The GPS
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The GPS

Digital transformation and women participation

It feels like everyone is talking about it. Global initiatives have incorporated it. Policies have been altered to honor it. Holidays have been created to celebrate it. And yet, with 2030 only a decade away, we seem so far from achieving it.

In 2015, world leaders pledged to ‘build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusiveness, sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation’ and to ‘achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’ by 2030, as part of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Five years down the line, it is shocking to think that almost 90% of people are still biased against women, according to the first gender social norm index. The report further highlights the deplorable extent of the global backlash towards gender equality, explaining that ‘while in some countries, there have been improvements, in others, attitudes appear to have worsened in recent years, signaling that progress cannot be taken for granted.’ Realizing the vision of digital transformation across the African continent, where women are leaders in innovation, tech and industry is still a long way from being realized.

Half of the world’s population consists of women and girls, and with this, half of the world’s potential. So it stands to reason that working toward a more inclusive STEM world for women is as relevant today as it was then.

After all, the impact of economic development and its attendant quality of life rests largely on the shoulders of science, technology, and innovation. In Africa especially, the participation of women and girls in science is crucial for development as ‘most female-led enterprises have tremendous potential for growth in the burgeoning tech sector, with sub-Saharan Africa boasting the world’s highest rate of women entrepreneurs at 27%’ (UN report on women in entrepreneurship, 2018).

However, issues including ‘gender stereotyping, a lack of visible role models and unsupportive — or even hostile — policies and environments, at a national level’ has seen women and girls remain “woefully under-represented”, explains the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres.

Leveraging ICT Technologies will speed up women’s digital inclusion in key sectors of national economies and overcoming cultural impediments will need more support and opportunities that guarantee freedom and flexibility in women’s quest to succeed (Global Gender Gap Report, 2020).

Fortuitously, industries across the world are adopting digital technologies and triggering a new wave of innovation that is preparing women for a digital future, with organizations like the UN giving full support by making technology a key focus for their Women’s Innovation Strategy for 2018–2021.

Avenues are being created for the growth of personal and professional skills that are required to succeed in the digital space through organizations such as MEST and we see women-owned businesses on the rise, with technology playing a key role in making their business growth accessible and global.

An example of how women have incorporated tech into every fabric of their trade is Eunice Cofi, a beauty brand builder for people of color. Eunice is successfully combining traditional African medicine with modern science to create world-class products for people of color, harnessing her passion for science powered by technology, to make a difference in people’s lives, and at the same build a new global health and beauty powerhouse through digital transformation.

Another dynamo using digital transformation to disrupt how women and girls talk about the highly sensitive topic of reproductive health is Samirah Maison, founder of Massira, an online forum for women to openly and safely discuss topics on our mental, sexual and reproductive health.

While businesses such as these are encouraging, global benchmarks indicate it is necessary to create platforms for innovative start-ups to get capital investment to grow and sustain themselves. This is essential because not having cash available is still one of the top 3 reasons for a startup to fail, according to CBInsights. The Kauffman Foundation further explains that women start businesses with about half as much capital, compared to men and about half of women entrepreneurs have difficulty finding mentors, which compromises the speed of learning and results in a lack of connections that negatively influences a business’s success greatly.

One of the ways to overcome these challenges is through accelerators for women, designed around the unique understanding of the female journey through entrepreneurship in the technology industry. Initiatives like ‘Tech By Her’, a female-focused accelerator for founders of tech businesses help to develop female entrepreneurs in the very early stages, building an inclusive space for them and providing key resources including mentorship, capacity building, networking and opportunities to pitch for funding. It seeks to empower them to take a more active role in the digital economy.

According to MEST’s Head of Business Development, Delila Kidanu, the project lead for Tech By Her,

“across the African continent, there is a growing technology ecosystem. This rise has shed light on a growing gender disparity. Females are entering the space at a slower rate than their male counterparts and this is even less when we look at female tech founders. The Tech by Her accelerator is highlighting this issue by identifying female technology founders across the continent, with the aim of building an African network of female tech founders. These individuals are selected to share their experiences and to leverage each other’s know-how to build an inclusive technological industry on the continent.”

In offering a useful approach and structure for such female-led startups to scale and enter global markets, the program promotes females creating solid networks among themselves, to connect and dialogue on how to create further opportunities for other women in the industry, while serving as role models for aspiring tech entrepreneurs. More importantly, it creates an avenue for like-minded organizations led by girls/women in the digital sector to network and collaborate on programs, businesses, and ideas that create more visibility and prospects for others like them.

At its root, the prioritization and nurturing of girls at a young age to fully immerse themselves in STEM courses is likely to increase the participation of women in the digital space which leads to economic empowerment and sustainable growth. While we work to create a world that accommodates this ideal, the current crop of female founders must be supported on their journey, to succeed and serve as role models for the younger generation.

‘Tech By Her’ is currently recruiting for its 2020 cohort and female founders in Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria are welcome to apply via bit.ly/techbyher.

About Tech By Her

Powered by MEST with support from the Tech Entrepreneurship Initiative, ‘Make-IT in Africa’, (implemented by Deutsche für Gesellschaft Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, The Tech By Her Accelerator is an industry-agnostic program to empower 10 female founders of early-stage tech companies in Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria. The focus of the program is to address the challenges faced by female tech entrepreneurs in Africa. It also aims to nurture girls to take up courses in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (S.T.E.M) while mentoring some of the continent’s most ambitious female entrepreneurs.

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The largest Africa-wide technology entrepreneur training program, internal seed fund, and network of hubs offering incubation for startups: www.meltwater.org