On 25 April, Ms Geek 2015 will be selected at the second edition of the annual event, which started last year to inspire Rwandan girls to join the male-dominated field of sciences. The initiative has become an inspiration to young girls. Organised by Girls in ICT, the competition has demystified the stereo types that girls can’t make it in science and technology.
The competition is only open to female high school and university students and its major aim is to get more girls to join technology and develop careers in Information Communication Technology (ICT).
Chantal Mukundwa, a computer engineering graduate, scooped the people’s choice award in the Ms Geek 2014 competition. She attributes her promising career in ICT to her participation in the Ms Geek competition.
“The competition is interesting as well as enlightening. I am proud to have been a part of it. It was a mind opener for me. It sharpened my skills to be more innovative since I had the chance to share and get new ideas from other participants,” Mukundwa says.
She says that even though she didn’t win, she has achieved so much as a result of participating in the competition.
She also says that after the competition, she continued on the journey of innovation. “I engaged in some other competitions like the Imagine Cup competition which was held at KLab last year in May. I presented a project on summer climate, an idea whose inspiration came from Ms Geek.
“I am also working on an idea to help farmers enhance productivity. I also have a job thanks to the connections, I got from Ms Geek. Above all, I also got an award and a chance to attend different trainings, through which I got a Microsoft certificate courtesy of Ms Geek,” she adds.
Mukundwa advises other girls to join Ms Geek because of the many advantages it comes with. “I think Ms Geek will help girls think in an innovative way, which will help them develop in this field that is dominated by men.”
Vanessa Umutoni, one of the organisers of the event and a member of the Girls in ICT, says that their main goal is to inspire more girls to join technology and to pursue careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).
She says that they were motivated to focus on IT because of the discouraging statistics that there are fewer girls doing sciences and so girls in ICT had to think of a way to inspire more girls to study sciences and practice in the same field after.
Girls in ICT was inspired by International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a global event which celebrates girls in ICT every last Thursday of April, annually.
Umutoni says that the initiative has grown, especially in terms of the number of girls taking part and also sponsorship.
“Last year, we only got 25 applicants and these came from universities. This year we have 120 applicants from both universities and high schools as far as Gisenyi, implying that in most parts of the country, people know about the initiative.
“More people want to sponsor us because they want to be a part of it. We have Rwanda Development Board, Ministry of Youth and ICT, Imbuto Foundation, among others. The initiative has really grown,” Umutoni adds.
Umutoni says that getting people to understand what they were doing and why they were doing it was one of the biggest challenges.
“It was hard for us to get sponsors and since we were only a group of girls sharing a common goal, it was hard to pull off such an initiative.We were only 15 back then,but now we are 33,” Umutoni says.
Transforming Ms Geek into a regional event by involving more countries like Uganda and Kenya is one of the plans the organisers have in a bid to make it more challenging and interesting.
“We also want to ensure that more girls turn up for the activity so that we get a chance to develop their capabilities. It won’t stop at the final event, we will have to make sure that we do a follow up on the girls and support them,” Umutoni says.
According to Didier Nkurikiyimpfura, the director general in charge of ICT at the Ministry of Youth and ICT, the government is expecting positive yields from the initiative because more women are yet to understand that ICT is not for only boys but for girls too.
“Ms Geek is an initiative that we are doing together with girls in technology and we have supported the initiative since it was started. The whole purpose is to encourage women and girls to adopt ICT and use it productively,” Nkurikiyimpfura says.
He adds that there is hope that girls will embrace careers around ICT and play more active roles because women and girls have a lot of ideas and with the help of ICT, they can be able to achieve their goals.
Esther Kunda, who is also part of the event organisers, says that the main challenge they have faced is raising awareness in schools about the competition. But they have hope that next year they will have more students, especially in higher learning institutions, participating.
She says that such competitions allow women to express and develop their ideas. Also, these kinds of competitions offer exposure to these young women to showcase their skills, thus proving that they can also excel in areas known to be a male domain.
“We have seen the support increase, which we are grateful for and hope it will continue. Various institutions and companies have offered support in terms of giving the finalists various awards such as training and internships, which we believe will boost the skills of these young women,” Kunda says.
How to participate and benefits
The organisers send out the problem statement and have the competitors respond to it through applications. Through these applications, competitors explain the technology they want to use, the feasibility and their solution.
Five finalists are selected from all the entries before taking them for one month training on public speaking and how to enhance the ideas.They get to present these ideas to a panel of judges on the final day.
There are different prizes for the finalists; the winner gets Rwf 2m, an internship, a trip to a tech conference either in Geneva or Barcelona, a laptop and a tablet. The first runner up gets one Rwf1m, an internship and a laptop.
The second runner up gets Rwf 500,000, a laptop and an internship, and the winner of the people’s choice, chosen by people through online voting, gets an internship and a laptop.
I say: What can be done to encourage more girls to take on ICT?
Mentoring girls to have a positive attitude towards ICT is the best option. The majority of girls have a poor attitude towards it; they regard ICT to be very difficult, a career meant for men or boys only. In addition, some girls think that ICT is not a rewarding career. I believe if that attitude is changed, girls will embrace ICT.
Inspiration from several young women who are already in the ICT world or pursuing careers in ICT is the way forward. Inspiration is the foundation of many dreams. Women who have made it possible in ICT should reach out to girls and share their success stories with them; this in return will inspire and motivate girls to take on the same careers since they will be aware that ICT is worth a try.
The Ministry in charge of ICT should introduce regular trainings for girls, where they can be taught, mentored and encouraged to consider studies and careers in ICT. It is obvious, girls themselves will not take the initiative to move forward and take on ICT; they need opportunities and a platform to rise.
The foundation matters; schools need to encourage girls to form ICT clubs and also find them several workshops to experience and explore practical ICT. And it is through such ICT clubs that they can invite successful women who have registered tangible achievements in the tech industry to have one-on-one interaction with young girls on the importance of ICT. This eventually will help to change their attitude and perception regarding ICT and thus, encourage them to take it on.
The government should introduce campaigns aiming at encouraging girls to take on ICT. ICT competitions should be organised and several interesting rewards should be given to the winners. I believe such campaigns will boost girls’ interests in ICT and eventually motivate them to pursue ICT related careers.
Compiled by Dennis Agaba