By Amy Juelsgaard, Program AssociateAt the heart of the TechWomen program is the aim to empower emerging female leaders who strive to make a difference in their communities. A 2015 fellow of Sierra Leone, Kumba Musa, embodies this core objective, and following the 2015 TechWomen program, she founded STEM Women in April 2016. “I decided to establish STEM Women because I want to attract and retain more women in the STEM workforce in order to maximize innovation, creativity and competitiveness in the areas that are responsible for building communities and transforming nations,” Kumba said.
During the TechWomen program, Kumba witnessed and experienced the supportive network that women have cultivated in Silicon Valley to help and inspire others in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Kumba explained that TechWomen motivated her to bring together female leaders to serve as role models for young girls in Sierra Leone, where the cultural stereotype that only men are fit for STEM prevails. STEM Women seeks to increase the participation of women in STEM and improve education in these fields.
STEM Women reaches 500 studentsSTEM Women’s members consist of 47 female scientists, who were recruited by human resource departments from various STEM organizations. The members implement several activities, including school visits, mentorships, STEM social clubs, STEM teacher training and the opening of STEM laboratories. The women are targeting primary school students and have visited eight schools as of June, reaching approximately 500 students; the goal is to visit all primary schools in Sierra Leone. At these visits, members explain the benefits of a STEM career and introduce female role models to the students, highlighting the value and importance of STEM subjects. Members have also recruited female students for a mentorship, and in August, the mentees are leading a four-day event on STEM experiments at the Africell American Corner. Establishing STEM social clubs at the primary schools is also in the works, and Kumba projects that 80 percent of the members will be girls who will be required to partake in STEM experiments to help them understand the basic principles of STEM. Community support for STEM Women
The establishment of STEM Women has been met with support from media and government entities. Kumba appeared on a local television station, Africa Young Voices, in April 2016, when Kumba launched the organization. As a guest on the Good Morning Sierra Leone show, Kumba introduced the organization’s mission to support women in STEM, and later that day, she appeared on the Issue of the Day show. Having secured attestations from the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology; the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs; and the Ministry of Youth, STEM Women is a registered NGO in Sierra Leone. The organization is independently operated but actively seeking partnerships with like-minded organizations.