TechWomen 2020-2021 fellows have the opportunity to take advantage of Professional Development Funds, pursuing a professional development goal that enhances their skills and supports their TechWomen learning objectives. Here, we bring you three stories from fellows in Nigeria, the Palestinian Territories and Libya, sharing how they used their funds and what they learned from their experiences.
At MIT D-Lab, fellow learns how to improve her cook stoves
Happy Amos is passionate about saving resources and saving lives through providing cleaner, safer cook stoves to women in West Africa. She founded Roshan Renewables, a clean cooking design and manufacturing company, to bring eco-friendly, affordable and hygienic solutions to rural women. Today, Roshan has distributed over 30,000 stoves – called “Happy Stoves” – as well as safe cooking briquettes made from agricultural waste throughout the region. “My number one goal during TechWomen was to work on improving my cook stoves and also work on increasing our market reach and network with people in my field,” said Happy. She chose to apply her professional development funding to visit the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s D-Lab, a lab that collaborates with leaders around the globe to address global poverty.
Happy teamed up with D-Lab’s Biomass Fuel and Cookstoves group, visiting MIT last November and gaining access to their workshop, equipment, Burn Lab and more in order to improve her company’s products. “I had the most amazing experience, ranging from seeing the learning process, having access to the students who worked on improving the cookstoves with me and all the professionals who worked with us,” said Happy. She spent her time at the lab conducting stove testing, strategizing with students on improvements, attending classes and sharing her own experiences as a guest lecturer. By the end of the month, Happy and the D-Lab team had created an improvement plan, made two prototypes and found ways to make the stoves easily replicable at Happy’s factory in Nigeria. “Dan Sweeney from MIT D-Lab was of immense help. The students were amazing, and I met some amazing and smart people,” she said. As the team at D-Lab shared their culture and brought Happy around the area to sightsee, they were also eager to learn about her culture: “I was asked to share the Nigerian culture and food, of which I made them some Nigerian jollof rice and egusi soup,” said Happy.
Fellow shares culture and perspective at Arab Model UN
As an incoming Emerging Leader, Hiba Awaysa set a goal to learn about the U.S. and the other countries in the TechWomen 2020-2021 cohort. “I wanted to figure out how we as human beings are different but one in nature,” she said. After a virtual program hindered the cultural exchange she was hoping for, Hiba was excited to use her professional development funds to join 200 participants from over 70 countries at the Arab Model United Nations in Dubai, UAE.
Hiba is the founder of Sawaed19, a hub that matches volunteers to non-profits around the world. Through her initiative, Hiba hopes to empower her local community, particularly youth, to create positive change. At the Model UN, attendees, acting as diplomats, were selected to represent their countries on three different committees: the World Health Organization, the United Nations Environment Program and the United Nations Human Rights, where Hiba was placed. The topic of Hiba’s committee, Addressing Human Rights Violations in Palestine, allowed Hiba to shed light on her own experience: “It was an opportunity to share my own story as a Palestinian,” she said. “To discuss the issue from global perspective, not just mine as a Palestinian, and to realize how others think about the Palestinian issue and accept the difference in their point of view. It’s not easy for me, but it’s mandatory to start a real change, I believe.” Through speaking with change makers and leaders with diverse perspectives, Hiba left the event with new ideas, new directions and new possibilities for Sawaed19. Even more, she fulfilled the cultural exchange she was hoping for: “I proudly showed my traditional dress and many other handmade things from my heritage,” Hiba said. “I believe I got the max I can get from this opportunity.”
Fellows and mentor learn together at WebSummit
The Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal is one of the leading technology conferences in the world, and fellows of Libya Afnan El Sherief, Fadwa Amer and Ibtihal Elshami wanted a front row seat to learn about emerging technologies and network with international technology innovators. Afnan, who attended the summit in the past, was eager to return: “I know how this event is helpful for my professional development,” she said. “It’s not easy to cover the costs of the travel so using TechWomen’s funds was a lifesaver to make this happen.”
The fellows had additional TechWomen support while they were in Portugal: after nearly a year of meeting virtually, they finally met their Impact Coach, Jill Finlayson, the director of Expanding Diversity and Gender Equity in Tech Initiative (EDGE) at UC. For three days, the fellows and Jill attended master classes, panels, roundtables and keynotes led by over 700 leaders representing Microsoft, Apple, the ACLU, Black Lives Matter and more. “I had the opportunity to interact with people facing similar challenges to mine, and learn how they were able to overcome them,” said Fadwa Amer, who attended events themed on female founders, diversity and inclusion, inspiring future generations of changemakers and more. “The best and the greatest part of the event was meeting with my Impact Coach, Jill. She is my coach, mentor and a dear friend. She is making a profound impact on my professional development and is the best thing that happened to me through my TechWomen journey.” Afnan, who enjoyed attending talks by the president of Microsoft as well as the president of Portugal, agreed with Fadwa: “Jill was the special part of the experience. A million of thanks will not be enough for what she did,” she said. “We have spent good times together – memories that will last for a lifetime.”