Guest post by Tina Shakour, Cultural Mentor
One of the most surprising things I experienced after participating in the TechWomen delegation trip to Rwanda in February was the number of people who asked about the trip and why I went. People were curious and asked many questions: Why was I traveling with the State Department to Rwanda? What was I doing at the U.S. Embassy in Kigali? What did I see?
One question that I am often asked, but cannot answer easily, is this one: How did this trip help you in your own career? There are so many ways to answer this question. One of the most intriguing lessons I learned in Rwanda was about money and problem solving in a cash economy. For example, in the U.S., we take credit for granted. We are known as a culture that spends now and pays later. However, in Rwanda, where unemployment is around 75%, it’s a cash economy. At the same time, Rwanda is also a country heavily focused on technology and IT, which may seem counterintuitive. After all, how do you fuel technology in a cash economy? That’s where creative problem solving comes into play.
During the trip, we met many women from various nonprofits, businesses, and schools that were focused on fixing day-to-day problems with technology. The women we met had very different perspectives on what was important. I learned about a mobile application helping people with transportation by coordinating the use of moto-taxis. The app’s objective wasn’t about promoting credit cards and mobile payments; it was focused on saving gasoline for drivers and getting cash-paying customers to use the bikes. For the end customer, it was about finding a moto-taxi quickly and knowing an agreed upon cash price before getting on the motorcycle. This was a uniquely Rwandan solution and an app suitable for life in Kigali.
Other women we met were solving problems for the government, such as finding ways to detect and report contaminated water or report medical problems through basic text-and-call feature phones. They were using the technology they used daily to solve problems they faced in their lives. Months after the trip, I am still impressed by the innovative solutions these women had come up with.
By seeing things from another angle, seeing reality outside of Silicon Valley, I have a whole new perspective on my career, the products we build, and the technology we use. Several months after returning from the TechWomen delegation trip to Rwanda, I still find myself looking at technology solutions here and wondering just how far they can really reach, or puzzling through ways to make an app suitable for use in a cash economy such as Rwanda. I believe being able to question and think past our culture makes me a better business person, a better consumer, and a better advocate for cultures and regions who see the world differently.
To learn more about the TechWomen delegation trip to Rwanda, visit our blog to read daily coverage from the trip.
Interested in becoming a Cultural Mentor? The application for the 2014 program is now open! Apply today.
Tina has over 15 years in sales, marketing, and engineering in the tech industry and Silicon Valley. She has had the opportunity to work for Cisco, Microsoft, Skype, and small, angel-funded start-ups. She is a problem-solver; she works to find the best message, for the best audience, through the best medium. She loves strategy and big-picture thinking but also enjoys getting her hands dirty daily. @tinashakour