Empowering Young Women Entrepreneurs in Africa through ICTs: UNESCO and Senegal Highlight their Partnership to Advance Women in ICTs at the Commission on the Status of Women
On March 13th 2017, the opening day of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) at UN Headquarters in New York, UNESCO organized, in partnership with the Government of Senegal, a side event highlighting best practices from UNESCO’s YouthMobile initiative in preparing young women in Africa for the changing world of work.
UNESCO’s YouthMobile initiative aims to include young people, and particularly young girls, in developing countries in the digital revolution. By providing young girls with basic technical skills and the confidence to develop, promote, and sell locally relevant mobile applications, the initiative aims to create employment opportunities and at the same time create solutions in different fields such as agriculture, health and education. These youth-made innovations can contribute to the fulfillment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). With the participation of the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications of Senegal, Sonatel, IAMTHECODE, KANO, DEVSCHOOL Kenya, and CEOs of Senegalese mobile applications and platforms Yaay.SN, Sigestes, and Sama Carnet, the panel brought together key partners to discuss the importance of multi-stakeholder public-private partnerships for the economic empowerment of women in a changing world of work.
“In today’s world, it is impossible to imagine sustainable development in Africa, or anywhere in the world, without the power of technology to transform, without the full contribution of women, and without partnerships that prepare young people for the changing world of work” underlined the UNESCO representative to the United Nations, Marie Paule Roudil, at the opening of the side event.
Ambassador Fodé Seck, Permanent Representative of Senegal to the United Nations, further underlined the active promotion of gender equality by the Senegalese Government, both at a national level and at the level of the African Union, ensuring that women are equipped to fully participate in social, political, and economic affairs of the Continent.
Reflecting on the link between digital entrepreneurship, women’s empowerment, and sustainable development, Bitilokho Ndiaye, Technical Advisor on Gender at the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications of Senegal, underlined that ICTs play a catalyzing role in accelerating women’s empowerment, both in creating jobs for women and ensuring that solutions to local development challenges affecting women are developed using technology. Emphasizing the work of the Senegalese Government in supporting gender equality in the ICT Sector, reflected in the study by Deloitte in 2016 that revealed that 31% of women who responded to their survey worked in the ICT Sector in Senegal, in comparison to 25% in developed countries, the Ministry reaffirmed their continued commitment to promoting women in the ICT Sector through a fund to support gender equality in this Field. Notably, between 2010 and 2015, an increase in 9% of women studying computer science and 2% in women studying telecommunications was recorded in the country, a direct corollary with the enabling policy environment ensured by the Ministry and its gender unit and their continued advocacy in promoting women’s digital entrepreneurship in the country.
Rokhaya Solange Ndir, from the Department of Institutional Communications and External Relations of Sonatel Orange, further underlined that as the largest company in Senegal, contributing 10% of the GDP of the country, the Sonatel has put gender equality at the heart of its company’s growth; beyond supporting initiatives such as Orange Woman and Super Coders that promote women’s entrepreneurship in Senegal, 35% of the company is currently women, and the Director General has signed the HeForShe campaign, and committed to ensuring gender parity at all levels of the company by 2020. Rokhaya Solange Ndir further underlined the commitment of Sonatel, a partner of YouthMobile, in ensuring mobile app solutions developed by Senegalese women continue to be incubated by the private sector, and the business skills necessary to ensure sustainable and commercialized tech solutions created by women developed.
Joanna Bersin, Head of Education for Kano and Board Member of IAMTHECODE, founded by Senegalese entrepreneur Marieme Jamme, reflected on the need to support hackathons for women in order to develop ICT solutions for sustainable development challenges in Africa, and address the digital divide affecting women on a global level is through a holistic approach that ensures hardware, software, and pedagogy are available and adapted at the local level to fit community needs. Training local mentors and pedagogues, Joanna underlined, is a key to ensuring both sustainability and scale at the heart of digital literacy trainings.
Martha Chumo, founder of the first coding school in Kenya called the DevSchool, and inspiration for the Searching for Martha initiative of YouthMobile focused specifically on training young women in code, shared her career trajectory as an entrepreneur to inspire other young women. Noting that she originally intended to pursue a medical degree but was dissuaded with the 48% unemployment rate in Kenya, Martha pursued a life as an entrepreneur, open source developer, and trainer to inspire more women to consider pursuing careers in the ICT Sector. Martha shared her experience as a trainer for the YouthMobile Initiative in Rwanda, Kenya, and South Sudan in partnership with UNESCO, and emphasized the need to ensure young women are equipped with both the technical and business skills necessary to ensure the viability of their ICT solutions.
Seynabou Thiam, first prize winner of the Women’s Digital Entrepreneurship Prize in 2015 from Sonatel, and founder of the mobile app and website Yaay.sn dedicated to providing a platform of exchange of information between pregnant women and young mothers, underlined that ICTs provide important solutions to ensure decisionmaking tools related to health, education, and employment are available to women, and that when women are well informed, it has an impact on the entire community. Underlining that the mobile application market in Africa is a rapidly developing market, and women have an important contribution to make in the development of the sector, Seynabou emphasized that in addition to ensuring financing and incubation of mobile app solutions created by women, mentorship between women entrepreneurs is essential.
Aida Mansour LO, CEO of the mobile application SIGESTES that provides an ICT solution to land management in Senegal, and Ndeye Aida Gueye, CEO of the mobile application Sama Carnet destined to facilitate medical follow up for pregnant women and their infants, further reflected on their respective trajectories as entrepreneurs. Aida Mansour Lo, originally with a fashion design background, described how the creativity and innovation she found at the heart of design she also ultimately found in mobile app development, and that coding is a language you can use to express yourself and empower others. Ndeye Aida Gueye, who studied computer science and engineering, underlined how despite her academic background, ICTs and entrepeneurship have allowed her to discover other sectors including health and education.
In closing, and reflecting on advice to give to other women who are considering pursuing careers in entrepreneurship and the ICT Sector, Seynabou Thiam cited the African American actress Viola Davis and said “the only thing that separates women of color from anything else is opportunity.” Underlining that ICTs present a world of opportunity, autonomy, and economic empowerment for women, Bitilokho Ndiaye emphasized that in the next ten years, millions of jobs in the ICT sector will be created, and that young African women must seize these opportunities. Rokhaya Ndir further reflected the position of the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, encouraging young women to be audacious and have the self-confidence to dare to develop their ideas and business models.
In closing, Ambassador Fodé Seck enthusiastically stated that after listening to these inspiring young women digital entrepreneurs from Senegal and Kenya, he believed, indeed, that “Yes We Can,” and reaffirmed the continued commitment of the Government of Senegal to reinforce its partnership with UNESCO in the framework of YouthMobile to develop best practices, policies, and initiatives that empower women through ICT solutions and serve as a model for the Continent.
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