The WeTech team recently had the privilege of interviewing Chisenga Muyoya, one of the 17 Seed Fund grantees, about her experience as a 2014 Mandela Washington Fellow. Learn more about this opportunity.
When sharing her experience in the United States as part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship, Chisenga mentioned how honored she was to have been selected from the thousands of applicants. She then talked about how grateful she was for being able to meet Fellows from nearly all of the countries in Africa. Everyone enjoyed talking to each other and learning from one another. It was a great opportunity for her to network and meet people with similar interests. As she put it, “we are much stronger if we work together.”
She was impressed by the way the faculty at Arizona State University taught. They were clearly passionate about what they were teaching and encouraged the Fellows to think outside the box. It was a really powerful thing for her to witness as back home in Zambia, schools often focus on staying in line with the textbook.
Chisenga also said that even though it was a very intense and busy six weeks, it was also a positive and eye-opening experience.
The highlight of her trip was the people she met. She was amazed by how the faculty and team leaders took care of the Fellows and went out of their way to make feel them at ease. She really enjoyed spending time with the other Fellows, especially on Sundays. Because so many of the participants deeply missed the food from their home countries, several of the Fellows in Phoenix gathered for dinners on Sunday nights and would take turns cooking a traditional meal from their country.
The final question we posed was about the trip’s impact on her and her organization. She believes that this experience will help improve the overall quality of her organization. She is planning on extending Asikana’s work to college girls. She wants to do more than just teach the girls about STEM; she wants to encourage them to think outside the box and be creative.
Learn more about her project supported by the WeTech Seed Fund
Learn more about Chisenga and Asikana Network’s work at their website
The WeTech team had the privilege to interview WeTech Seed Fund grantee Emma Dicks, co-lead of Innovate South Africa. Emma received a Seed Fund grant for her Code for Cape Town (Code4CT) project, which introduces high school girls in South Africa to web-building skills for social impact.
Emma has recently been awarded the Queen’s Young Leaders Award. The winners receive 9 months of training, mentoring and networking, which includes a week-long residential program in the UK in June 2015 during which they will be given their Award by the Queen.
Emma is passionate about helping South Africans find innovative and sustainable solutions to the problems faced by their country. Innovate South Africa is a way for her to realize this. ISA started as a group of friends running a small innovation challenge in Cape Town during university. They went to schools in the community and asked the students what problems they saw, asked them to come up with innovative solutions and provided the best ideas with the necessary funds and mentors to build prototypes.
In 2014, this turned into a registered organization, known as Innovate South Africa, which she now runs with her friend, Stefan Louw and a great team of volunteers and interns.
This is when she applied for the WeTech Seed Fund grant, which arrived at just the right time to expand Innovate South Africa’s reach to include a program specifically to involve girls in using tech to solve problems.
Code4CT, a project of Innovate SA, started with 25 girls last year and is increasing to 75 this year. Those girls will be attending a 3 week camp this July during which they will be taught web development. Emma expressed her excitement about how this project was able to gain momentum so quickly. One thing that gave her great hope about her project was that some of the girls who attended the camp last year felt confident enough to redo their schools’ websites in their spare time. After this, Emma hooked them up with a hackathon during which the girls created a very useful app called “TaxiFind”.
So far Innovate SA has been a great adventure, but Emma has encountered some challenges along the way. One of the main challenges she dealt with was the amount of pressure she was putting on herself. It has been a learning experience for her to step back and realize that the pressure mostly came from her own demands and expectations, not from others. As a young woman, she has had to deal with not receiving the same respect that make counterparts would.
Other than that, she said that Innovate SA has been a fulfilling experience. She has been able to use all of her skills, creative as well as technical, and has the freedom to do everything she wants to do. And, thanks to the funding from WeTech, she was able to show potential partners and sponsors that she can properly manage and account for the grant money received, which made it easier to receive additional funding to keep her project going.
Moving forward, Emma plans to expand the program to include after-school trainings that address industry needs. By doing so, she will create a pipeline for the girls into the local industry.
In addition to expanding the program in Cape Town, she plans to package Code4CT so that other people can use it throughout South Africa. Her ultimate goal is to help South Africans understand that they have the power to create the solutions they want to see and to see youth being proactive in gaining skills.
The WeTech Team recently had the opportunity to speak with Linda Ansong, the Co-founder and President of STEMbees, one of our Round 2 Seed Fund grantees. Ms. Ansong is an alumni of Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology where she obtained her B.S. degree in Actuarial Science, before continuing to the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST) and co-founding Vestracker, a software startup in the MEST Incubator.
Check out the interview below to learn more about how Linda and STEMbees are working in Ghana to encourage and mentor more young African women to pursue their dreams and careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
- What made you decide to become an engineer?
I have always been interested in this field. Growing up, I liked video games and sci-fi and was intrigued by how we can use technology to solve problems. The first time I was introduced to coding was after high school. This is when I decided to study software engineering. After my training, I started a software company. During my studies, I noticed that there were a very small number of girls in each class. This made me realize the need to empower more girls and that is how STEMbees came to be.
- Were you mentored in any way? If so, how did it impact you and your choices?
I did not really have a mentor but my time at MEST, Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology, was close to that kind of experience. It was challenging but really worth it. I was able to interact with and learn from people coming from different parts of the world. One of the teachers there really inspired me when he said: "Talent is talent everywhere. As long as you have the skills, you can make it."
- Have you encountered any challenges with working with girls?
The biggest challenge is the education system, which affects both girls and boys equally. It is really stiff here [in Ghana]. Students have a tight schedule and the schools are not necessarily open to the idea of training girls in STEM. Another challenge was finding mentors. We need to conduct a very thorough screening as the mentors work with young girls, so that was quite a process to manage.
- Any successes you want to share?
The STEMbees Coders Hive 5-day technology camp held in January this year was amazing. We exposed 50 girls ages 9 to 18 to software development and even built a piano using cardboard! We had a two -hour workshop with girls who had never coded before and they were able to learn over 100 lines of code. The girls really enjoyed the camp and learned a lot.
- Do you have any tips for people who want to help girls in STEM or the girls who want to enter STEM careers?
It is tough to enter STEM but remember that girls are strong and smart. By persevering and working hard, you can do it! If you want to help girls in STEM, you can start with just one girl. By mentoring her and providing her with support, you will change that girl's life.
- How has your connection with WeTech and the WeTech network helped you and your project?
The WeTech network provides me with moral support. Knowing that other organizations are out there is comforting! Being able to talk to them is even better, as you can get feedback and bounce ideas off of each other. Also, being part of the network and receiving this Seed Fund grant helped lend our organization more credibility, making it easier to receive funding from other sources.
- Can you share with us any next steps for STEMbees?
Our next step is to train girls ages 18 to 22 for a whole year and teach them how to start their own software company. We want to pursue mobile learning opportunities and have a bus that is equipped with computers and an internet connection available to travel throughout Ghana. This will enable us to reach more girls.
Learn more about her project supported by the WeTech Seed Fund
Yunusa Zakari Ya’u is a prime example of activism in action! As Executive Director of the Centre of Information Technology and Development (CITAD), he has been working hard to implement a project called Empowering Women and Girls for ICT-based Small Scale Entrepreneurship with the WeTech Seed Fund grant he received. Below, he gives us his insights on the landscape of girls STEM education in northern Nigeria and why he thinks it’s so important!
How did you get involved with CITAD?
In the early 1980s when I was lecturing at Bayero University, Kano, we introduced a course unit called Information Technology (IT) as an optional course for final year students. At the time, IT was only a concept. I taught the course for about three years and the students liked the course, but it was not generally understood as something useful by the education administration so it was soon phased out. However, I sought for an alternative platform to continue to teach IT knowledge to people who were interested. This was what led to my teaming with some of my colleagues to establish the Computer Literacy Project (CLP), an informal platform devoted to providing computer training to students and others. Later, we transformed the CLP into the Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD), and I resigned from my appointment with the university to work full-time for this new organization.
What has struck you the most as a man working to help create opportunities for women and girls in STEM in your country?
As a student activist, I was exposed to the various dimensions of human rights which included the rights of women to lead a full life unencumbered by patriarchy. I came to recognize that women, like men, are capable of succeeding in any profession they want and became a gender equity and justice advocate to assist women in realizing their potential.
There is also a personal angle to my work. I have three lovely daughters and do not want any society to circumscribe what they should study. Luckily, they have done well with subjects such as computer engineering, medicine and urban planning. The success of my daughters made me feel guilty seeing other girls not having the same opportunities to excel, which has spurred me to become more committed in seeking avenues for girls and women to engage with STEM and computer literacy. Some of my colleagues find my passion as odd, but others who have known my activist trajectory see this as the logical culmination of my involvement in human rights advocacy.
What have been some of the challenges you have encountered?
There are many challenges. I live in an environment that is not only deeply patriarchal with its notions of the place of women and girls in society, but also where professional education, especially for women, is not seen as priority. At first, our organization was not getting the support it needed as even school principals did not seem to care much if girls were studying STEM in their schools. We also faced the challenge of how to convince girls and parents in rural communities to think of having a career in the computer profession when all they see around them are the daughters of their neighbors getting married and becoming full-time housewives.
We were challenged by the nonchalant attitudes of ministry officials whose partnerships we wanted in order to reach the schools. We were challenged by the need to interest women that they could still learn computer skills and make professional use of these skills. We were also challenged by the fact that our trainers were mainly male, which did not provide sufficient role models for the women and girls.
What are some success stories you can share with us?
Our advocacy has succeeded in getting government agencies in Nigeria to take the need for creating opportunities for girls and women to excel in computer-related professions more seriously. As of today, we have requests from more than 30 girls secondary schools for us to teach their students. We have already commenced training for schools within Kano to provide training to girl students in our facility every Wednesday and Thursday.
We have also been able to inspire women's organizations to see the issue of providing computer training for their members as a means for empowerment. Thus, organizations such as Women Farmers Network (WOFAN), Federal of Muslims Women Associations of Nigeria (FOWMAN) and Voice of Widows, Divorcees and Orphans Association of Nigeria have now established computer training units and are running training programs for women. With our partners and teachers, we have demanded that our government provide computer facilities in the schools for girls. This has resulted in the building and equipping of a computer training laboratory for Government Girls Secondary School, Dakata, a joint effort of the PTA and government.
Overall, we have also conducted more trainings than we had planned, especially for female teachers, which has been one of the most effective ways of getting role models for our schoolgirls.
What are your recommendations for others who want to help women in STEM?
First, they should approach STEM from the standpoint of empowering women to have career opportunities. Secondly, those who want more women in STEM must be determined in their advocacy, for much of it is about getting people, including the women themselves, to change their mindset. Third, strategic alliances are critical. We were able to get several reform-minded people within our society to work with us to get through to relevant key stakeholders that served as our gatekeepers in getting through to both the schools and the women population outside the school system
How has the WeTech Network helped you with your project?
The WeTech Network has helped us in several ways. One was that we drew inspiration from the work other people and organizations within the network were doing. If they could do it, why not us? Secondly, we also learned a few things from others in how to make STEM and computer training more playful so participants are really interested and engaged. Thirdly, it also helps to know that what we are doing here is not just an isolated thing but something whose time has come. If we do not change, we will find ourselves at the bottom of the ladder. Through WeTech, we have also met a number of female role models who have joined our advocacy efforts and increased our pool of female trainers, which is important for helping our girl participants overcome their inhibitions.
What is next for CITAD?
We shall continue to support schools in providing computer training opportunities for girls, especially working to build the capacity of both school and educational authorities in order to provide STEM-related trainings to their students. We are also working with women's organizations to provide similar types of trainings and, of course, we will continue to pursue other ways to include more women in STEM.