The road ahead in building the Kenyan tech ecosystem: Perspectives from #WomenInTechKE

We are a subset of women who have been involved in the building of Kenya’s renown tech ecosystem; many of us have been a part of it right from the get-go.

We were there when we were 1 in 5; when women were exceptions rather than the norm in these spaces. We’ve rocked the t-shirts at events. We have organised weddings, funerals, hospital visits and baby showers together. We have worked with and around the people involved in the recent sexual harassment case reported at Ushahidi.

We have worked behind the scenes and worked in front of the scenes alike.

We may not be the most visible, but we are present.

We are a representation of women who came into the Kenyan tech scene and owned that space to make it women friendly; a space where women could walk in, feel they belong, have a voice and hold a stake in the tech ecosystem.

We are extremely proud of the increasing numbers of women in the Kenyan tech ecosystem — from entrepreneurs to managers alike. All belong in this growing community.

We celebrate this extraordinary achievement. We will continue to build on it. We trust that others will too.

These, however, are perspectives we hope will resonate not only with women, but with all stakeholders in the Kenyan tech ecosystem.

We’ve been following events over the last few weeks, and are deeply shocked and gutted by what happened.

Collectively,

  1. We salute Angela Kabari, for her courage to speak out about this deeply hurtful, terrible experience.
  2. We are in solidarity with her and all other victims who cannot speak up.
  3. We assure them that we will continue to support them no matter what, and together we will continue to build a tech ecosystem in Kenya where women thrive.
  4. We are committed to not only build our tech ecosystem, but also ensure it is a space that is safe and secure for any woman to work.
  5. We STRONGLY DENOUNCE and CONDEMN the actions of Daudi Were.

The fact that Daudi has since been dismissed is a significant win in the quest for justice. It also reinforces our belief that the good work that has been done in the budding institutions and organisations within this ecosystem must not be razed down to the ground because of the actions of (an) individual(s).

This sexual harassment case has been a wake up call for all of us in the ecosystem. We’ve been in a comfort zone, believing that everyone shared the same high ideals. This case has reminded us that there are always actors among us who can undermine and hurt the people, relationships and institutions we are working towards propelling. We need to be prepared.

We believe that these events offer us all important lessons to carry forward as we continue to collectively work on realising the visions, hopes and aspirations of a thriving, diverse and inclusive Kenyan technology ecosystem.

The revelations that this safe and secure space had been violated have elicited varied reactions. At its core, it is undeniable that all of us are gutted and that we all remain committed to ensuring the tech ecosystem remains safe and secure for all women.

Our vision for the ecosystem

The future of Kenyan tech is bright. Women will be leading and building the future of the tech scene alongside our male counterparts.

It is however very clear, that we are at a critical juncture in the tech ecosystem, and at this point we would like to thank the people who have helped build and cement the name and reputation of the Kenyan tech ecosystem; it is off their hard work that we continue to build upon. Many of these luminaries and catalysts have been cornerstones of the institutions that many of us have worked in, and continue to work in.

Specifically, we’d like to acknowledge the founders of all the startups that, together, have nurtured a community and ecosystem. By coming together, you created ground zero, later dubbed the “Silicon Savannah”, a template and reference point for how the tech ecosystem has grown and diversified — as well as a model that other African countries continue to aspire to. It continues to show that organic clusters are a sure-fire way to nurture innovation ecosystems. Thank you for being the giants on whose shoulders we have stood.

There have been dreamers and builders along the way. Those doing the building are just as valid as those who do the dreaming and initial cultivating. History shows us that those who do the building, are predominantly women; we salute all the builders and implementers of founders’ visions — men and women alike.

We will not allow the dreams and all the building to be shattered by one person— there is no room in the ecosystem for anyone or any organisation that believe sexual harassment is acceptable.

Next steps

We applaud the efforts to build and discussions around policy guidelines and templates for organizations to address such incidents in the future with appropriate timelines, response mechanisms et cetera, that organisations should have in place to respond to complaints about sexual harassment.

Going forward, we think the following should guide our thinking and actions:

  • How might we use these incidences to learn and grow as a community?
  • Young women are looking to us to set a precedent on how we handle such issues and how we demand such issues be handled.
  • We appreciate that not all women were able to speak up as these revelations unfolded. This silence should not be mistaken for condoning sexual harassment. We must continue to support and speak for those who were not able to.
  • Everyone has their own way of reacting. These events have set triggers in many that we may not be aware of. We must create safe spaces for women to react as they deem fit. We must leave room for women to heal in their own way. We applaud the convening scheduled for July 25th, to address Gender-Based Issues in the Workplace, and hope that it will be a solid building-block going forward.

Finally, we must separate personalities and individuals, from institutions and industries. Any personal scores must remain personal, and not be used for witch hunts to drag down institutions that we are building, as it negates the good work of the women working at these institutions.

We welcome any thoughts and comments moving forward. We also welcome other men and women to endorse this statement by commenting below, sharing, liking or tweeting it #WomenInTechKE.

Signed

Angela Oduor Lungati

Anne Salim

Anna Iosif

Barbara Muriungi

Carolyn Commons

Celestine Kakai

Dorothy Ooko

Elizabeth Gikebe

Hazel Mugo

Irene Wairimu

Janet Shikami

Jess Shorland

June Mwangi

Linda Kamau

Marie Githinji

Mercy Deche

Nanjira Sambuli

Nasubo Ongoma

Nivi Sharma

Nyandia Kamawe

Priscilla Nthenya

Ruth Wairimu

Sheila Zubeda

Terry Wambui

Tess Wandia

Waringa Wagema