At the TechWomen Cultural Kickoff, Emerging Leaders showcase their customs and cultures, transporting the audience to their countries and introducing them to their foods, dances and history. The yearly event – where many Emerging Leaders meet their mentors for the first time – sets off five weeks of exchange, professional development and mentorship. The relationships forged between Emerging Leaders and mentors often transcend the fall program, continuing as the Emerging Leaders become fellows and return home to their respective countries.
Each year the TechWomen program has the opportunity to continue knowledge-sharing and deepen exchange by traveling to two program countries on a delegation trip. This year we are thrilled to announce our travels to Sierra Leone and Uzbekistan! Later this month, 16 TechWomen mentors will kick-off the first delegation of 2019 in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Together with TechWomen mentors, fellows will organize a week of educational and inspirational programming for women and girls.
Delegations are a cornerstone of the TechWomen program, serving a vital role in growing and sustaining the TechWomen network. The trips serve to strengthen an international network of women in STEM fields, creating partnership and exchange between the United States and TechWomen program countries. Throughout the week in February, mentors and fellows will visit non-governmental organizations, universities, incubators and innovation hubs. Delegates from the United States learn about the STEM ecosystem in country and encourage women and girls to pursue careers in STEM fields.
#twimpact in Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone, known locally as “Salone,” became a part of the TechWomen program in 2013; since then, 27 women have participated in the program and have returned home to create initiatives, inspire women and girls, and gain both local and global recognition for their efforts in STEM fields. After returning from TechWomen in 2015, fellow Kumba Musa was inspired to create a project of her own: “After I returned from the TechWomen program, I felt very empowered,” she says. “TechWomen helped me realize that my capabilities are endless.” As the founder and executive director of the non-profit organization STEM Women, Kumba works to increase participation of women in STEM fields. Fellow Bintu Jonah was part of a 2016 seed grant-winning team whose project, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – Kids can do it Better (3Rs for Kids)” implemented solid waste management education programs in local schools. After their TechWomen experience, 2013 fellow Michelle Sesay and 2016 fellow Salwa Campbell were both selected as Next Einstein Forum Ambassadors, chosen as science and technology champions who represent NEF at global gatherings and lead the program’s annual local science week.
After her TechWomen mentorship experience, 2015 fellow Magdalene Peters built a mentoring program in her own community and continues to hold bi-monthly mentoring sessions for young girls. And although TechWomen 2018 concluded just a few months ago, fellows Davephine Tholley, Bernadette Kargbo and Sebay Momoh returned home and hit the ground running. Davephine is working with budding entrepreneurs in Sierra Leone, finding new partnership opportunities with past fellows, and Bernadette is working on organizing a partnership between her employer, the Sierra Leone Water Company, and SunPower, her TechWomen host company. Sebay, who says the TechWomen program awakened a knack for convening events and an interest in public speaking, has since organized official workshops and events for her employer and has been invited to speak at schools and organizations.
A week of inspiration and innovation
The fellows have been hard at work organizing engaging workshops, panels and programs. Through their interactive events, they hope to showcase their country’s culture, share professional experiences and encourage networking opportunities. “We are focusing on engagements with schools, startups, entrepreneurs and women in leadership positions,” says Magdalene. “It’s an honor to have the delegation here with us, and we would like everyone present to meet new people and expand their networks.” At STEM Career Day, high school girls will be matched with TechWomen mentors to learn about the diverse opportunities STEM fields have to offer. Later in the week, the Pitch Night and Startup Exhibition will provide an opportunity for the delegation to engage with the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Sierra Leone and learn about the country’s entrepreneurs and influencers.
Delegation trip mentors represent diverse industries, ranging from green tech to cybersecurity to marketing and communications. Kira Gardner, senior scientist at Sepion Technologies, joined TechWomen as an Impact Coach in 2018. Sierra Leone will be her first delegation trip: “I feel like the trip is an unprecedented opportunity to support a global network of women who are empowered with tools to address the challenges in their communities and countries. I definitely wouldn’t have gotten where I am without many advocates along the way and I want to be able to give back in that same way,” she says. Jill Finlayson, director of the Women in Technology Initiative at UC Berkeley, has mentored TechWomen Emerging Leaders from around the world for the past eight years as a Professional Mentor, Cultural Mentor and Impact Coach. Jill has traveled on three delegations with TechWomen leading sessions on entrepreneurship, marketing and innovation. “The best part is supporting and helping to showcase all the hard work and impact that the TechWomen alumnae have had since their participation in the program,” she says. “It also gives us the opportunity to learn from them about best practices in their country, and to help promote the inclusion of women in tech to influential people in government, universities, corporations and startups.”
The fellows in Sierra Leone are equally energized, anticipating an impactful week of exchange. “I can’t wait for the delegation to get the Sierra Leone experience: our culture, our people, our home,” says Davephine. Sebay is especially excited to share delegation activities with young women pursuing careers in STEM: “I believe this experience will serve as an eye-opener and a motivation to succeed against all the odds stacked up against them.”