The Time is Now for a Better Balance

Youth for Technology Foundation (YTF) teamed up with Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology’s Women in Information and Communication Technologies organization (JKUAT-WICT) to host an International Women’s Day event on their campus in Juja which is about 30 kilometers outside of Nairobi, Kenya.   

JKUAT-WICT members and YTF staff strike the “Balance for Better” pose onstage at the International Women’s Day 2019 event they partnered to organize.

International Women’s Day (IWD) is a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. This year, the international theme was “Balance for Better”, and our local event embraced this message.  The whole event was structured around the idea of inspiring more women to take up leadership roles in Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) fields, and promoting gender balance in the ICT workforce.

The program brought together female STEM professionals from the private sector and representatives from the Kenyan government to inspire over 400 girls and young women from a range of primary and secondary schools and universities.  

YTF and JKUAT-WICT were proud to host presenters and attendees from a large cross-section of the public and private sectors – including big names like The ICT Authority, IBM, Oracle,  internationally-known auditing firm KPMG, the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ), Safaricom, Sage East Africa, Equity Finserve Africa Limited, Zynamis, Zalego Institute, Moringa School, and start-up incubator Nailab.  

The girls in attendance at the IWD 2019 event were thrilled to have the opportunity to take advantage of speed mentorship sessions and mini workshops with such an impressive assembly of top female tech talent.  They showed a lot of energy and enthusiasm throughout the day.

The keynote speaker was Eunice Kariuki, the Director of Partnerships, Innovation and Capacity at ICT Authority in Kenya.  She focused on persuading women to aspire to take on leadership roles in the ICT and engineering infrastructure field. “Women ought to climb up the career ladder and not only acquire technical skills, but most importantly, be in leadership roles,” she said.   

She stressed that women can and should rise above stereotypes and misconceptions that discourage female participating in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  She also encouraged the audience to challenge discrimination when they encounter it.

Eunice Kariuki, the Director of Partnerships, innovation and Capacity at ICT Authority, gives a keynote address.

In a brief speech by Cecilia Mwangi, an Advisor with GIZ Make-IT in Africa, she highlighted the need for women to be included in the tech-entrepreneurship space. “It’s of key necessity to form a supportive ecosystem to nurture women-led tech-entrepreneurial initiatives,” she said.  Participation of women in fast-growing industries often lags behind due to a lack of female mentorship. Therefore, it’s especially important for female trailblazers who have excelled their ICT-related entrepreneurial endeavors to share their experiences and expertise with their fellows.  

Participants gather for mini workshop sessions at IWD 19.

The mini-workshops gave our mentors a platform to exchange ideas with the next generation of ICT professionals. These group interactive sessions were broken down into areas of special interest including Women and Technology, Women and Leadership, Women and Entrepreneurship, and Promoting Gender Balance.

Ms. Cecilia Mwangi, a Coordinator for GIZ Make-IT, mentoring two IWD 19 attendees.

Speed mentoring sessions gave girls a chance to connect one-on-one with professional women and freely asked questions related to their STEM career paths.  “My dream to pursue software engineering becomes a reality when I see women who have already made it in the technology field,” remarked Ann, a YTF Code Clubs participant from Makena School.

Elizabeth Kiarie, a member of the IBM Women in ICT chapter, served as a workshop facilitator and mentor.  “We need to pool more women into the ICT industry so we have diversity of talent and resources we can tap into,” she said.  

YTF Master Trainers joined in the discussions throughout the day, and shared their insights from YTF programs such as Code Clubs and Girl4Tech.  Both of these programs are currently in operation in Kenya and share similar goals of encouraging girls’ interest in pursuing STEM education opportunities and careers in ICT fields.

At the end of the program, attendees were invited to explore a tech projects showcase featuring hands-on demonstrations of advanced technology from entities such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Society of Computer Science and Information Technology, the Rotaract Club of JKUAT, and SES Africa.  The projects on display ranged from mobile applications to more advanced emerging technologies like Internet of Things.

Students from Makena School demonstrate how they built their own computers using Kano Kits during YTF’s Code Clubs.

YTF Master Trainers displayed the Kano Kits assembled by our very own Code Clubs girls from nearby Makena School and discussed how these types of hardware and software education initiatives can empower girls in marginalized communities to tackle the problems they encounter in their societies.

The bottom line is that in Kenya, only 5.8% of engineers are women.  This startlingly low percentage illustrates why collaborations like the International Women’s Day 2019 event organized by YTF and JKUAT-WICT are so important.  We can’t thank JKUAT-WICT founder Phylis Ngigi enough for her leadership and collaboration.  

Programs that target women and girls and create spaces for them to engage with the tech sector are key to creating a more inclusive and sustainable future for ICT industries in Kenya.  Balance truly does create a better future.


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