Ms Geek Africa: Girls from across Africa envisioning a shared digital future

Last year's Ms Geek Africa finalists pause for a photo with First Lady Jeannette Kagame and other officials. (Courtesy)

This year’s Ms. Geek Africa could not have rolled around at a more opportune moment, when the continent’s hills are alive with the promise of a growth, industrialization, economic diversification and trade that will come with the recently-signed Africa Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (CFTA).

The CFTA opens up a whole new world of opportunity in the tech sphere for Africa’s innovators to take advantage of - it is imperative that female innovators and techies take part.

One could argue that the prospects have already started rolling in: in the last year alone, Rwanda has seen Volkswagen set up shop in East Africa, with interest for other car manufacturers as well; AC Group (Rwanda) has expanded its business to West Africa; and drone innovators like Charis (Rwanda) are using drone technology to improve agriculture and working with partners from around the world to tap into regional opportunities.

Africa has proven itself to be fertile ground for innovation, transforming lives and fostering socio-economic development.

Technology by its very nature is a key driver for social and economic change, and women the world over are recognizing its potency to transforming their businesses, industries and communities.

That being said, it is mind-boggling that women still account for less than 20% of the total workforce within the technology domain in Rwanda and Africa at large.

The World Economic Forum 2016 Global Gender Gap report pointed out that the present disparity is a real obstacle to gender parity, “since STEM careers are projected to be some of the most sought-after in the context of the Fourth Industrial Revolution”.

Research has shown that the gender gap in STEM fields tends to start in high school and keeps growing so that men outnumber women in nearly every science and engineering field by the time they graduate from university.

Girls In ICT Rwanda’s core mission is to change this by encouraging girls of school-going age to consider STEM careers: one of their initiatives is the annual Ms Geek competition that will be marking its fifth anniversary this year (last year Ms. Geek expanded from Rwanda to Africa).

During the months leading up to the grand finale, Girls in ICT conduct mentoring and information tours of high schools and universities to encourage girls to participate.

Competitions such as these are meant to excite girls about STEM -- presenting them with real world problems and giving them the platform to share their solutions for a prize.

As part of the annual International Girls In ICT day celebrations that takes place on the last Thursday of April every year, Girls in ICT Rwanda has partnered with the Ministry of ICT, Ministry of Youth, UNDP and Imbuto foundation to stage the second Ms.Geek Africa on May 9, 2018.

This year, the competition has been opened to school going girls from all 22 Smart Africa member states who will identify a challenge to realizing a single digital market and design a technology solution to the problem.

The finalists will go on to present their solutions to a panel of accomplished executives, policy makers and entrepreneurs who will not only decide on the winner, but also use their invaluable experience to tweak the ideas into commercially viable projects.

The day will culminate in the crowning of Ms.Geek Africa 2018 during the Smart Africa Women’s Summit.  

It is a fascinating time to be alive in Africa, and it will be interesting to hear the voices of young girls on how they envision the continent’s digital future.

 

The writer is a tech enthusiast based in Kigali

 

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