Fighting racism with technology
New group using social media to diversify tech sector and startups
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.