The third edition of the Ms Geek competition will center on areas of creative and innovative solutions to problems affecting the country mainly in security, finance, health and service delivery sectors according to Lucy Mbabazi, president of Girls in ICT Rwanda.
The contest, which takes place on Saturday, was established to empower girls to pursue education and careers in sciences by equipping them with tech analysis and innovative tools.
Ms.Geek competition is held annually and is well designed to unlock the full potential of Rwandan girls in the field of technology. The program is an initiative by ‘Girls in ICT Rwanda’, a group of women of all ages working in ICT including entrepreneurs, professionals and students.
Barely three years old, the initiative is playing a key role in encouraging and challenging young girls and women to embrace science and technology fields which until today are still mostly male dominated.
This year, girls in high school, university and TVET were required to submit their applications presenting creative and innovative solutions to problems affecting the country particularly in the security, finance, health and service delivery sectors.
In an interview with Sunday Times, Lucy Mbabazi, the president of Girls in ICT said that the overall vision of Ms.Geek contest is to empower young girls to take the initiative to engage in science and technology and thereby exploit it to find solutions for problems that have persisted in their communities.
“Most girls don’t have sufficient exposure to ICT and hands on technology. They also don’t have role models to look up too in most science fields. What we are creating is exposure and opportunity for these girls to access technology and thereby utilize it to better theirs and other people’s lives. We want to change the narrative that Science fields and technology are best suited for boys,” she said.
This year, Ms. Geek received over 130 applications of which only five finalists were chosen. They have been undergoing a week long boot camp where they are mentored in subjects such as entrepreneurship and also have their public speaking and critical thinking/analytical skills harnessed.
Merab Twahirwa, a member of Girls in ICT says the criteria for selection of applications is innovation, feasibility and value addition of the solutions expressed by the applicants.
“During evaluation and selection, we come across applications whose solutions are already in existence, or solutions that aren’t feasible. We choose finalists depending on the novelty, utility and accessibility of their solutions and ideas,” she said.
Twahirwa added that the main challenge they realized with the applications centered around poor work presentation by students in lining up what they want to say. She advised teachers to really put extra effort in educating students on proper representation of ideas, projects and problem statements as the quality of applications continually indicate a significant need in that department.
This year, most of the applicants focused on reproductive health care, particularly regarding the issue of early unplanned teen pregnancies, says Irene Claudette, Manager of Fablab and member of Girls in ICT.
“It was interesting to note just how most of the applicants are interested in finding solutions to that unplanned pregnancy which illustrates just how concerned they are with ensuring that both girls and boys find reproductive health and sufficient sensitization tools using tech,” she said.
“It also very encouraging to see just how truly invested these young girls are about succeeding in sciences and ICT as a whole. It goes beyond the competition, you can see that they want to learn and to become role models for other girls in their schools and communities as well. This time around, the contest is going bigger both in terms of size of the event itself and the opportunities that will be availed to the girls,” she said.
Initially, the contest had a minimal number of sponsors but with its growing success, more people and organizations have realised the significant impact that their contribution can have on empowering young girls to lead a tech revolution in finding solutions.
“The sponsorship we have received ranges from internships for the girls to cash prizes and tech devices. However there is more need for contribution to this cause and sponsorship for the girls to enable them break through barriers that limit their education in science fields. With more help from the concerned community and other organizations, we can create more internships for them, pay for schooling for girls who struggle to find the means and create a scholarship fund for them to pool resources,” said Mbabazi.
“When we have sufficient funds needed for the project, it will then become easier to take the contest to schools and villages country wide. This way, more girls will be exposed to tech opportunities and thereby empower them to utilize them to better their lives with the tech opportunities availed them,” she added.
Girls in ICT has gone a step further to groom and mould young women into great innovators and entrepreneurs to ensure that their promising projects are transformed into real profitable ventures.
“We keep tabs on the young girls and follow up on the continuity of their projects. It is remarkable to see the zeal with which they employ what they were taught during boot camp in their communities. For example we have seen them start Girls in ICT clubs in their schools, hold workshops to empower their fellow girls in their communities utilizing the one laptop per child campaign, et cetera,” Mbabazi said.
Claudette reiterates that there has been visible progress not only in their intellectual and creative ability but also in their self esteem and confidence.
“It’s astounding to see the transformation these girls have undergone in this short period of time. They speak eloquently; have important and interesting subject matters to discuss and inner confidence in their capability. All they needed was a push in the right direction and we can tell their geek star is just rising. We continue to guide them to achieve and solve more and more using technology,” she said.
Just in its third year, the program is already making visible progress and impact in the community. Nancy Sibo the first ever Ms. Geek was awarded by The Queen of England through her Young Leaders Programme that celebrates the achievements of young people who are taking the lead to transform the lives of others and make a lasting difference in their communities.
She was awarded for creating an app ‘Mobile Cow’ which helps farmers to monitor the estrous cycle of their cows as well as her Miheha bag initiative which she designed to use recycled plastic drinking straws to create products such as handbags, earrings and belts. She is already filling the shoes of a role model to fellow girls who want to take on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects.
This year’s last five finalists standing will battle it out through their knowledge and skills in ICT and the presentation of their projects at Camp Kigali on April 30th. The prizes for the girls include millions in cash prizes, tech devices like computers and smart phones as well as internships.