Guest post by Josephine Ndambuki, 2013 fellow of Kenya
As a woman in tech, I am passionate about impacting the next generation of tech leaders through designing and implementing programs that impart skills, expose youth to mentors and challenge them to begin their careers in tech. I see tech as the new equalizer in a digital world, and want to take part in creating an ecosystem that provides opportunities for youth — both women and men alike — who face high levels of unemployment.
When the TechWomen program first launched in Kenya in 2013, I was quick to apply for a program that would allow me to immerse myself in the Silicon Valley tech ecosystem. I wanted to appreciate the processes that make Silicon Valley the global leader in innovation, and knew that we had a chance to replicate that in my country. We had an already-thriving mobile money innovation, M-Pesa, which was the first of its kind in the world.
My acceptance to the TechWomen program signified a new turn; it was the wind that propelled me in the direction of my passion. I was very excited to be matched with phenomenal women leaders: the awesome Rekha Pai of Juniper Networks as my Professional Mentor, and Christy Tonge as my cultural mentor. Rekha was the perfect professional mentor match, and my placement at Juniper Networks provided the best opportunities to soak in knowledge in the area of my passion. Over the program period, we worked on my mentorship project, visited incubation centers and attended networking programs both at Silicon Valley and San Francisco. On a visit to Plug and Play Tech Center, I was in awe of the tech founders so passionately working on their innovations. As I looked at the company logos in the “wall of fame” I couldn’t help but wonder what it would take for Kenya to have the same thing.
I also had the opportunity to visit VC firms and interview VCs, visit the Stanford University engineering department and join women in tech from Google, Oracle and Twitter on the Facebook campus. I met the awesome Anar Simpson, who hosted us for dinner and later walked with me on the journey to starting the Technovation Challenge in Kenya. Since then, the Technovation Challenge has gone on to inspire over 5,000 girls. After TechWomen I also joined my company, Safaricom, in an ambitious program to deliver 47 computer labs across the 47 counties in Kenya to provide digital skills opportunities for children. I also founded DigitizeHer, a program that seeks to impart digital skills to women so they can be prepared for the digital world.
Seven years after the TechWomen program, I am excited to join the team at Konza Technopolis, working to deliver the ambitious Silicon Savanna dream. The flagship project is part of Kenya’s Vision 2030 economic development portfolio, and will be a world-class mixed-use city and innovation hub with ICT, engineering and life sciences sectors. In my new role, I am leading strategy, research, partnerships and resource mobilization for the delivery of this ambitious vision. I am equally excited and humbled as I recognize the huge task ahead. I now have a chance to influence and bring the dream of a vibrant technology ecosystem to life.
It is said that you have to dream it, then wake up and take action, even if you’re afraid. I therefore embrace the challenge as I invite my TechWomen family and the whole world to join us in making this noble dream a reality. I will need the support of the many experienced TechWomen mentors and alumnae to switch on the Silicon Savanna (just like a computer). As I reflect on the journey that has brought me here, I am reminded of the words of Steve Jobs that you can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backward. You have to trust that somehow the dots will connect in your future. I am thankful for the opportunity to be part of this phenomenal program. The future is bright. Welcome to Silicon Savanna!