The TechWomen delegation has returned from an incredible week in Sierra Leone, where fellows and mentors came together to educate and inspire the next generation of women in STEM. As we reflect on the week, we are also setting our sights to our next delegation trip: Uzbekistan!
Like in Sierra Leone, fellows in Uzbekistan have been hard at work organizing a week of educational and inspiring programming for women and girls. The week’s events will serve to strengthen an international network of women in STEM fields and encourage women and girls to pursue careers in STEM. Throughout the week, mentors and fellows will visit accelerators, local universities and innovation hubs to host mentoring sessions, professional development workshops and a STEM career day for young students.
#twimpact in Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan became a part of TechWomen in 2015; since then, 17 women have participated in the program, many returning home with a particular interest in mentoring and bridging the gender gap in STEM. “After coming back from the TechWomen program, I had a passion to support girls,” says 2016 fellow Ozoda Ismailova. Members of her TechWomen cohort shared the same passion: 2016 fellows Elena Selezneva, Saida Yusupova and Ozoda launched the country’s first Technovation chapter, supporting young girls in building apps that address issues in their community. And, in 2018, Technovation Uzbekistan became one of 70 winners of the U.S. Department of State’s 2018 Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund (AEIF) competition. Chosen out of 1,300 entries, the fellows are currently using AEIF funding to expand to five new regions of Uzbekistan, introducing girls in more rural areas to Technovation and conducting interactive STEM workshops.
After TechWomen 2015, fellow Shodiya Bakhtiyorzoda was also motivated to give back, working with other fellows to launch doITwomen, an initiative that brings computer literacy education to women who are on maternity leave, retired or have limited access to computers. During the delegation trip, Shodiya will shift her focus to pre-university students during her robotics sessions with mentors Lori Kahn, Rekha Pai Kamath and Rebecca Biswas: “I believe there is still a chance to change stereotypes and recruit more girls into STEM,” she says. “I am passionate about factories of the future and the future role of IT and systems in digitization.”
2017 fellow Natalya Yusupova, also a Technovation mentor of two teams that reached semifinals, returned home from TechWomen feeling empowered in her position at an IT startup, which is now a thriving company. “My trip to the U.S. with the TechWomen program was one of the brightest events in my life,” she said. 2018 fellow Shirin Sadullaeva returned to Uzbekistan and soon began searching for new positions – something, she says, she didn’t have the confidence to do before. Now, Shirin works on renewable energies as a distributed energy sources engineer at an international consulting firm. And although her new role comes with less sleep, she is embracing the change: “There is a saying, ‘The mind, once stretched by a new experience, never returns to its original dimension.’ I think this is what happened to me during the TechWomen program,” she says.
A global TechWomen community
TechWomen is thrilled to be joined in Uzbekistan by nearly 30 visiting fellows from Egypt, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Morocco and Tajikistan, all supporting the delegation and contributing to the week’s sessions and workshops. They will unite with 16 mentors from the San Francisco Bay Area who represent the fields of UX design, engineering, geology, executive coaching and more. Eileen Brewer, a longtime TechWomen mentor and director of program management at Symantec, has plenty of delegation trip experience: Uzbekistan will mark her seventh trip abroad with TechWomen. “Delegation trips are a perfect way to share the news that there is an increasing demand globally and locally for more engineers,” she says. “I am passionate about letting women and girls know it is an excellent career path and we need them to join us.”
This delegation will mark mentor Elaina Tia‘s first trip with TechWomen, though as a mentor to Emerging Leaders from the region, she is already familiar with Central Asia. Elaina is looking forward to learning about the local STEM ecosystem and sharing knowledge with other women: “I feel like I have a personal connection with that region, and I hope to be able to understand the opportunities and barriers for women in STEM from a different perspective,” she says. “I hope to connect with women from completely different backgrounds and to empower them with tools to achieve their goals.”
An exciting week ahead
Fellows are looking forward to a busy and impactful week with mentors, traveling fellows and women and girls in Uzbekistan. The delegation trip is also coinciding with Navruz, a spring celebration also known as Persian New Year. As part of the festivities, delegates will have the opportunity to try sumalak, a local dish that is cooked for 24 hours. “This is the best time to come to Uzbekistan,” says Elena. “We are eager to welcome mentors and already anticipate the impact that delegation activities will create for our youth and girls.”