How women can leverage ICT to claim the front seat in transformation

The World Economic Forum kicked off yesterday, in Kigali Rwanda. Under the theme, Connecting Africa’s Resources through Digital Transformation, the forum calls for recognition of Information Communication Technology (ICT) in a journey that will see Africa develop faster.
Clarisse Iribagiza (L), CEO of HeHe Limited explains to female students how an ICT software works. (File)
Clarisse Iribagiza (L), CEO of HeHe Limited explains to female students how an ICT software works. (File)

The World Economic Forum kicked off yesterday, in Kigali Rwanda. Under the theme, Connecting Africa’s Resources through Digital Transformation, the forum calls for recognition of Information Communication Technology (ICT) in a journey that will see Africa develop faster.

Rwanda has registered phenomenal transformation through use of ICT, and Rwandan women in particular have been at the fore front of using technology to spur national development.

Samuel Yesashimwe, the Programme and Community Manager at Digital Opportunity Trust Rwanda, an organisation that trains young people to become leaders of change says that women are more active in the use of technology today compared to the past.

Yesashimwe says that women who are interested in ICT have it easy when it comes to getting scholarships. A number of women have graduated from prestigious universities like Carnegie Mellon, and even our local universities and colleges. Through technology some have started their own businesses. Others are occupying high positions within tech companies, and this dispels misconceptions that ICT is a man’s domain.

“ICT is transforming the way women do things, like business, however, their number compared to men is still low.

The majority of women, especially those living in rural areas, are working in the agricultural sector but benefit less from ICT services provided in this sector,” Yesashimwe says.

He advises that with the power of ICT, women farmers should be facilitated to sell their products, press orders, negotiate contracts, and acquire market information using their mobile handsets.

He notes that with high-speed internet, it’s now easy to study online without leaving the country for further education. There are more opportunities in business, healthcare, education, and tourism where you can run a business or pursue your tertiary education from your dining room with a computer or a tablet.

ICT is changing the way business is being conducted in the global market today. Customers are able to make a judgment on the products they want, and order and pay online from anywhere, using their handsets.

Internet became a big opportunity; therefore women should exploit competitive advantages offered by ICT, such as online marketing, e-payment to market and sell their products or services beyond physical boundaries.

“Digital Opportunity Trust is playing a big role in introducing basic practical ICT skills to the youth and women so that they can improve their livelihood. The organisation values gender and we emphasize this in all our programmes,” Yesashimwe says.

However, despite the promotion of women in ICT, women, especially young girls, should be encouraged more to join programmes like these and it will help raise their quotas in ICT fields significantly, he says.

“ICT is a tool and an enabler, if women start using it at its full capacity, growth in the economy would be realised,” Claudette Irere, the Managing Director of kLab, points out.

She says that just like men, opportunities are immense. Investment, professional trainings and all the perks that come with being an entrepreneur are applied to female entrepreneurs.

Irere cites that the only challenge is that there is less of this in the ICT sector and their homework is to groom the next generation of women entrepreneurs that will benefit from all these existing opportunities.

“We need more role models, unfortunately women in technology tend to be geeky and shy away from the limelight. We don’t get to see more of them out there; hence, young girls don’t have enough women to look up to in this sector.

A couple of years back when I was still in school, we used to have a “Career fair day” and our school would invite a guest - a woman or professional - to inspire us and take us through their career journey,” Irere recalls.

These moments opened her eyes and she believes that this could help get more women not just in the tech sector but in any field of study.

“While I believe that schools are key players when it comes to inspiring more women to join technology, I also believe that it needs to be a collective effort to encourage and inspire women to join Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, (STEM). With the 4th Industrial Revolution catching up on us, it is only wise to have more women embrace technology,” Irere adds.

How women have embraced ICT

Akaliza Keza Gara is one of Rwanda’s pioneer women in ICT; she is a member of ‘Girls in ICT’, a group of young women whose major objective is to encourage more girls join the ICT sector.

Gara is also the founder of ‘Shaking Sun’, a multimedia company that specialises in graphic design, animation and web development. She attributes her success to the use of technology.

A pupil uses an OLPC computer. (File)

She says ICT has helped her a lot towards the initiation and progress of her business, and this can be seen in a number of ways.

“Yes, ICT has certainly played a role in my career through a number of ways, it has allowed me gain clients outside the country and helped promote my business ideas through social media and other platforms,” Gara says.

Women in Rwanda who are interested in ICT, or are already in the field, are in quite a good position compared to other countries. There is a significant effort coming from both the public and private sector to encourage more girls to study ICT. In addition, the youth have several inspiring female tech role models, she points out.

Gara also says that there are many challenges in Rwanda that only women may notice, hence, are best suited to come up with the solutions. Every individual, male or female, sees the world and its challenges through a different lens, so diversity in the sector is very valuable.

“This is one of the many reasons I think it is important for both women and men to be involved in using ICT to find new approaches to tackling our nation’s challenges.

I would encourage girls and women of any age to take some short ICT courses online or offline which can help build their confidence,” Gara advises.

Ange Ingabire is the founder of Azzi Products, a line that manufactures nail polish and other manicure based products. She runs a business where her products are manufactured in Australia and conducts trade while in Rwanda, thanks to technology.

“I do not think I would have started my business without ICT because most of the work was done through Skype and the Internet. It has helped a lot with my research and implementation of my business,” Ingabire says.

She uses ICT in sourcing good graphic designers, using inventory software and promoting her brand through social media or other virtual outlets.

“I highly recommend the use of ICT and exposure to new technologies as it is needed to adapt and compete in this ever changing world we live in. I encourage women to use ICT because it allows you to interact with the world and expand your horizons, not only from a business standpoint but also personally,” Ingabire advises.

Rosine Mwiseneza, the current Ms Geek Rwanda, won the prestigious title with her app ‘Ivomerere’, an automated irrigation system that uses less time and energy facilitates the availability of an ample supply of food even in the dry season.

Mwiseneza says that women can achieve plenty with technology if only they let themselves join the field.

“For everyone, women inclusive, reaching development in this age and era definitely requires some bit of technology as it is now the driver of almost everything, therefore women need to think and act accordingly,” she says.

Mwiseneza says that today’s world requires women to work hard and strive for independence and that they should stand up for themselves, not only in ICT but also in other areas.

What can be done to encourage girls to taken on technology?

Carol Mugabo, secretary

Carol Mugabo

It’s important to lay a ground for the future generation to pick interest in technology. Let ICT related courses be given priority in early education, and students, most especially girls, should be encouraged to embrace it in their academics. Eventually, from there, many girls will find themselves in the field and there is no doubt they will make the most out of it. Besides, different education institutions need to encourage girls to form ICT clubs and platforms to explore more about technology and the opportunities available.

Josephine Tumukunde, university student

Josephine Tumukunde

There is no doubt that many girls’ attitude towards technology is poor. They think it’s complicated. I believe in mentorship, I have hope that it can empower girls and give them a positive attitude towards technology and eventually embrace it. There should be initiatives aimed at helping young girls to get acquainted to this field. With that in place, more girls will gain interest in the field and make most out of technology.

Cecile Mutesi- employee PWC

Cecile Mutesi

There is nothing that inspiration or personal life experience of different successful people can’t accomplish. I believe if girls are inspired and motivated to embrace technology, most especially by those who have reaped big from the field; the journey will be rewarding. Let people who are already in the technology world or pursuing careers in technology-related fields take it as their sworn duty to inspire girls to take it on. In my opinion, I think girls are capable of succeeding in technology, all they need is a push and guidance from people I call experts.

Monica Mabeyi, administrator

Monica Mabeyi

Generally, the ministry in charge of ICT should take the lead on this; come up with different initiatives and campaigns to motivate girls to pick interest in technology. They can organise regular teachings and internships for girls; provide a platform where they can be taught, mentored and encouraged to think through studies and careers in ICT. There is no doubt that with the ministry’s effort in place, girls can reap big in technology.

Compiled by Dennis Agaba