Re-Launching Africa: Reflections on amplifying women in STEM.

Until we have that critical mass of real equity at the engineering design table that are reimagining solutions; we are not going to reach those SDGs because we have unbalanced problem solvers.

Naadiya Moosajee. Co-Founder of WomEng and WomHub. Speaking for the ‘Re-Launching Africa’ series, 1 June 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic has left many of us re-strategising inroads to capacitating Africa to emerge stronger in the aftermath of the pandemic. Now more than ever, technology – the access, and investment in it thereof – is needed to harness the potential the African continent boasts to make progress. For young Africans, the mandate is personal as the custodians of the continent’s future.

With this mindset, TechHer NG’s founder Chioma Aguwebo and I, have embarked on consulting 21 young African experts, from 15 African countries, on their lived experiences in upscaling technological development in their various fields of practice, and research, crucial areas for Africa’s development. We have focused on exploring the following areas: amplifying women in STEM; the future of democracy; accessing education; technology for human sustainability; capacitating healthcare; forging activism; and diasporic engagement. We have termed these consultations the ‘Re-Launching Africa’ series which will run from Monday 1 June 2020 until Wednesday 15 July 2020 on TechHer NG’s Instagram Live (@techherng).

The series of consultations understands that there is a need to tackle the dual pandemic on the continent – COVID-19 resulting in (re)exposed systemically flawed governance structures. During these consultations, we seek to identify the opportunities, and challenges, for infrastructure development at the intersection of technological advancement in Africa in line with ethical principles that underscore good governance. Chioma Aguwebo and I also noted the limited youth voice in the African policy landscape. Resultantly, consultations will be transcribed, and consolidated into a research insight paper which will help mainstream the voice of leading field expert youth on the cited areas necessary for a turn-around in Africa’s trajectory. The paper will be shared with various stakeholders, and recommended for policy adoption on the continent. Lastly, raising awareness of the issues at hand to a larger African youth audience remains critical to promote active citizenry. The use of Instagram Live (IGTV) as a consultation platform was thus necessary to inspire a larger audience.

Who better than African youth working to change the continent’s trajectory, to lend informed foresights for policies that will make the desired outcomes for 2030 and 2063, tangible on the African continent? Speaking on the need to upscale continental skills training, coding, and access for African women; we hosted our first guest, Naadiya Moosajee on Monday 1 June 2020. As co-founder of WomEng and WomHub – organisations partnered with UNESCO to get 1 million girls in STEM – she noted,

If you look deeply, at each one of those SDGs, almost every one of them require an engineering solution of sorts…Until we have that critical mass of real equity at the engineering design table that are reimagining solutions; we are not going to reach those SDGs because we have unbalanced problem solvers. This is why we have been on our mission to be able to make sure that we have enough problem solvers with a gender perspective to be able to make the world a better place.

Challenges in allowing young African innovators (particularly women) to succeed come to mind. Minimal funding for young African innovators is one. Probing the challenge in access to funding for women entrepreneurs on the continent, Chioma asked Naadiya,

You have been an entrepreneur for 13 years…what has this experience been like in relation to funding?

Naadiya shared generously from her journey with business partner Hema Vallabh:

We’ve always self-funded. We’ve never raised capital because when we did try and raise capital, [though] my business partner Hema [Vallabh] and I…had collateral…when…we went to the bank to ask for a loan for gap invoicing…because our clients weren’t paying us on time, we couldn’t get a loan even though our company was making money, had collateral and had all the things that they say women need to have…We had everything and we were still denied a loan…The banking industry is moving towards AI to make these decisions; its training AI to see women as bad bets because a human being at some point rejected our loan so AI has been taught that even though women have collateral, they may not get a loan.

She continued:

It’s really hard for women to get funding. We run female fund accelerators where we are seeing the same issues. Part of it is women are not going to VCs to go and access money because when they have, the first engagement with a VC or fund has been quite negative. My first experience with a VC fund was quite negative. I had sexual advances made at me, and I mean you know, people always go “oh, but what were you wearing?”…because of that really bad experience, for years, we did not think about getting any funding. Right now, we are gearing up to fund our own VC fund to fund female-led innovation in STEM. 

COVID-19 has further exposed the effects of pre-pandemic disinvested governance efforts across the continent in many areas. Through gleaning from Naadiya Moosajee’s interview, we are reminded that though there are African solutions to African problems – structural barriers to promoting progression remain. This is true even for the privileged young African entrepreneur and innovator. Again, only when the mandate is personal, will it be carried forward to change lives, and our continent. That said, ‘Re-Launching Africa’ will continue to advocate for young Africans to be at the centre of metanarrative, and strategic implementation conversations.

Watch Naadiya’s full interview on TechHer NG’s Instagram TV (IGTV) via @techherng. We look forward to our upcoming segment on The Future of Democracy featuring AfroBarometer’s Josephine Appiah-Nyamekye Sanny; Facebook’s Aïda Ndiaye; as well as Zimbabwean lawyer, politician and newly appointed spokesperson for the MDC Alliance, Fadzayi Mahere.

Follow @TechHerNG (Twitter/Instagram), @ChiomaChuka (Twitter/Instagram), and @Bongi_ndi (Twitter) for announcements on updated times and dates.