By Samera Edwards, Logistics and Operations Officer
The TechWomen delegation to Zimbabwe reached more than 850 women and girls throughout the week to support the next generation of female leaders and change agents in STEM. This record-breaking outreach is part of the impact of the delegation trips. In addition, TechWomen mentors and fellows took the time to engage in meaningful dialogue, inspire and motivate girls, and strengthen the global TechWomen network.
Day 4: Sessions with Bradley High School and Bindura University
On Day 4, the delegation went to Bradley High School and Bindura University of Science Education, both located in the rural town of Bindura.
Students at Bradley High School had the opportunity to go through a hands-on lesson with computer hardware by mentor Eileen Brewer.
The delegation members also led discussion sessions with the students about social media, cyber security, hardware and other topics.
At Bindura University, the delegation conducted speed-geek sessions on mentoring, entrepreneurship and innovation, tips to succeed in male-dominated spaces, and networking. They also held a panel discussion about their journey through STEM and overcoming obstacles. One of the key messages of the day focused on the high unemployment rate in Zimbabwe, and the necessity to improve employment through entrepreneurship and increasing skills in STEM fields. In her introduction, Director Arezoo Riahi addressed the topic and said, “The idea of innovation and creating a start up is important here when you have 90% unemployment.” After the day of stimulating sessions, Unity Chipunza, a fellow and host of the event closed with final remarks, “Today, a fire has been lit, and it is up to us to keep fanning it.”
Later at the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization, the delegation learned about legal and financial barriers for women entrepreneurs in Zimbabwe, especially in regard to patenting and intellectual property and how they can overcome such odds. The discussion focused on how to create the right environment for successful entrepreneurs.
Day 5 in Zimbabwe: Bulawayo Walk for Women, STEM Conference for Girls and visit to Chipangali Wildlife Orphanage
Day 5 brought the delegation to Bulawayo, the second largest city in Zimbabwe, after Harare. Historically, Bulawayo was known as Zimbabwe’s industrial capital, thus making it an important place to reach out to women and girls in STEM.
First, the delegation joined the Walk for Women in STEM, which made its way from the Bulawayo City Hall to the National University of Science and Technology. This was a fun way to explore the town and build connections while walking and talking.
Once they reached the university, the group facilitated a conference focused on girls in STEM. The conference included breakout sessions on topics, such as mentoring for impact, funding options for entrepreneurs, building a professional network, leaning in, using Twitter effectively and staying safe online. A portion of the group at the conference also went through the computer hardware exploration session.
After the conference, the delegation had the opportunity to have lunch with the students and learn more about their aspirations in STEM. Delegation members had a chance to exchange contact information to keep in touch with the students and support them along their academic and professional journey.
At the end of the packed day, the group switched gears and visited the Chipangali Wildlife Orphanage, known as a haven for wild animals that have little hope for survival in the wild.
Day 6: Technovation fair, discussion on the economic status of women and farewell
Telecel Harare hosted the Technovation fair and pitch event, where teams of girls had the chance to practice pitching their mobile apps to the delegation. Technovation is one of the main activities for Techwomen Zimbabwe (TWZ), and they supported 150 girls to participate in 2015. TechWomen mentor and Technovation ambassador Anar Simpson talked about how to get involved and the impact of the Technovation challenge. Bertha Ndlovu, an active member of TechWomen Zimbabwe, offered some words of motivation:
“We need to create an environment where women and girls are inventors and creators and can develop technologies to deal with the issues that they face and address the strategic needs of women. The challenge is up to you, young women of Zimbabwe, to find these solutions to the issues we face in our society. Technology gives power to women. The future is young, is female and is digital.”
In the afternoon, the delegation came together for an intimate conversation about how to improve the economic status of women using the power of technology. The purpose of the discussion was to shape recommendations for the United Nations High Level Panel of the Economic Status of Women through Mitchell Baker, founder of Mozilla and executive chairwoman of the Mozilla Foundation, who sits on the panel. The discussion brought forward some key topics about the economic status of women in Zimbabwe, including access to financial institutions, internet availability, access to international markets, collaboration with high-income local investors, such as those in South Africa, and the need for encouraging innovation and design thinking in education, especially at the university level.
The delegation was brought to a close at the final event hosted by Logicode. As the participants recapped the week and reflected on some of their favorite experiences, everyone celebrated the incredible reach and success of the program. Director Arezoo Riahi emphasized that the impact of the TechWomen program is seen in the initiatives started by the TechWomen fellows as the delegation saw throughout the week. “The goals and objectives go far beyond those five weeks at your host company. It’s about what happens when you come back home and how we can continue to support that. It warms my heart to see TechWomen Zimbabwe doing that and make this huge impact in their community and country.”