Africa Renewal - - Contents - By Bo Li

There was a time when tech­nol­ogy was a male­dom­i­nated field. How­ever, with the ad­vance­ment of science, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math (STEM) ed­u­ca­tion, ICT in­fra­struc­ture and avail­abil­ity of cap­i­tal for start-ups, the past decade has wit­nessed the rise of a new gen­er­a­tion of IT girls and “cy­berel­las” in Africa.

A grow­ing num­ber of them are reach­ing the top of the in­dus­try as en­trepreneurs.

Sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa has the high­est re­gional fe­male To­tal En­tre­pre­neur­ial Ac­tiv­ity ( TEA) rate in the world, with 27% of its fe­male pop­u­la­tion en­gaged in en­trepreneur­ship ac­tiv­i­ties, ac­cord­ing to the 2012 Women’s Re­port by the Global En­tre­pre­neur­ial Mon­i­tor (GEM).

This year, Catherine Mahugu of Kenya, Teresa Mba­gaya (Kenyan in Zim­babwe), Clarisse Irib­a­g­ize (Rwanda), Julie Alexander Fourie (South Africa) and Uche Pe­dro (Nige­ria) were listed among the most promis­ing young African en­trepreneurs by Forbes, a US busi­ness mag­a­zine. Aged be­tween 26 and 30, all of them are founders of busi­nesses spe­cial­ized in the most cut­tingedge tech­nolo­gies, such as e-com­merce, mo­bile ap­pli­ca­tions and cloud stor­age.

Soko, which means ‘mar­ket­place’ in Swahili, is an on­line plat­form con­nect­ing in­ter­na­tional shop­pers to hand­crafted ac­ces­sories from the de­vel­op­ing world. It is one ex­am­ple of tech com­pa­nies by women for women. Founded by 27-year-old Catherine Mahugu, it en­ables tal­ented ar­ti­sans in emerg­ing economies, who are mostly women, to pro­mote and sell craft­works us­ing ba­sic mo­bile phones. The mo­bile-to-web tech­nol­ogy gives women di­rect ac­cess to the global mar­ket­place, and helps trans­form them from man­u­fac­tur­ers to en­trepreneurs.

Teresa Mba­gaya, the head of Econet Ed­u­ca­tion, launched sev­eral ed­u­ca­tional pro­grammes with mo­bile tech­nol­ogy in Zim­babwe, in­clud­ing the EcoS­chool project. Through the use of tablets and the EcoS­chool app (soft­ware pro­gramme) de­signed by Ms. Mba­gaya’s com­pany, Econet, stu­dents were given on-the-go and af­ford­able ac­cess to world-class ed­u­ca­tional re­sources.

The EcoS­chool app sig­nif­i­cantly im­proved the learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence of girls who lived off cam­pus and could not stay late in li­braries. With light-weight por­ta­ble de­vices they were able to study af­ter school and pay as lit­tle as $5 per month for the study­ing ma­te­ri­als.

Re­cent years also saw the emer­gence of “girls’ clubs” for women in science and tech­nol­ogy in sev­eral African coun­tries. Ethel Cofie, Ju­dith Owigar and other like-minded fe­male tech en­trepreneurs cre­ated or­ga­ni­za­tions like Aki­raChix (Kenya), Tech Needs Girls (Ghana) and Asikana Net­work (Zam­bia), where fe­male techies meet up for ac­tion-packed work­shops, train­ings and net­work­ing events. Th­ese or­ga­ni­za­tions also aim to change per­cep­tions of women and girls pur­su­ing ed­u­ca­tion and ca­reers in STEM sub­jects, paving the way for more to ven­ture into in­no­va­tion and tech­nol­ogy.

A study by Ic­teum Con­sult­ing, Mer­aka In­sti­tute/ CSIR ti­tled “Women in the In­for­ma­tion and Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Tech­nol­ogy Sec­tor in South Africa” found that in core IT cat­e­gories, women were over­rep­re­sented in tech­ni­cal sales and sys­tem an­a­lyst po­si­tions, while be­ing dras­ti­cally un­der­rep­re­sented in pro­gram­ming, en­gi­neer­ing and man­age­ment.

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