By Amy Juelsgaard, Program Associate
In the culminating event of the TechWomen program in San Francisco, five country teams were awarded seed grants to support the implementation of their action plans. Teams Cameroon, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tunisia and Kenya were each awarded $2,500. A panel of judges rated each of the 19 program country’s action plan based on potential for impact, sustainability and scalability.
The top action plan teams were announced at the Community Celebration at Automattic on October 10. The 2016 Emerging Leaders, mentors and friends of the TechWomen network gathered for an evening to celebrate the overwhelming work and success of the Emerging Leaders and a month filled with new experiences, learnings and exchange. It was also an opportunity to showcase the enormous achievements of the TechWomen program.
To kickoff the program, an Emerging Leader from each country entered the stage with their country’s flag before the premiere of the “We are TechWomen” video, a video that captures the diverse community behind the program and the united front to empower women in STEM on a global level. TechWomen Director Arezoo Riahi gave the keynote address, providing background about the Institute of International Education. She introduced the fundamental ideas behind the TechWomen program and its aim to build inclusive, thriving communities globally. “Our TechWomen are selected because they are not only brilliant, but they are already doing things back home that make their communities a better place. What we do is help them. How? By connecting them with you. By exposing them to innovation. By encouraging them to not be afraid. By reminding them that they have the capacity to do even more,” Arezoo said.
Arezoo shared impact stories about TechWomen fellows in Jordan, Rwanda and Uzbekistan who have driven change in their communities through the power of technology and teamwork. Before announcing the winners of the seed grant, Arezoo shared a recap video of Pitch Day, where each team, in a four-minute pitch, shed light on their community’s issues and their potential to make an impact.
Team Cameroon plans to support victims of Boko Haram
Team Cameroon plans to provide educational and psychological support to children in the far north of the country, who have had their education and lives disrupted due to Boko Haram’s insurgency. More than 33,000 children do not have access to education in the northern area of Cameroon, and 90% of schools will remain closed due to fears of a terrorist attack, the team stated. The team’s goal is to get the children affected by the conflict off of the streets and out of the displacement camps. They will develop a curriculum covering numerous subjects, including leadership and 3D software, and they will partner with vocational training centers in the area for the children to learn career trades. With their initiative, GivTH: Give Them Hope, they want to help 25% of the children resume their education by December 2017.
Team Sierra Leone will educate kids on the importance of solid waste separation and collection
The objective of Team Sierra Leone’s plan is to reduce waste by educating schoolchildren on the importance of solid waste separation and collection. According to a World Bank report, 742 tons of garbage is generated in the municipality of Freetown on a daily basis. All of this waste causes health hazards and environmental degradation. The team’s initiative, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle-Kids Can Do It Better, targets children aged 5-11 at three primary schools. In addition to learning about solid waste separation and collection, the children will learn about the impact waste has on health, the economy, society and the environment as well as career opportunities in the waste management sector. While on stage, Seinya Bakarr, 2016 Emerging Leader of Sierra Leone, said, “When passion drives you, success follows” to demonstrate how far one can go when moved by passion.
Team South Africa will create an app to address lack of learning resources
In South Africa, 60% of children cannot read at a basic level by the end of the fourth grade caused by a shortage of teaching resources and learning materials as well as language barriers. English is the primary language used in schools; however, many of the children from rural areas and townships speak an African language as their native tongue creating learning difficulties. To combat this issue, the team will build a mobile application, Books4Mzansi, a networking platform to connect educators with donors who can supply teaching material and learning resources in primarily native African languages for schools in townships and rural areas. They hope that this will encourage students to read more and thereby improve literacy rates in the country.
Real-time application will save people time on a daily basis in Tunisia
Team Tunisia plans to develop a mobile application that provides real-time data for bus and metro schedules. On a daily basis, one million people use the public transportation system in Tunis. However, coordination is nearly impossible given the inaccurate bus and metro schedules and delays are inevitable given the unkept infrastructure. With Team Tunisia’s WAKTECH, people will be able to share information about departure and arrival times as well as delays and incidents in real-time through the crowd-sourced application. They are hoping that this application will save people time and help them use their time more efficiently.
Team Kenya’s plan will reduce the desk-to-child ratio from 1:10 to 1:3
Team Kenya has developed a plan to provide desks to schoolchildren who currently use stones to sit and write on and thus improve literacy in the country. Today, only 60% of 14-year-olds can read a basic sentence, and part of this is attributed to the lack of infrastructure in Kenyan schools. Having to learn while sitting on the floor causes health problems, inability to focus due to insects and dust, absenteeism, lack of motivation and poor student-teacher relations. Team Kenya aims to reduce the child to desk ratio from 10:1 to 3:1 through their initiative, One Desk, One Child. They will utilize local resources and artisans to help construct the desks, simultaneously providing employment opportunities and stimulating the local economy. Their goal is to increase enrollment in primary schools by 20% and reduce illiteracy to 10% among primary school students.
Each of the winning teams will receive a $2,500 seed grant to help get their project off the ground when they return to their home countries. “Remember this isn’t the end. It’s really just the beginning of this cohort’s impact on not only their families, workplaces and communities – but their country’s future and ours,” Arezoo said.