in the US with the help of Zawadi Africa Education Fund, a program that provides scholarships to bright young girls who show leadership potential. I discovered Zawadi Africa while in high school and I think my taking initiative to actually want to be part of the program got me the scholarship I needed to go for further studies.

Then, I was awarded a scholarship by Meredith College where I studied Mathematics and Civil Engineering. I think figuring out what it is you want to do in life, early in life, is key in helping you achieve your goals. I knew what I wanted to be and I saw that this school in particular would allow me a chance to do a dual degree so I took the opportunity.

Being in school for five years as opposed to the traditional four meant a lot of balancing and multi-tasking on my part but every minute was worth it.

As for my Masters, I applied the same method, I looked for schools that had the course I wanted, looked up scholarship opportunities within those schools and applied. I was never scared or apprehensive about either application, I just saw an opportunity and went for it.

There have been instances when there was public opposition from your taxi drivers about changes within the company such as drastic price cuts.

How did you handle this public conflict?

For me, it’s very important to believe in what I do. It’s very important to believe in the impact the work that I do has in my community, in my city and in my country. It helps that my background is in urban planning so I have a holistic view in terms of what is going on.

When you believe in what you do, most of the time you have to set the misconceptions straight. When people are talking negatively about the work that you are doing or the impact the company has, more often than not, it’s always about misinformation or miscommunication.

Kagure Wamunyu: Tell things from your perspective and believe it as you say it. Click To Tweet

I handled this public conflict through telling my story, as it is very important to set the record straight, first and foremost. Tell things from your perspective and believe it as you say it. I always see opposition as an opportunity to grow, it gives me a reason to dig deeper into my work and see what the problem is and explain to them exactly what I meant by my decision.

Kagure addressing the media during the Mombasa Price Reduction Press Conference
Kagure addressing the media during the Mombasa Price Reduction Press Conference

What tips do you have for those interested in joining the technology/urban planning field?

For those interested in this field, and this is especially to the women; we always feel like technology is all about coding and programming which by the way, I can do neither. There are so many other things you can do in the world of technology and it’s just a matter of taking the leap.

Be good at what you do now, be good at what you have chosen. Be it communications, urban planning, legal studies or engineering. Should you decide you want to be part of the technology sector, know that these companies need all these different functions to work. So if you have perfected your niche, whatever field it may be in, you will be able to find opportunities in the tech world.

At the same time, find out what it is the tech companies look for, research on which direction the field is moving towards and improve and groom yourself for that role.

Kagure Wamunyu: If you have perfected your niche, you will be able to find opportunities Click To Tweet

What has been the proudest moment of your career?

In May earlier this year, we announced a partnership with Sidian Bank for USD$100 million in financing for the drivers within Uber. I had been involved from the very beginning of this ground-breaking deal, from concept to crafting and execution to eventually closing said deal.

I’m very proud about it because this vehicle financing goes to the drivers. Drivers are traditionally paid about $200 per month, making it very difficult for them to access a traditional loan. With this deal, they would be able to access a loan of about $13-15,000 with zero down payment and at the market rate they wouldn’t have to pay a premium.

The impact that this is having on people’s lives…I’m very proud of that. It’s gratifying to see the drivers becoming entrepreneurs and small business owners.

 

Kagure inset with the Cabinet Secretary of the ICT ministry, Joe Mucheru alongside the GMs of both Sidian Bank and Uber East Africa, during the launch of the multi-million dollar deal.
Kagure inset with the Cabinet Secretary of the ICT ministry, Joe Mucheru alongside the GMs of both Sidian Bank and Uber East Africa, during the launch of the multi-million dollar deal.

You recently organized a luncheon in honour of the women drivers at Uber. Why was it important to you to celebrate them?

The field of transportation for a long time has not been a field for women. This is something that I’m very passionate about changing while I’m working in this industry. Uber does offer safe, reliable transportation so it allows the women to take on the job, when they never thought they could before because they didn’t have a guarantee of safety.

In addition, Uber provides women quite a bit of flexibility in that they can drive whenever they are free to drive instead of being restricted to a fixed schedule. The women at Uber chose to join our unconventional way of doing things because it not only provides them a second income but it allows them to still work their full-time jobs, tend to their families and work with Uber at their convenience.

Women who are looking to build themselves and are doing so by being a part of this group is something exciting to see. I would like to see this all over Kenya, so this is why I chose to celebrate them.

Lastly, what mantra do you live by?

I live by two mantras. One was beautifully said by Ory Okolloh during a speech I attended; “Doing what you love has a formula: To do what you love, you have to be excellent at what you’re doing right now”.

I really believe in that because if you do really well wherever you are right now, it opens up opportunities that you may never even have imagined.

The second is; “Be like a duck, just dive in and kick really hard to stay afloat because sinking is not an option”.

Kagure Wamunyu: If you do really well wherever you are right now, it opens up opportunities Click To Tweet

You may be faced with various challenges in your life that make you think; ‘Oh gosh, what did I just get into, this is way above my depth, I don’t think I can do this…’ But you know what you should say instead —‘I’m going to try my hardest, I’ll tap into all the resources I have, use my network and figure out how to handle whatever difficult situation may have been thrown my way.’


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Victoria Mbabazi: I’ve learnt that age is no guarantee of maturity

victoria mbabazi she leads africa

Take a minute to consider that what you watch on TV could determine your future business. Growing up, Victoria Mbabazi spent a lot of time watching the Food Channel. She experimented with different recipes and wanted to study food production at university but was instead advised to study Software Engineering.

It all turned out great because now, Victoria’s three passions are culinary art, technology and agriculture. In 2013, she started Kahwa2Go, a cafe and restaurant with her business partner and mentor. She also works with technology innovation, encouraging women in the tech.

Victoria was part of the 1,000 African entrepreneurs selected by the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Program (TEEP) in 2015. Read on to learn about Victoria’s the 40/60 approach to working, her four skills for running a cafe/restaurant and being judged by others as a young #MotherlandMogul.


What launched your interest in the culinary industry?

Once upon a time there was a little girl who loved nothing more than school and play time. As life would have it, play time slowly dwindled away as is the norm for many when all the elder brothers and sisters head out to boarding school.

As luck would have it, I spent most of my lazy days watching the Food Network channel and experimenting with different recipes as my mum made lunches and dinners. I paid no mind to it; it was something fun to do, period.

The first call to fate was when I was joining university in 2012, my gut feeling was I should pursue a food production and hospitality course. However, I was advised that this was not yet a lucrative industry in Uganda thus the Software Engineering course I opted for.

I worked in the technology eco-system all through my four-year course and along the way I met my now business partner who is very passionate about entrepreneurship. He mentored me into both the technology and entrepreneurship industries and before we knew it, we had merged our two passions —culinary art and entrepreneurship. We have been at it since 2013.

Tell us about Kahwa2Go. What do you seek to fulfill with the products/services you provide?

The birth of Kahwa2Go was quite immaculate, my business partner and I first spoke of the concept on the eve of Christmas in 2013. Kahwa2Go is a Ugandan trademarked business of The 2Go Guys Limited providing a quick service, convenient food place for the middle class, commuters, urban dwellers, families or colleagues that are looking for an opportune meeting and co-working point in Ntinda.

Our food menu is a blend of modern fine dining whole meals with a touch of delicious fresh homemade snacks. We also offer a variety of coffee beverages, juices, milkshakes and teas, all with an option of takeaway or dine-in.

Kahwa2Go is already signed up on Uganda’s most visited online food ordering platform, Jumia Food. We also have a steady growth of both new customers from social media and repeat customers.

Kahwa2Go is competing in a market size of 1 million middle class potential customers in Kampala. This market is shared by less than 50 upscale (white collar) restaurants. It’s this fact here that provides an opportunity for us to venture into the food industry.

signature-milkshake

How did you go about setting it up?

The initial concept of Kahwa2Go was to establish coffee carts along the streets of Kampala. This did not come to pass due to regulations by the city authority.

In mid-2014, we got some space in an innovation hub, set up one espresso machine and served an average of ten people per day. We embraced our share of lessons and in June 2015, we launched as the first coffee shop to partner with Vivo Energy Uganda at one of their fuel stations in the city center.

Our menu was simple but creative comprising of different hot and cold beverages as well as snacks and casual meals that our customers would enjoy in our fifteen-seater space. This year (2016), we set out to maximize KahwaGo’s potential, closed operations with Vivo Energy and opened an ambient, fully-fledged restaurant and café seating an average of fifty people situated in Ntinda; the heart of one of Kampala’s suburbs.

Our core principles of execution were minimalism, leverage, negotiation and user-centered design. We understood our limits and combatted them head-on by equipping ourselves with adequate knowledge and exposure about the culinary industry as well as entrepreneurship through programs like the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Program (TEEP) and the CURAD Agribusiness incubator program.

Also, we have a 40/60 rule when it comes to getting work done. We spend 40% of our time planning and ensuring that we have the right people, organizational and operational structures, equipment and most importantly the knowledge to execute our business road map.

What four skills have you found necessary to run a restaurant and cafe? Why are they necessary?

The fundamental areas of competence are;

  • having the basics of accounting,
  • great passion about customer service,
  • creative marketing and
  • a firm grip on management.

From inception, it is paramount to understand your work; your product and systems. This will holistically inform what kind of marketing strategy to implement.

Once you know your customers, you then dive into discovering what kind of experience they expect considering the fact that you want to create a loop of loyal clientele.

Accounting is a core because you need to understand how money and other resources get in and out, the menu pricing models and be able to interpret the sales and expenses of the business at the bare minimum.

Lastly, great management is the adhesive component that will ensure the employees continually work as a team to understand the all-round needs of the business in peak and off peak seasons.

kahwa2go-full-view

What were the unexpected challenges you encountered while starting out?

We knew right from the beginning that starting a business would not be a walk in the park. Being a relatively young entrepreneur at 25 years old, the most astonishing challenge faced thus far is being judged by people based on age vis-a-vis passion and abilities.

The intimidation has taught us that ‘age is no guarantee of maturity’ and successful entrepreneurship is about passion, creative execution and perseverance, the rest is secondary.

As someone who has achieved so many awards through your initiatives, what more can we expect from you?

The awards are a remarkable experience and the lessons learnt payback a hundredfold when you start to implement your dream.

At the forefront of my ambitions is nurturing Kahwa2Go into a self-sustaining and nation-wide recognized restaurant brand but also creating jobs for 50 young people in the next 2 years.

On the technology side, my immediate goal is to mentor more young ladies into the innovation ecosystem. My long term vision is to successfully cross-fertilize the 3 sectors I am passionate about —culinary art, technology and agriculture— to not only inspire the next generation entrepreneurs but also build a legacy.


If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here.

Twitter Chat with Evelyn Namara: Why we need women in tech

women in tech evelyn namara

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There is no reason for all of this emphasis on women in tech. If women aren’t good at math then they should study ‘easy’ subjects. 

If you’ve ever heard any of these disparaging statements and thought “that simply isn’t true,” then you don’t want to miss our upcoming twitter chat on Thursday Oct. 6th. We’ll be discussing ways to support young women in tech, looking past stereotypes and how to prepare for a career in tech. Technology isn’t just for men so let’s make sure women have access to the industry as well.

Join us Thursday Oct. 6th for a twitter chat with Ugandan entrepreneur, Evelyn Namara, who is the founder and CTO of !nnovate Uganda. !nnovate Uganda uses technology to solve social problems and makes it easier to get development projects done.

If you are a woman interested in the tech industry, then you don’t want to miss this chat. If you think the tech industry isn’t for women, then you DEFINITELY shouldn’t miss this chat. We need to set you straight.

Follow She Leads Africa on twitter and use the hashtag #SLAChats to ask your questions and participate in the discussion.

Topics that we’ll cover:

  • What the tech industry is like for women in Africa
  • Why the tech industry needs more women
  • What you can do to support African women in technology
  • How to prepare for a career in technology
  • The steps you should take to start your technology business

Twitter chat details

  • Date: Thursday Oct. 6, 2016
  • Time: 12pm NYC // 5pm Lagos // 7pm Kampala
  • Location: Follow She Leads Africa on twitter and use the hashtag #SLAChats

Women in tech Evelyn Namara

About Evelyn Namara

Evelyn is the Founder and CTO of !nnovate Uganda, a technology start-up that is implementing technology interventions for social and humanitarian programs. Their flagship product, an electronic voucher system has been used by over fifteen thousand small holder farmers to redeem seed crops under a USAID program implemented by MercyCorps. She’s also the vice chair of the ICT Association of Uganda.

Evelyn has previously worked as Regional Manager – East Africa for Beyonic Limited that offers a SaaS platform for organizations to help them move beyond cash to using electronic payments. She’s also held a role of Country Director for Solar Sister, a social enterprise that empowers women with economic opportunity using the breakthrough potential of solar technology. Evelyn is passionate about tech innovations, entrepreneurship and women in technology.

Jeanette Theu: When you try to be like someone else you limit yourself

Jeanette Theu

Women in tech will likely remain a buzz word for a while. Tech is one of those industries that everyone would like to see more of a gender balance in. Jeanette Theu is one woman trying to correct that balance. The marketing manager for MTN Business Private Sector, Jeanette has experience in both the enterprise and startup worlds.

In her pursuit of greatness and helping more people, she started a non-profit organization, GirlCode with her best friend. The organization aims to help bridge the gender gap inherent in the IT industry.

Jeanette shares with SLA her non-profit startup, GirlCode, and her thoughts on women in the tech industry.


How did the idea of GirlCode come about?

GirlCode was originally the idea of my best friend, Zandile, who organized the first GirlCode hackathon in 2014.  I helped with the arrangements and onwards, we started brainstorming on how we could turn helping women through hackathons into a non-profit organization. The idea materialized in 2015 when we registered GirlCode as a nonprofit organisation.

The idea has grown since we first started. We now see GirlCode not only as a vehicle for empowering young women through hackathons, but also a vehicle for creating programmes to teach young women how to code.

We’re also planning on growing our brand to start having corporate challenges, and implementing the Women Go Digital initiative. With the hackathon happening this year, our aim is making it bigger and better.

We’ve enjoyed sponsorships from great partners like Standard Bank, Entelect, MTN, and Microsoft. Also, JoziHub has granted us their co-working space to hold the hackathon.

What is it like working with your friend?

I think being co-founders with my friend is not such a bad thing as we get to spend a lot of time working together. We understand each other, but working a full-time job in addition to running GirlCode can get a bit daunting.

So, it’s important working with people who can constantly motivate and push you to do better. I feel very motivated working with her. We’ve known each other for over a decade which makes it easier to be transparent.

What are some of the challenges that GirlCode faces?

The main challenge we faced at the beginning was trying to get sponsorships. People get excited at the fact that it’s an initiative for women in the IT space. But it’s a bit challenging getting them to actually put in the extra effort to help.

However, it’s been great having people actually wanting to help with the initiative. Some of our partners have been involved in trying to get our next hackathon off the ground.

Some others are helping to get more girls in the IT industry. It’s been inspiring to see these companies making a difference in helping girls bridge the gap.

How do you approach corporate organizations? Do you go in directly or approach the right person to help?

For us, it is finding that one person within a company that would be our ambassador. Someone who would be our voice within the company and fight for us 100%.

We’ve been fortunate to have a couple of these people in the various corporates we’ve approached.  They believe in what we do and try their best to help us.

What has been the motivating factor in making sure that GirlCode becomes a success?

It’s about making a difference in someone else’s life and bringing each other up. It’s all about using the knowledge we have for the greater good.

What are your thoughts on the level of involvement of women in technology in Africa? How can we get more women interested in technology?

We are making small strides but still have a long way to go. We have powerful women in the tech industry and I think they can also give back in some way. More women in the industry need to pull some of the girls up by offering advice. We need mentors. We need women to empower young girls.

We try our best at GirlCode but we need the seasoned/successful women to guide young girls in pursuing this career. More women should work on making a change in their respective fields and encourage other women.

Any advice you’d give to young women/girls wanting to join the tech industry and becoming the next Jeanette?

In terms of wanting to be the next Jeanette, I’ll paraphrase something I heard Shonda Rhimes say, ”If you try to be like someone else you will always be second best, but you can always be the best you.”

When you try to be like someone else you actually limit yourself. Yes, it’s important to aspire to be like someone, but always be true to yourself.


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Nisha Maharaj: Women in tech are admired, go and make things happen!

nisha mahaj woman in tech

Technology innovation is a buzz word across the continent. More investors are rewarding ideas that are disruptive and can be used to make meaningful change in people’s lives. Yet looking through lists of top African tech companies, you may need help finding the women. Enter Nisha Maharaj, the founder of Niche Integrated Solutions which sets up strategic partnerships and innovation platforms in South Africa.

Nisha readily dishes info on the South African tech scene and what it takes to succeed as a woman in tech.


What is the tech scene like in your country? Are there many women in it?

South Africa is advancing in the tech arena, but we can still learn from the tech leaders out there in the rest of the world. My context is to lead some of the best technologies in the world to Africa and vice versa. I also want to lead some of the best of South African technologies to the rest of the world.

Women in technology is always a subject of debate, yes there are many women on the forefront of the tech scene but I still find myself walking into a boardroom of 20 men and 1 woman. That one woman being myself. We need to make a serious effort to change this status quo!

Did you face any obstacles when you started your company? How did you overcome them?

Funding is always a challenge when you start off, new markets , new clients –always stressful. It takes perseverance to get through it and determination coupled with a good business plan is what sets you out from everyone else.  In a way, an entrepreneur learns best the hard way. You simply never give up –that should always be the motto.

I was lucky, I have friends amongst the global leading technology partners in the world and this has helped us close a few multi-million dollar deals in a very short space of time.

Your company is 100% women owned, is there any particular reason for this?

We are 100% black owned, 100% debt free, we have made 100% turnover as compared from one year to the next. The reason we are 100% women owned is simply because we are trying to show the world that women can be leaders in the technology arena as well !

What does it take to establish a successful technology business in Africa?

You need to make a thorough assessment of the technology innovation, critical studies and research on application. Then you need to be sure about your market. Having the best technologies in the world is pointless if you don’t have the right marketing strategy. The take to market and entry point is a critical success factor and if you can get this part right, success is inevitable.

If you could make a 30 second speech to young African women, what would it say?

I would say that Africa is an oyster of opportunity –technology is the one thing in life that will never remain constant. There will always be a demand for it. Women should be more courageous to take on this context of technology. Whether you are a sister, child, mother, grandmother, you don’t need to be a genius to own a technology company.

You simply need to have the business acumen to do well at it in order to thrive. Women in technology are admired, go out there and make it happen!


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I come from strength: What my mother and Africa taught me about entrepreneurship

Jumoke's Mother
“I come from strength.”
Those are words that I often utter to myself when it is late at night, I am tired, and I am still working. The reason why I remind myself of my foundation is because during those same hours I know that over 100 miles away there is an African woman who is just starting her work shift. She is my mother, a Nigerian woman.

The work ethic, resilience and fortitude of African women is nothing short of amazing. When I think about the fact that my mother completed her nursing schooling in Nigeria, moved to the United States then returned to school to become a nurse (again), I am in awe.

And she is just one of many African women with stories of sacrifice and determination that ultimately led to them achieving their personal and professional goals. It’s almost as if the continent breeds women who innately do what it takes to survive, adapt, and push past obstacles time and time again.

Long hours and late nights are just one of the many things that come with entrepreneurship. I accept it because it is the path that I chose. And as the daughter of an African woman I know that I am built for it. So… how did I get here? How did I become this “Legally AMBITIOUS” entrepreneur? Let me share…

Growing up, I was always considered the creative and outspoken one amongst my siblings therefore all roads seemed to point to me pursuing a law degree. However, I never made it to law school or pursued my interest in entertainment because when I got to college, I realized that I was strong in science and math so I decided to pursue a degree in Computer & Information Sciences. The course work was rigorous but in the end pursuing a STEM degree was the right decision.

After graduation, I immediately began working in the corporate world. I worked as an application developer and systems analyst for years but I still desired a creative outlet.

Eventually, I began networking and I realized that many of the women that I encountered were similar to me in that they had full-time jobs but other interests. I realized that there was a need to connect women to resources and each other so when an opportunity presented itself, I launched Signature RED.

Signature RED began as a company focused on women-targeted marketing. I built an extensive portfolio of events for clients and created the “Legally AMBITIOUS” brand: a series of fun yet educational networking events for women.

The purpose of the events was to equip women with different skills to help them make transitions in their careers and personal lives. Each event taught women a skill and provided an opportunity for networking, some of the events included Golf 101, Cars 101, Networking 101, Building Mobile Apps 101, and more.

In 2013, I began to make a transition of my own when I attended a tech event for women and it awakened my inner geek. During the event, emphasis was put on the need for more women to pursue STEM degrees and work in the technology industry.

The event was pivotal because it allowed me to realize that I could merge my computer science background, marketing skills, and my love for working with women into services for Signature RED.

It hasn’t been an easy road to navigate but today I provide technology consulting to companies and reinvention marketing strategies to women. Additionally,“Legally AMBITIOUS” events have more of a focus on women interested in tech.

Some of my forthcoming projects include creating resources and tools for women like TechWomenNetwork.com and TechiesWhoBrunch.com. My workday usually consists of managing tech projects during the day and working on everything else at night.

Entrepreneurship with all of its ups and downs is not for the weak or lazy because it requires a good work ethic and strength in many ways. My mother is not a businesswoman therefore she didn’t teach me about business but what she did teach me is to keep going. Pivot, start over… do whatever I need to do, just keep going.

I always reflect on those lessons and values. As the daughter of an African woman who walked miles to go to school at times carrying large items (on her head), I come from strength. Therefore when it comes to fatigue or handling all that comes with entrepreneurship, I will always do what it takes to move forward.

Omnia and Salma: We want to connect the Sudans using culture and technology

Omnia and Salma

Sudan and South Sudan have been under fire for decades from the perils of civil war, famine, poverty, corruption, Islamic jihad and other crisis that affect the countries politically, socially and economically as well as culturally. Omnia Shawkat and Salma Amin Saad decided to build a contemporary platform to voice independent opinions of the diverse, intelligent, and peaceful youth that diverge massively from the mainstream that places them in tiny status-quo boxes.

Omnia and Salma started the online magazine Andariya for Sudan & South Sudan in both English and Arabic to lifting our spirits, sharing contemporary analysis and opinions & promoting creative arts ideas and events. Since the launch of the magazine they’ve also launched a photography project titled “MyKhartoum” to show the beauty of the capital city with a series focused on Juba coming soon.

Omnia and Salma shared with us why online media is so important, why Andariya is different and what they’ve learned about organic growth. 


Why do you think digital media matters in Sudan and South Sudan?

Sudan and South Sudan have a shared cross-border culture that was severed along with the political ties in July 2011. The current generation witnessed a tough time of great polarization and we had no time to heal, reconcile or mend our broken matter when the political secession came upon. This need to open the road of communication is one great reason why digital media matters right now; it transcends boundaries.

The publishing industry is also lagging behind due to many factors (economic, censorship, access, language etc.) and a way to overcome some of these challenges and reach and engage a wider audience that is already online, beyond even the Sudans (there is a massive diaspora population from both countries) is through the use of digital media of various types.

What role would you like Andariya to play in the development of these two countries?

Our mandate is purely cultural, so if we are to perfect our mandate, the cultural footprint of the Sudans on the internet will be enhanced along with more offline engagement due to the conversations that spring up online. One underlying factor is to really connect both countries (both local and diaspora communities) over intersecting cultural values, opinions & aspirations. Both Sudans are in similar development stages, and cultural development is key in advancing all the other pillars of development.

Andariya Logo

What makes Andariya different from other youth-focused media platforms?

There are the basic building blocks of being a bi-lingual digital cultural platform for South Sudan and Sudan. We target a larger age group- for once, the “youth” or younger generation is online and discussing matters of importance to them in a common platform that welcomes all views.

More importantly, we are discussing issues that older generations have exclusively hashed out over the last few decades (i.e. identity issues, culture and acculturation, etc.) and adding our perspectives to the conversation.

Another differentiating factor is our belief in using different mediums to reach diverse audiences. We’re across social media platforms but slowly growing into creating online-offline campaigns to engage more people.

Can you share your favourite story from the platform and why?

The way our community was formed is both interesting and inspiring; we practically found each other as if we were long lost souls. We have an incredibly harmonious relationship with more than 50 community members across the world, and we treasure this the most.

For your business to get to the next level, would you prefer funding or a high-value mentor?

We’d prefer to have a mentor to help us reach that next level. We’re a very hands-on platform that organically adapts to challenges and opportunities and finding a mentor who can understand the climate we operate in and growth we’re aspiring to would be invaluable.

So far, we’ve taught ourselves what we discovered was needed, but a community of more than 50 people also means everyone brings wisdom and creativity to the table, so we’d like to think we’re currently being internally mentored.

What can we expect to see from Andariya over the next 6 months?

We’re launching a new website so we expect editorial growth. Our business model has shifted massively in the last four or five months so we’re experimenting with more offline engagement.

A few online projects are also in the works. We are actively pursuing expanding our network and partnerships base both inside the Sudans and outside.

What is the most important thing you’ve learned on your journey towards building Andariya?

Be flexible. Organic evolution can be disruptive but can also be harmonious.


Want to see women you know featured on SLA? Tell us what amazing things women are doing in your communities here.