by Djam Bakhshandegi, Corporate Social Investment Lead Microsoft West, East,Central Africa and Indian Ocean Islands
Exposing African girls to the possibilities within STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) careers and driving a greater female workforce to these industries is an essential element for developing economies across the continent.
With this in mind, Microsoft YouthSpark, in partnership with I Choose Life Africa, Craft Silicon Foundation and Techno Brain Limited, held the fourth ICT Day for girls in Kenya last month on 7 March, attracting 218 high school girls from 11 schools.
The event, known as DigiGirlz, was made up of a series of mentorship sessions led by female Microsoft employees as part of our Employee Volunteer Program (EVP) and targeted girls who are enrolled in computer studies and are high achievers at their schools. This year, the mentors at DigiGirlz included Tonia Kariuki, Marketing Director for Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative; Wambui Mbeca, Country Director Techno Brain Kenya; Elssy Makena, Microsoft Student Partner and STEM student at Jomo Kenyatta University of Technology (JKUAT); and Dr Susan Musyoka, Machakos County Women Representative (Member of Parliament, Kenya National Assembly). The girls had the opportunity to engage with these women while learning about careers in technology, gaining career planning advice and enjoying hands-on computer and technology training.
Mariam Abdullani, General Manager for East Africa Microsoft Mobile Device Sales, says programs like DigiGirlz help to reduce the wide gender imbalance that exists in these trades. “It is our hope as the women of Microsoft that through this event girls will be motivated to not only take up careers in the ICT sector in a futuristic approach, but also use the skills gained from the hands-on training and mentorship session to create solutions that can resolve the issues in their immediate environments using technology.”
Carol Ngugi, Co-ordinator for the Youth Employability and Entrepreneurship Portal at Microsoft, believes that there has been a great shift in mindset in the girls attending DigiGirlz. No longer are STEM subjects seen as reserved for boys. She adds, “This year’s DigiGirlz was special because it was the first time it was held outside of Nairobi – at Misyani Girls in Machakos County – which is exciting because this gives girls even in remote areas the opportunity to explore STEM careers and make an impact on their society.”
Although the workshops were primarily aimed at students, there was also an opportunity for teachers to be part of the event, in a session on using technology in teaching. This workshop gave the teachers learning tools and encouraged them to engage in technology programs throughout the school year, so that the girls who attended DigiGirlz, along with their peers, can continue to be exposed to technology in the classroom. The girls also exchanged contact details with their mentors to engage with them in the future.
Our partners put the impact of mentorship programs like DigiGirlz best. Mike Mutungi, CEO of I Choose Life – Africa, says: “This partnership brings together mentorship models that will inspire the girls to remain in school to pursue their ambitions, directly impacting the student’s learning, enrolment, attendance and performance.”
Priya Budhabhatti, CEO of Craft Silicon Foundation, adds: “Firstly education is important for all, as it puts everyone on an equal footing regardless of your background and gives you a competitive edge. Secondly, as women, we need to have financial stability and acquire some form of financial means as it is prudent for us to be self-sufficient. Lastly, I encourage women to pursue fields which were long ago male dominated, because as women we must believe we are gifted, capable and have contributions to make in society.”
The DigiGirlz program has grown from strength to strength over the years, and its impact on the lives of these young women is undeniable. The girls who attended this year’s workshops commented, “The session was excellent. It has helped and assisted us in improving our skills in science, technology and other life skills.” They added, “We have learnt a lot about how to create apps and gained general knowledge that we are going to use to develop ICT solutions for our communities.”
This highlights the real impact DigiGirlz can have on the girls who attend, as well as their communities. We call on teachers, leaders, captains of industry and other ambitious young women to get involved in the program and grow STEM capabilities among African women.
Read more about Microsoft’s DigiGirlz programs here.