“While we are strong, together we are stronger. And together our voices will change the world. You see a girl — we see the future.”
A welcome at the U.S. Embassy
Day two began with the opportunity to speak to and learn from staff of the U.S. Embassy Kigali in order to better understand the country’s local economy, technology sector and more. The delegates were welcomed by public affairs officer Marissa Rollens, who spoke about the impact TechWomen fellows have created since the first cohort in 2013. “TechWomen have been so important in Rwanda,” she said. “If we need anything for women and girls, we can go to the TechWomen.”
During a panel, delegates learned that Kigali, known as a ripe testing ground for new and emerging technology, is home to exciting and innovative new businesses that are working to bring greater accessibility to Rwanda’s citizens. The country is also committed to gender equality: in both its constitution and policy, Rwanda has committed itself to putting women in leadership roles; although there is a ways to go, the country has made strides in placing women in powerful positions.
Exploring STEM with students
After the embassy briefing, it was time for a TechWomen delegation trip highlight: a full day of fun hands-on activities at a STEM fair. At the beautiful Kigali Public Library, mentors and fellows met with girls from 10 secondary schools for a full day of hands-on workshops meant to spark creativity, exploration and learning. Mentor Katie Penn welcomed the group, encouraging all the girls in the room to remain ambitious in their goals. “Think about what you want to do in the future,” she said. “Someday you will be the leaders.”
2016 fellow of Rwanda Kevine Bajeneza, a tech company founder and CEO, continued: “I was like you. My story started when I was your age. I was doing mathematics, business and chemistry, all careers dominated by men. Sometimes girls fear to do these things. I want to encourage you that with commitment, determination and focus you can succeed.”
Next, mentors and fellows led small-group sessions in electronics, engineering, digital media, motherboards, pitch training, design thinking, creative brainstorming and more. In the digital media session, groups of girls used Adobe Spark to create videos on themes of their choosing; in the engineering and architecture session, students used the basic principles of bridge engineering to create their own straw bridges using scissors, straws and tape; in the electronic circuits room, groups of students created LED flashers with sound and experimented with micro:bit hardware.
Later, in all-group sessions, mentors led students in interactive activities that demonstrated the principles of design thinking and creative brainstorming.“There’s no bad idea in brainstorming,” said mentor Molly Glauberman. “And when you involve more people, your ideas will get even better.”
At a pitch training, mentors Tina Shakour and Jennifer Gieber taught students essential elements of an effective pitch: making eye contact, telling a compelling story, and — of course — having fun and believing in your product. After a lesson in pitch delivery, students split into groups to create one-minute pitches on solutions that can bring more resources to schools. Although initially just a few teams were asked to share at the end, the students were so eager that each and every team came on stage and presented with clarity and confidence.
TechWomen fellow of Kenya Salome Gathoni closed out the day, inspiring everyone in the room to pursue their curiosities, follow their talents and work hard for their goals. The group finished the day chanting in unison, “I can STEM!”
Evening reception with the Deputy Chief of Mission
Day two ended at an evening reception generously hosted by the Deputy Chief of Mission Belinda Jackson Farrier. Mentor Shawne Van Deusen-Jeffries and Rwandan fellow Anatole Gahongayi represented TechWomen, sharing their reflections on the delegation trip and communicating the importance of empathy and cross-cultural connection. “Delegation trips offer a chance to reconnect, to deepen the bonds we create in Silicon Valley and to see how the fellows have used the program as a stepping stone to grow their careers and their initiatives,” Shawne said.
After celebrating a successful day two, public affairs officer Marissa Rollens closed out the evening, reminding the group of the power of the TechWomen community: “In the coming years there will be no girls in Rwanda that won’t have been touched by TechWomen,” she said.