When Ms. Geek was launched three years ago, few believed how far it would go in inspiring girls to join technology field, and also pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
Fast forward 2016; the annual initiative has become one of the most successful initiatives in empowering the girl child in ICT sector.
Unlike the glitz and glamour that characterize beauty contests, this competition was designed to inspire Rwandan girls to be a part of problem solving for the country using technology.
The contest focuses on developing ICT solutions that solve societal problems and these are addressed through newly created applications.
Initiated by members of Girls in ICT, Ms. Geek also aims at expanding girls’ innovation and critical thinking skills.
Claudette Nirere, one of the organisers of the contest, says that Ms. Geek is a platform for young girls to use technology positively and be problem solvers.
“Our hope as Girls in ICT is that young Rwandan girls will start considering STEM as a career,” Nirere says.
“The quality of submissions has tremendously improved and the number of applications has increased. More schools are willing to support their students to apply and we definitely are being recognised for empowering young girls to join STEM fields,” Nirere says.
However, not all schools have been reached and organisers are thinking of possible projects or ideas.
Ms. Geek has given girls a platform to express themselves openly; they are given opportunities to step out of their comfort zone, and explore what the STEM field has to offer with hope that they become role models for the younger generations. The level of creativity and innovation that’s seen today can only increase.
Nirere says, “We have seen winners developing a much stronger sense of self-esteem and confidence and are aware of the responsibility bestowed on them when given the title. They are given the opportunity to think creatively on the use of technology and are willing to go the extra mile to have their idea or project implemented.”
The dream of expansion
Last year, organisers of the contest had plans of expanding the contest to other countries like Uganda and Kenya; this dream is still very much alive.
“The dream to cut across other countries is still alive; but we believe that there’s still so much to do here at home before we go regional. There are still so many girls around the country that we have not yet reached and we are seeking partnerships to be able to get to every single one of them.
In the meantime, however, should there be interest anywhere else in the world to organise Ms. Geek activities, we will be happy to support in any way we can,” Nirere adds.
The Minister of Youth and ICT, Jean Philbert Nsengimana, applauds the Ms. Geek project as a very productive one, saying that it’s a way of encouraging girls to go for IT professions.
He says that the competition increases the girls’ ability to compete globally for IT opportunities and encourages more of them to join the ICT sector.
“The ministry supports and sponsors the contest and we want it to grow. So far, we have a national vision of expansion and hopes of taking it to other countries will definitely be set, but that depends on the organisers. It’s something that Africa needs,” Nsengimana adds.
The third edition of Ms. Geek will take place on Saturday April 30. Out of more than 130 applicants, five were selected and will pitch their ideas in front of a jury.
The girls are currently undergoing training on how best to present their projects and the winners will be awarded prizes that range from cash, training opportunities or professional internships and other cool gadgets.
Apart from awarding the winner, this year’s event will also be an opportunity to recognise individuals that are instrumental in championing and empowering girls and young women to pursue studies and careers in STEM fields both at a national level and globally.
Where are the previous winners?
Nancy Sibo, the very first winner of Ms. Geek, is living her dream and attributes it to her participation in the contest.
Her winning project was the ‘Mobile Cow’ application that allows farmers to monitor the oestrus cycles in cows.
With this, farmers get to track the cycles of their cows and they get to save time and money.
Though the application is still under development, it’s being applied in some areas like Nyagatare and it has made a difference in the lives of the farmers.
“Before developing this app, people would spend money and time tracking fertility cycles because they couldn’t track the real time for oestrus, sometimes injections were given at the wrong time. However, this has changed for those who use the app,” Sibo explains.
She says Ms. Geek was a good opportunity for her in so many ways and that she has managed to achieve a lot because of it.
“First of all, I was still a student so it opened doors for me to continue doing my research since it was the application I used in my final research. I also got international connections and opportunities for mentorship. Last year I got an award from the Queen of England, all this was a result of me taking part in the Ms. Geek contest,” she says.
Currently, Sibo is an assistant lecturer at Integrated Polytechnic Regional Centre (IPRC) South. She advises other girls to join the competition because it opens doors to success.
Vanessa Mutesi was last year’s winner; her application called ‘Rwanda Online Open School’ was designed to make resources for students more accessible as well as promoting self-teaching.
It allows students not to rely entirely on their teachers, but rather, give them the power to take their education into their own hands.
Though the application hasn’t yet been put to use, it’s yet to bring about a huge difference in the education sector.
“The app is on its way to being developed, I realised the first step would be to see how the students and teachers are equipped because it would be useless to give them something they cannot use to its maximum capability,” Mutesi says.
Mutesi, currently an S4 student, has opportunities set right in front of her and she is more than ready to grab them as soon as she is done with studies because as per now, her priority is set on education.
“Winning the competition changed my life by not only changing how I see myself as a person, especially when it comes to public speaking, it also gave me a voice to reach out to other girls who have brilliant ideas waiting to be discovered,” she adds.
I SAY : How is Ms. Geek helping the Rwandan girl-child?
Samantha Pauline Manywa - S4 student, Gashora Girls Academy
Ms. Geek gives a platform for girls to take part in solving the problems in the community using ICT, and it is through the contest that the required skills are gained. As we compete to provide the best solutions, we are taking part in helping our community to grow better and better using ICT.
Lisa Noella Kirezi - S4 student, Gashora Girls Academy
The contest is helping in the empowerment of girls, especially in ICT, most girls have great ideas and through this platform they get a chance to explore them. It’s also helping girls discover and use their talents to connect the world through ICT.
Rosine Mwiseneza - 2nd Year student, Kepler Kigali University
Ms. Geek is helping girls in Rwanda boost their confidence, skills and have the ability of thinking beyond. With this, girls come up with solutions to obstacles that they are observant about in their community and in the end, are a part of the country’s development.
Faridah Umutoni - 1st Year student, Akilah Institute
The initiative is helping Rwandan girls expand their innovation and critical thinking skills and be part of problem solving for the country. However, I wish the organisers increase on the number of girls on the finals, so that more girls get a chance to take part in the final contest.
Compiled by Dennis AgabaFollow https://twitter.com/DonahMbabazi