The women and young girls of Africa are a powerful force for change, and it’s encouraging to see and hear about the many initiatives that are actively championing their rise.
Today, the low number of women holding positions of power, or those in various industries, is a global conversation within which the under-representation in the African tech arena is no exception.
On Wednesday 21st June, I attended a roundtable organised by the Africa Technology Business
Network to discuss unlocking the potential power women have as innovators, as well as a valuable consumer-base.
These were my key takeaways:
1.Empowering women and girls is good for business
Businesses are best placed to invest, empower and assist girls and women in realising their dreams and reaching their full potential. It’s not just the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do.
One organisation championing the empowerment of women is SPRING Accelerator. The company works alongside businesses to create sustainable markets for life-enhancing products and services that transform the lives of adolescent girls. Ramona Liberoff from SPRING gave an example of - EarthEnable. A company that changes floors to change lives. How? They remove the dirt floors on Rwandan houses and create an affordable customer-developed earthen covering at 75% of the cost of ceramic tiles. By so doing, they release the lives of young girls who would otherwise be exposed to cleaning dirty floors.
2. Women-led innovation can unlock untapped opportunities
Women understand the needs of women, making them best placed to innovate the solutions we create to address them.
#HerFutureAfrica, is an accelerator set up to equip young African women to launch high impact, technology-enabled business. Eunice Baguma Ball; the Founder, gave an example of one idea by their participants. NannyCab, an app which connects young, working mothers to qualified nannies. Their provision of trusted childcare not only enables women to build their careers, it also creates employment for underprivileged young women by training them as professional childminders.
3. Amplifying the voices of women and girls has a pivotal role to play
Girl Effect mobile provides a platform that connects girls to vital information, entertaining content and each other. Simon Graffy from Girl Effect explained the benefits of such projects. By increasing a girls’ basic knowledge about health, education, financial security and safety, we enable and empower them, build their self-confidence; give them a voice and an ability to overcome cultural barriers.
4. African Diaspora can play a leading role
Suffice to say, mentoring plays a huge part in shaping the future of generations up and coming. Can we bridge the gap between the diasporan female African migrants? We can, but technology itself will have a vital role to play in our success. A sizeable population of these migrants who have already made recognisable contributions to the west in many different industries, can be called to support the organisations and agencies already on the ground who are vastly improving the lives of women and young girls.
5. Challenges are complex, and a lot remains to be done
We can celebrate the extraordinary outcomes and identify the vast talent discovered through these creative projects; however, we need to recognise that we’ve barely scratched the surface.
There’s still a lot of work to do. A large percentage of girls still don’t attend school. There are several issues still to overcome, such as: access to health care, electricity and clean water, violence, sexual abuse and of course, dealing with a cultural mindset.
Rocio Perez-Ochoa, Co-founder and Director of Bidhaa Sasa; a social startup that finances and distributes household goods that can improve families' quality of life in rural Kenya, explained the painstaking task of trying to get her female employees to confidently speak up within the working environment. It’s a huge barrier. “We need to start reversing these effects of a patriarchal society while girls are young”.
These remaining hurdles alone open up a plethora of complexities. The tasks at hand seem insurmountable, but if we can find a way to leverage expertise from more business counterparts across the pond, we have hope.
About the Author
Desiree Joule-Adam is the Head of Customer Development at iProtégé, a foundation stage start-up created to merge innovation and personal development. Their goal is to develop software that will give direction and support to nurture women on their career path or in business and bridge the gap between where they are now and where they want to get to.