Empowering Women in Technology: Lessons from a Successful Woman Entrepreneur in Kenya
KEY INDIVIDUAL(s)

Rodrigue Castro Gbedomon

WHO CAN BENEFIT FROM
THIS CASE STUDY

Policy/decision-makers
Civic Tech initiatives
Researchers
Funders

KEY CATEGORIES

Women in Technology
ICT
Capacity Building
Women’s Rights

CONTACT CTIN

CASE STUDY

Empowering Women in Technology: Lessons from a Successful Woman Entrepreneur in Kenya

TYPE OF ORGANISATION RESPONSIBLE FOR THE INITIATIVE

STATUS

COUNTRY

FOUNDING DATE

LAST UPDATED

Live

Kenya

2016

N/A

BRIEF OVERVIEW OF CASE STUDY

Over the past decade, Africa has experienced significant growth in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector. This can be attributed to the willingness of African countries to realize the transformational potential of ICTs to boost their economies.

Unfortunately, despite the important role of African women in the economy of their countries, millions of them have no access to ICTs and they cannot use the ICT facilities. The gender digital divide is so remarkable that institutions at different levels commit themselves to bridge the gap. This paper provides the success story of Judith Owigar who co-created AkiraChix, a space for women in technology to experiment, fail, and excel, with the vision to increase the ratio of women in technology.

After five years of activities, AkiraChix has developed many programs intended for women at different ages and impacted hundreds of girls and women in Nairobi. Even if it is too early to assess the real impact of AkiraChix on the issue of the gender digital divide in Kenya, the initiative is to be recognized and encouraged as already done by many international organizations. On the specific issue of women’s access to and use of ICTs, much has been achieved but much more remains to be done to ensure that women in urban and rural regions in all parts of Africa benefit from ICT opportunities.

The paper calls for African states to close the gap in gender access to ICT in Africa by promoting and building capacity of women in ICT sector for inclusive achievement of economic development of these countries. Moreover, because of the lack of statistics, the gender digital divide could be underestimated in Africa – as such the paper calls for the regional institutions such as The African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF), the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the African Union (AU) to support capacities of African states in addressing this knowledge gap.

A key lesson emerging from the study is that a small change in mindset can sometimes make a huge difference in women empowerment – therefore policies specially designed to promote early involvement of women in ICTs is important for improving women’s access to and use of ICTs in Africa.

QUICK FACTS/TAKEAWAYS FROM THE CASE STUDY

AkiraChix has been working for five years to influence the technology industry in Africa by increasing the number of women creating impact using technology. It has so far achieved notable points.

AkiraChix connected young women in Nairobi to technology
Since 2010 AkiraChix has taken 61 young women through its proven intensive diploma course in Information Technology and Entrepreneurship. These young women have gone on to get internships, jobs, promotion or start their own businesses (http://akirachix.com). Among the beneficiaries of the programme is Agnes Masia who, after the one-year training, went on to work as a technology researcher at a technology company and opened a shop where she has employed her brother.

AkiraChix seeds the passion of technology in mind of girls and children
Through its special programs High school outreach and Kids camp, AkiraChix introduced hundreds of girls from disadvantaged communities (Kibera, Kabiria, and Deepsea etc.) and children between 7 and 13 to technology. Even if there is no official and precise figure on beneficiaries so far, it is expected that an increase of girls’ enrollment in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Similarly, it is expected that other girls and children who attended the different programs develop a passion for technology and in future create impact
using technology.

The community of female technologist empowered by AkiraChix is growing
Over the last five years of activities, AkiraChix has built a strong community of more than 500 volunteers and supporters, and look to grow this community beyond Kenya, into Africa.

AkiraChix became a model in technology field in Africa
The initiative of AkiraChix has been appreciated by different organizations and Judith won many prizes. According to TechHer (http://techherng.com/), a community platform of women using technology, Judith is an East African Acumen Fellow, 2014 International Focus Fellow, one of the 10 Africa Tech voices to follow on Twitter named by CNN. She won the 2011 Change Agent ABIE Award of The Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology. The US Embassy in Kenya honored her with the Unsung Heroes Award in recognition of her work
with AkiraChix.

In 2015, she received the top highlight of her career when she was sitting next to President Barrack Obama and President Uhuru Kenyatta at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES).

LESSONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Considering the experience of Judith Owigar and her collective of AkiraChix, and the current state of art on the gender digital divide, some lessons could be drawn. These lessons call up on special and urgent policy recommendations.

ICTs are powerful tools likely to change the conditions of women in Africa but much remains to be done before.

The literature on the gender digital divide and the experience of AkiraChix shows clearly the opportunities of ICTs for women. Unfortunately there is some way to go before women take fully advantages from the potential of ICTs. There is an urgent need to overcome barriers. This includes a holistic strategy creating conditions for skills, innovation and entrepreneurship to flourish alongside modern infrastructures. These conditions include more investment, adequate policy formulations and more actions with regards to gender responsive outreach, advocacy and capacity building. These efforts should be conjointly done by ICT industries, communities, policy makers and international institutions.

Special policy which promotes early involvement of women in ICTs is important to improve women’s access to and use of ICTs
AkiraChix encourages girls at high school to select the technology field and connects children with technology field during kids’ camps. According to Judith and her team, this is a prerequisite for sustainably increasing women’s access to and use of ICTs and for increasing the number of women creating impact using technology. This is important for each African country to support and encourage women at an early age to take courses in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Special scholarship programmes could be developed to encourage their enrolment in this field.

A small change in mindset can sometimes make a large difference in women empowerment
“You know you’re the odd-ball just because of your gender,” Judith Owigar says. This opinion of the tech entrepreneur expresses how women are discriminated in many aspects of social life, including employment, literacy and income. These inequalities also come on ICT access and usage. Judith believes there should be no stereotype in the technology industry. This change in her mind helps her to overcome the problems. African women should change their minds and work to attend fields so far dominated by men but of great potential for them. They should not be afraid to fail and they should not give up. As an advice for millions of African women willing to impact using technology, Judith says “Dream big, start small, start now. Just because you’re not where you want to be does not mean you should give up. As long as you do not stop you will progress.”

Because of the lack of statistics, the gender digital divide could be underestimated in Africa
A popularized wisdom of Mark Twain said: there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. The current statistics on gender digital divide are from studies based on samples generally and are biased because focusing mainly on urban and peri-urban zones. Therefore, the situations of rural regions where millions of African women live with severe socio-economic and cultural barriers are overlooked. Consequently, we are working to bridge a problem we do not master yet. There is an urgent need for African countries to collect and analyse data on the gender digital divide and its impact. This is a necessary prerequisite to efficiently, equitably and sustainably reach women and let them benefit from the potential of ICTs.

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