Yesterday, I had the honor of participating in the 4th annual Women Who Tech TeleSummit that brings together women breaking new ground in technology who use their tech savvy skills to transform the world and inspire change. Created by Alyson Kapin four years ago, WomenWhoTech is a network for thriving community of women in technology professions by giving women an open platform to share their talents, experiences, and insights.
I organized and moderated a panel called “Women Who Tech Globally.” Using a webinar and conference call platform, we were able to bring in participants from San Francisco, Rwanda, Kenya, Algeria, Tunisia, and Egypt. Unfortunately, our presenter from Lebanon had connectivity issues and was unable to present. This is a common experience when you attempt to facilitate global presentations, discussions or peer groups. It is also can be expensive for participants from outside the US, but WomenWhoTech and their sponsors offset the long distance charges and one participant got access to use a faster Internet connection.
I work as a trainer and capacity builder for nonprofits and technology and more lately social media and networked approaches. Through my work with Packard Foundation and with IIE and the State Department, I have have the opportunity to work with NGOs from places like Pakistan, Rwanda, India, and the Middle East. Along the way, I’ve met some amazing women activists and women who run Women’s Rights, Women Leadership Programs and Technology Start Ups. When Alyson Kapin asked me if I was interested in doing a session for WomenWhoTech, I very much wanted to do a session that could showcase and hear from women in places outside of North America. I am grateful to Alyson, NTEN and other Summit sponsors for the opportunity to experiment with having a Global virtual discussion.
When you work in the US or the land of high Bandwidth where FAST internet is accessible and cheap, you don’t realize how good you have it until you experience what it is like in countries where the Internet infrastructure is fragile, non-existent, or slow. Even worse,you don’t realize how lucky one is on the US to have freedom of expression until you encounter Internet censorship and other barriers.
And, despite Internet connectivity issues and other big challenges, there is a vibrant network of professional tech women as well as many amazing women’s rights ngos that are creatively using the technology to improve women’s lives in many countries. The session brought in women from the Middle East and Africa to hear their stories and discuss these questions:
- What is the role of women in Africa and Middle East emerging digital landscape and what types of contributions are they making?
- What challenges do women who tech in Africa and Middle East face? Are these similar or different than in the US?
- How is technology improving the everyday lives of women and girls in these countries?
Heather Ramsey who is the Director of Strategic Partnerships at the Center for Women’s Leadership Initiatives at IIE and several participants two programs, E-Mediat, and TechWomen. Heather gave an overview of the different types of programs that she managed – that help women who don’t have computer skills to gain them to run home-based businesses to supporting highly skilled technical women and social media training to support civil society goals.
Loubna Lahmici from Alergia who is the CEO and Founder of a tech start up in her country that is similar to GroupOn. Loubna said that being a women can be advantage in starting a company because women work hard, know how to nurture their networks and are trusted. She talked about how empowering it was to start own company with her sister on a small amount of funding provided by her family. She also reflected on how she had to quickly learn business skills in addition to her tech skills. “She had to learn how to wear many hats.”
We also heard from two amazing women activists and leaders, Ghada Bahig, Engineering Manager, Mentor Graphics; TechWomen Mentee, Egypt and Chema Gargouri, Manager, Centre for Applied Training (CAT); Director, E-Mediat, WES Tunisia. Both spoke about how women emerged as new leaders in their respective countries during the revolution. As Chema noted, “Women’s participation on social media was not shy.”
Next we had a brief overview from Mary Patton Davis who works on communications for the Akilah Institute and who I had the pleasure of meeting when I was in Rwanda. Mary shared an overview of their program and their first class will graduate this June with 100% job placement. The program includes an IT program where women receive weekly instruction in using Microsoft Office and navigating the Internet. This is an important employment skill for them.
It was very inspiring here from Giselle Bhati who will graduate this year and work for the Marriott Hotels. Part of Akilah’s program is that students start social businesses to give back to their communities. Giselle’s dream is in her own words:
I have been given an opportunity to attend a human rights workshop in New York City, this summerJune 22-July 14. This is an exciting opportunity because last January, I participated in a human rights workshop here in Rwanda with Global Youth Connect (www.globalyouthconnect.org) where I visited police station, refugee camps and volunteered with a youth association for promotion of human rights (AJEPRODHO). All these taught me how to become a human right activist.
Giselle has been using Razoo to help raise funds for her to make the trip and she still has a way to go before reaching her goal. (I made a small donation and hope you might consider a small gift too)
Next we heard from Dr. Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg is Founder and Executive Director of Akili Dada and based in Kenya. She is also an Assistant Professor in the Politics department at the University of San Francisco, where her research and teaching interests center on the politics of philanthropy, gender, Africa, ethnicity, and democratization, and on the role of technology in social activism.
Originally from Kenya, she earned a B.A. in Politics from Whitman College and Masters and Ph.D. degrees in Political Science from the University of Minnesota. In her dual roles, Wanjiru divides her time between the U.S. and Kenya, where Akili Dada is based. Working at the intersection of academia and social entrepreneurship, Wanjiru is passionate about the synergy between rigorous academic analysis and committed social activism. Wanjiru has received widespread recognition for her work with Akili Dada, including being honored as a 2012 White House ‘Champion of Change’, a winner of the 2010 United Nations Marketplace of Ideas competition, and recipient of the 2011 Yamashita Prize, the 2011 African Achievers International Award, and the 2012 HOW Fund Fellowship.
She shared Akili Dada’s model and impact for developing high-potential young women from underprivileged families who are passionate about social change. They offer comprehensive high school scholarships, personalized mentoring, and leadership training. Her vision to create an opportunity for these young people share their authentic voice about their work. They view technology as tool, and use when it has substance to get impact.
All in all, an inspiring start to the WomenWhoTech Summit 2012