Fight­ing racism with tech­nol­ogy

New group us­ing so­cial me­dia to di­ver­sify tech sec­tor and star­tups

Waterloo Region Record - - Local - TERRY PEN­DER

WATER­LOO RE­GION — Jes­sica Yamoah is us­ing so­cial me­dia plat­forms cre­ated by white tech-bros to counter anti-black racism.

Yamoah is with the group In­no­vate In­clu­sion — a non­profit that is try­ing to di­ver­sify the tech sec­tor by pro­mot­ing ca­reers and eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties among com­mu­ni­ties not typ­i­cally well­rep­re­sented in the startup econ­omy.

In­no­vate In­clu­sion was formed af­ter a sur­vey of tech in­cu­ba­tors and ac­cel­er­a­tors in Water­loo Re­gion, Toronto and Ot­tawa found al­most no one from Black, Indige­nous and His­panic com­mu­ni­ties in lead­er­ship po­si­tions.

“There are not a lot of peo­ple who look like me de­spite all the op­por­tu­ni­ties within in­no­va­tion,” said Yamoah.

She works to raise aware­ness among mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties about pos­si­ble ca­reers in tech­nol­ogy, and the educa­tion needed to pur­sue those ca­reers.

“If peo­ple and com­mu­ni­ties are look­ing for sus­tain­able em­ploy­ment, eco­nomic sta­bil­ity, then tech­nol­ogy is the best place to be,” said Yamoah.

She is a nat­u­ral for that kind of ad­vo­cacy work. She grew up in the neigh­bour­hood be­hind Con­estoga Mall with two sis­ters — Heather and Amy. Their par­ents came to Canada from Ghana about 40 years ago. Heather is a cor­po­rate lawyer spe­cial­iz­ing in in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty. Amy works in hu­man re­sources and is com­plet­ing a master’s de­gree.

“I would have to give 99 per cent of the credit to my mom,” said Yamoah. “We have a ma­tri­lin­eal cul­ture. The women from our cul­ture are very strong, very in­sight­ful and very re­spected.”

He mother, Justina Yamoah, pushed her daugh­ters to suc­ceed in school. She en­rolled them in French im­mer­sion. Heather and Amy added Span­ish to their re­sumes. Yamoah added Latin. Their mother also ex­posed them to the Congress for Black Women, and other net­works.

“I think peo­ple re­ally un­der­value the power of re­la­tion­ships and hav­ing re­ally strong con­nec­tions,” said Yamoah. “That’s what pro­pelled me. That’s what helped me land some of these po­si­tions and work with some of these or­ga­ni­za­tions.”

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Water­loo Col­le­giate, Yamoah stud­ied so­ci­ol­ogy at York Univer­sity. She then worked for Nike, Nokia and the iPhone de­part­ment at Ap­ple. She also worked for a num­ber of star­tups here and in Toronto.

Sales, mar­ket­ing and busi­ness de­vel­op­ment are her spe­cial­ties. She started work­ing with In­no­vate In­clu­sion last fall.

“We ad­vo­cate for the en­tre­pre­neur­ial suc­cess of un­der-rep­re­sented com­mu­ni­ties,” said Yamoah.

She will be part of a panel at the Univer­sity of Water­loo on Feb. 26 that will dis­cuss racism in sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math.

“How many Indige­nous startup lead­ers have you heard of ? How many black or His­panic star­tups ven­tures have you heard of ? I know there is a strong rep­re­sen­ta­tion of South Asians within tech­nol­ogy, but how many South Asian women?” said Yamoah.

When the prov­ince wanted to reach into the black com­mu­ni­ties in Ot­tawa, Toronto, Hamil­ton and Wind­sor with anti-vi­o­lence mes­sages, Yamoah and In­no­vate In­clu­sion de­signed a cam­paign called Vi­o­lence 360 and ap­plied for fund­ing.

In­no­vate In­clu­sion is part of the On­tario Black Youth Ac­tion Plan, a four-year, $47 mil­lion pro­gram to help re­duce dis­par­i­ties for more than 10,000 black chil­dren, youth and fam­i­lies around On­tario.

“What prompted me to ap­ply for the grant is the sense that there is a way to bring in­no­va­tion and tech­nol­ogy into vi­o­lence pre­ven­tion, with YouTube and some other so­cial me­dia,” said Yamoah.

The Vi­o­lence 360 cam­paign is based on five YouTube videos, and live events in Toronto, Ot­tawa, Hamil­ton and Wind­sor. So­cial me­dia will also spread the mes­sage of Vi­o­lence 360, which runs to March 31.

“We are lever­ag­ing tech­nol­ogy in the cru­sade against youth vi­o­lence,” said Yamoah.


Jes­sica Yamoah leads a group called In­no­vate In­clu­sion that aims to in­crease di­ver­sity within the tech sec­tor.

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