Innovation and social entrepreneurship are taking off in a big way in Africa and huge progress is being made, especially when it comes to the growing community of women embracing technology in Africa. Change is happening rapidly, but what effects will this have on the Continent’s numerous traditions and cultures? Next year’s eLearning Africa conference will examine the crossroads of tradition, change and innovation.
The role of women in Africa is a particularly hot topic at the moment. Women-run organisations engage in a wide range of activities: from providing peer-support to promoting social responsibility and entrepreneurship. Incubators, social organisations and innovative businesses are engaging with technology and catalysing new solutions to existing problems. They are also fostering a culture of collaboration between like-minded women and promoting technology and science among African girls before they leave school.
Ushahidi is a well-known example of socially responsible entrepreneurship in Africa. (http://www.ushahidi.com/), Ushahidi is an open source mapping tool created by one of Africa’s most famous female entrepreneurs, Ory Okolloh. The web-based platform was originally created to crowdsource reports and incidents of violence following Kenya’s election in 2008. Shaking Sun (http://www.shakingsun.com/), a business incubator based in Rwanda is run by Akaliza Keza Gara and promotes open source resources available in the region, and MPrep (http://mprep.it/), a Kenyan startup run by Toni Maraviglia, provides mobile web and SMS learning solutions for schools.
Okolloh started as a blogger before founding Ushahidi and now serves as Google’s Policy Manager for Africa, promoting Internet access for African users and encouraging content creation. She is one of many women taking on major roles in international technology companies based in Africa. Other women paving the way in this field are Isis Nyong’o, who is the Vice President and Managing Director of InMobi (http://www.inmobi.com/), and Rapelang Rabana, who is the Global Head of Research and Development at Telfree (http://www.telfree.com/). When asked by Forbes Magazine (http://www.forbes.com/sites/mfonobongnsehe/2012/06/12/africas-most-successful-women-isis-nyongo/) what advice she would give women looking to get into technology in Africa, Nyong’o said: “The tech industry is in its infancy in Africa so the rules can be redrawn. Women who are interested in exploring a career in tech should strive to seek out any opportunity to learn, gain experience and contribute.”
Numerous organisations and foundations are springing up with the aim of providing a better life for women in Africa through the power of technology and science. Working to Advance African Women (WAAW) (http://www.waawfoundation.org/) is an organisation based in Nigeria aiming to help women find a place in the wave of technological innovation coming out of Africa. WAAW offers science and technology programs for girls between the ages of 11 – 15, courses for professional women and one on one mentoring programs. WAAW’s website states that female education has proved to be a key factor in a country’s development. Another platform of this kind is Her Zimbabwe (http://herzimbabwe.co.zw/), which is using social media and blogging to explore the experience of Zimbabwean women in urban settings, as well as promoting the use of technology as a means of change.
Peer-support groups and ICT organisations concentrated around Africa’s main tech hubs in Ghana, South Africa and Central East Africa provide increasing visibility for women in technology. The Women of Uganda Network (http://wougnet.org/) provides a way for women to share tools, knowledge and experience in ICT issues, while the Asikana Network (http://asikananetwork.org/) in Zambia is providing empowerment and mentorship for young women interested in ICT. Nairobi-based leadership incubator Akili Dada (http://www.akilidada.org/) is giving a voice to the next generation of female leaders in Africa, and has teamed up with organisations across Africa.
The role of these kinds of organisations is more important when considering the unmalleability of gender roles in a number of African countries. As well as the usual issues of stereotyping and invisibility faced by women in technology all over the world. In Africa, women are still considered to be second-class citizens. Speaking to TechCrunch (http://techcrunch.com/) in 2011, Okolloh said: “The visibility of women in tech – it’s a challenge just being out there, especially for women of colour in tech. You have all these stereotypes about what we can and can’t do as women and while it’s not easy, I think we’re demonstrating that we can compete, maybe in different ways, and still be a part of the tech scene and innovation scene.” (http://www.aol.com/video/ory-okolloh-of-ushahidi/517279680/)
As with the wider field of technology in Africa, the empowerment and visibility of women across the Continent seems to be accelerating. Getting more and more women involved in the tech scene in Africa can only be a good thing, and it is interesting to see how technology and innovation will align with cultures and traditions.