In October, six Rwandan women in different fields of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) were among the five winners of TechWomen 2018.
Vanny Nicole Kayirangwa, a development engineer, Noella Nibakuze, an architect, Christa Munezero, a data analyst, Lucie Uwizeye, a software developer, Pascale Mugwaneza, an IT director and Solange Uwera, a programme officer at Global Engagement Institute, walked home with an award and USD 3,000 for their impact project.
TechWomen is an Initiative of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs
that aims at empowering, connecting and supporting the next generation of women leaders in (STEM) by providing them access and opportunity to advance their careers, pursue their dreams, and become role models for women and girls in their communities.
It brings together emerging women leaders from 20 countries of Africa, Central and South Asia, and the Middle East, together with their professional counterparts in the United States for a mentorship and exchange programme.
Through an open online application, the six women from Rwanda applied, and after a series of interviews, got confirmation that they were selected and made it through to the TechWomen 2018 programme in the US.
About their impact project
Everybody that attended the event at Google got an opportunity to attend a professional internship in one of the top companies in Silicon Valley, but apart from professional mentorship, they are given impact coaches, from different countries, to work on an action plan.
The action plan was developed per country, where they assessed, together, the critical solution needed in society that could be implemented once they completed the programme.
The six representatives from Rwanda pitched their idea of an online counselling service that they called ‘Healing Together’, which saw them emerge as the winners.
“Healing Together is an online counselling service and we want to create a portal that will provide online therapy where people can come and get treatment without revealing themselves. We are going to train counsellors in different districts.”
“It is very difficult to come up with an idea and so we thought about developing a platform for women survivors of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi where they can share their emotional pain or any problem associated with their experience, Mugawaneza explains.
She added that they have already identified key stakeholders for the project and that they will work with different organisations that represent women survivors.
“In the beginning, we want to target women because they are the most affected. We have already established a plan that is going to guide us, but our target is to have the portal operational by the next commemoration. It will, however, be an ongoing project and we are looking at different ways of using technology to help others and more projects will be coming up,” she says.
Uwera, on the other hand, believes that as women in STEM, the opportunity is tremendously contributing towards their professional and personal development, although the most important thing for them is what they can do for their community.
“Not everybody will understand STEM or is interested but it’s for everyone who is concerned with such kind of trauma of the Genocide, 24 years later. Even though people are not healed yet, the project is relatable and understandable for the majority in our community. Working together will mean bringing together our skills and knowledge to tackle a challenge in our community and contributing towards empowering someone who’s not necessarily in STEM,” she says.
TechWomen provides participants access to networks, resources, and knowledge to empower them to reach their full potential and become agents of change in their respective fields back home.
During the five-week programme, participants engaged in project-based mentorships at leading companies in the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley, participate in professional development workshops and networking events, and travel to Washington, DC for targeted meetings and special events to conclude the programme.
Munezero believes that since it’s basically about bringing women together to be inspired, to network, tell their experience and challenges in their home, the skills acquired from the training will enable them contribute tremendously to the country.
“We are women working in STEM and we believe that technology is a tool that can help people improve their lives, and we intend to use our skills and network that we have to help others solve some of their problems, working together is a contribution that we have in society using the skills that we have,” she says.
Nibakuze adds that having been given this great opportunity, their next step is to ‘give birth’.
“We have been mentored for five weeks and its our turn to mentor other women and men so that we can share what we have learned so that we can grow as a country.”
Mugwaneza chips in: “We went through a lot together and one of the reasons that we got this award is not because our project was better than others, but also because of the way we worked as a team, the knowledge that we gained from the US, and the network that we created. And so if we do not work together, it won’t be beneficial for other sisters who are still growing. We want to engage more women.”
On Kayirangwa’s part, if you educate a woman, you educate a nation, so as women, ‘Healing Together’ is not just their project but a story that they are very committed to do.
“We knew that even though we did not win the award, we were still going to do it because we realised how much is really needed in this country. We are Rwandans and we understand the need for the project and that women will get motivation.”