From inventing windshield wipers to coming up with solutions to improve the lives of millions of people around the world, women have been harnessing the power of technology to do great things for their communities, families and themselves since as early as the 18th century.
In Africa, women have also made their mark on the world. Take Kenyan-born Juliana Rotich for example. Rotich is the co-founder and executive director of Ushahidi – a web-based reporting system that uses crowdsourced data, mobile phones and web reporting to formulate real-time visual maps during crises. Or, Mariéme Jamme from Senegal, who is the CEO of the London-based SpotOne Global Solutions, as well as the co-founder of African Gathering, a global platform that brings together entrepreneurs and experts to exchange ideas about Africa’s development.
To mark International Women's Day this year, we are celebrating the dynamic doers, the trail-blazing trendsetters and the unsung heroes from four countries across Africa who are using technology to #MakeWhatsNext:
Dr Wuleta Lemma – Ethiopia
“I’m showing young women it CAN be done”
Originally from Ethiopia, Dr Wuleta comes from a long line of tough women who believed that women should be given an equal opportunity to succeed in life. And succeed is exactly what Dr Wuleta did. Growing up in one of the most turbulent periods in Ethiopia’s history, Dr Wuleta was able to overcome extreme adversity to study degrees in medicine, epidemiology and international health abroad.
With a deep love for Africa and a strong desire to develop home-born solutions for the African continent, she returned to her motherland. Dr Wuleta decided to marry her love for IT with the knowledge she had gained in medicine, by developing an e-health system to improve healthcare operations in Ethiopia. The system, called the TenaCare, is currently being used in over 3000 facilities. She has also developed ICT-enabled training centres and programmes in conjunction with local universities and colleges.
In addition to using Microsoft technologies like Visual Studio, SQL Server, Windows, Azure and Power BI to power this revolutionary eHealth system, Dr Wuleta is also a self-confessed gadget geek and loves to use technology in her day-to-day routine. This helps her stay productive and balance her busy life.
Dr Wuleta’s message for young women wanting to pursue a career in technology:
“Africa is coming, Africa has a place and young African women are key to making this a reality. They have so much talent, and through my work I want to show young women it can be done.”
Caroline Nafula – Kenya
“Never apologise for having drive and passion”
At only 21 years old, Caroline Nafula, is well on her way to becoming a woman to which all young girls can aspire.
The middle child in a family of girls who are all pursuing degrees in STEM subjects, it’s no surprise that Caroline’s love for science and technology has led her to pursue a degree in IT and business information technology at Strathmore University in Kenya.
After enrolling with the Microsoft MySkills4Afrika programme, Caroline developed the skills needed to create two successful applications. One is called Food Junky, which is an online directory for street vendors. The other is an e-cards website called thoughtfulwishes.co.ke, which redefines the way people view, use and send e-cards.
Caroline owes much of her early success to her MySkills4Afrika mentors, Nate Koweda and Patrick Ngatchou, who are both based in America. Despite the distance, Caroline’s mentors have contributed greatly to her growth as a developer. “We use Skype and Outlook to keep in touch. My mentors have been able to teach me new tricks and hacks that have enhanced my coding skills. This wouldn’t have been possible without technology to connect us.”
Caroline’s message for young women wanting to pursue a career in technology:
“You should never apologise for having drive and passion. Life is too short to second guess yourself and not pursue what you really want. Block out the noise, block out the doubts and discouraging remarks. Tell yourself you can do it. If you are a young woman contemplating a career in STEM, go for it! This in the one field that makes you best placed to change the lives of millions of people all over the world.”
Sayu Abend – Nigeria
“Women need to be bold, strong and driven to pursue their dreams. Create your own future and not one society has mapped out for you.”
Sayu Abend is the CEO and founder of a company called Spacepointe, which is a retail technology company that aims to bridge the gap between SMEs and their target market through technology-based business management.
But before being a CEO, Sayu is a mother and a wife first.
Finding the balance between running a highly successful company and spending quality time with her family is one of her biggest challenges.
However, with the help of technology, Sayu is able to maintain a healthy balance between her family and remaining productive in her business. In addition to using Microsoft’s suite of productivity tools both in her personal and professional life, she also hosts Spacepointe’s entire platform on the Azure Cloud.
Sayu’s message for young women wanting to pursue a career in technology:
“Do not pursue a career in STEM just for the sake of it. Technology is a means to an end. Find a problem in an area you are interested in and solve it. Don’t only solve it because it affects you personally, but solve it because it makes the world you live in a better place.”
Lebogang Madise – South Africa
“To all the young women out there – you are science, you are engineering and you can shape the future through technology and mathematics.”
Lebogang Madise developed a love affair with her computer when she was in primary school, but she never in her wildest dreams believed she would pursue a career in technology. However, her future had other plans in store for her. Lebogang’s love for computers and technology was so strong that it inspired in her the desire to learn how to code and develop solutions that could change the world. She is now a facilitator for mobile-tech startups at mLab. She also works as a committee member for IEEE SIGHT (Special Interest Group in Humanitarian Technology). IEEE is the world’s largest professional association dedicated to advancing technological innovation for the benefit of humanity.
Lebogang’s message for young women wanting to pursue a career in technology:
“You can be anything you want to be, irrespective of your background. You don’t need permission to dream big. Take that first step, don’t be afraid to fail, you have it in you to invent the next big thing. You are science, you are engineering and you can shape the future through technology and mathematics. Don’t expect it to be easy though. It will be challenging, not because you are a woman, but because STEM careers are generally more mentally stimulating careers.”
Microsoft remains committed to closing the gender gap and creating even more opportunities for women to innovate, create and unlock the best opportunities for their future. Last year, Microsoft launched a new movement calling on young women and girls to #MakeWhatsNext. The campaign raises awareness of the issues that cause girls to drop out of or lose interest in studying science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM), and aims to pique their excitement and educate them in how they can change the world — if they stay engaged.
The response to #MakeWhatsNext makes it clear that girls’ passion is strengthened when they see female role models who have created innovations that are used in our everyday lives. As the motto goes, “If you see it, you can be it.”
For more inspirational stories of women in technology, watch this video.