African Women in Tech: Improving Economic Empowerment

African Women in Tech: Improving Economic Empowerment

Across Africa, women are often the pillars of their families and local communities. According to Diginomica.com women in Africa put up to 90% of the money they earn back into their communities and families. Yet as is the case globally, African women still face barriers and an even further limited access to resources than their male counterparts.

Despite this, the continent boasts the highest number of female entrepreneurs relative to other continents and this is continuing to grow rapidly. For example, Nigeria outranks the US and the UK in terms of percentage of entrepreneurs amongst women with a rate of 41% against 10% and 5.7% respectively. And in the likes of Ghana and Zambia, the percentage of female entrepreneurs surpasses 50% of their total pool of entrepreneurs. Of course, the state of Africa’s economies means there are far more limited options for employment for both men and women alike (no truer are the words ‘necessity breeds innovation’ than on the African continent!). However, considering that traditional social norms remain pertinent, it is clear that African women continue to beat even higher odds than their peers in developed economies. Therefore there is a clear window of opportunity for female entrepreneurs to be a key driving force in the continent’s future prosperity if only their potential were to be fully unlocked.

The Transformative Power of Technology

Access to technology could be the key to unlocking this potential as, such tools could be essential for female entrepreneurs in starting, growing a business and overcoming the barriers they face. As we have seen, African women make up around 50% of entrepreneurs on the continent but when it comes to SMEs only 9% are female-led whilst only 10% of tech businesses are run by African women (The World Bank). Given their integral roles within their communities, women are best placed to identify and apply technological tools to solve real problems. Therefore putting technology in the hands of women is likely to breed local solutions for local problems and give birth to indigenous innovation.

“Because women face barriers such as poverty, illiteracy, and discrimination when getting training and education, we are witnessing the rise of a second digital divide. It is important to understand that technology and access to the Internet are essential to women’s empowerment across the continent and it is key to overcoming these barriers in the first place.” Rainatou Sow, Founder of Make Every Woman Count.

Currently, in Africa’s burgeoning, male-dominated tech scene women remain largely underrepresented, despite their obviously strong entrepreneurial nature. How do we begin to engage African women in technology and close this ‘second digital divide?’

Her Future Africa

Organisations such as ATBN – the Africa Technology Business Network, a social enterprise and global network focused on accelerating technology growth and impact in Africa, are taking the lead. I spoke with Founder Eunice Baguma Ball, about how the organisation is supporting African female tech entrepreneurs.

Her Future Africa – Accra, Ghana

The purpose of ATBN, Eunice says is to “to support African tech entrepreneurs by connecting them to the global tech ecosystem (investors and networks), and equipping them with the skills they need to succeed in the industry.” ATBN does this through programmes and events, both on the ground and abroad.

For the purpose of supporting African women in technology, ATBN founded ‘Her Future Africa‘ an entrepreneurship and innovation skills programme for female founders. After noticing the significant underrepresentation of women-led businesses in accelerator programmes across the continent, Her Future Africa was set up to help to fill this gap, “In recent years there have emerged a lot of business accelerator programmes in places like Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya etc which has been great for the startup ecosystem in Africa, but there was always a big gap when it came to the representation of women-led enterprises, women in pitches and programmes. It is not uncommon to find say only 1 in 20 of the startups in these programmes being women-led.”

Her Future Africa held its first programme earlier this year in Accra, Ghana with 32 young women, selected from over 200 applicants from across Africa. The purpose of the programme is to equip young African women with the skills, insights and networks needed to launch high-impact, technology-enabled businesses: “the programme includes tutorials on pitching, project proposals, accessing funding etc – overall creating an environment where they can test and validate their ideas and business models.”

 

One of the key issues Eunice noticed with the African tech industry and similar programmes was that often, the way they were promoted could exclude women “a lot of the programmes we saw emerging had been modelled on the States/ Silicon Valley where there is a very “bro” culture with things like late evening drinks and high-intensity competitions“, which may not appeal to African women considering most cultural norms and even security concerns, (women alone at night in certain cities is considered extremely dangerous). Eunice went further and identified that even the language used to promote programmes and events were exclusionary, “terminology like ‘pitch battles’ and references to cut-throat competitions may not appeal to female entrepreneurs who often are looking for support, feedback and collaboration. Many did not even feel they even had a viable business yet and just had an idea.

Her Future Africa seeks to change this narrative in the tech startup world and simply asks potential candidates: Are you passionate about a problem you see in your community? and do you have any ideas to help solve this problem?

Eunice says, “it is about being intentional with the language so that people feel included.”

As a result, the programme opened its doors to a wide range of young female entrepreneurs with innovative ideas. Take for instance Edna Mate-cole who came up with the idea for an app called ‘NannyCab‘ when she identified the issue of access to childcare in her community which was holding back local women from working and Ivy Barley who began the programme wanting to start a project to get more African girls and women to pursue careers in STEM  but was not clear on how to go about it. Ivy now has an established business: Developers in Vogue which has gone on to win funding and awards to help kick-start her business.

 

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 “In societies where there is a lot of pushback for women who are go-getters and not the traditional ‘good African woman,” Eunice says, ATBN through Her Future Africa is working to create safe spaces for women to enter the tech world. They are also now creating a book called, Founding Women which will share the stories of African female tech founders from across Africa and the diaspora. The goal is to demystify tech and inspire more young African women to join the sector.

 

When asked what advice she would offer to women in Africa and within the diaspora who want to get into technology Eunice says “it (tech) is not this exclusive club like the way it sounds, a lot of women are already in tech – they own websites, they represent the majority on social media, they are continually engaging with tech every day. It’s false that you have to be a developer or a coder. Just focus on the problem you want to solve, tech is just the tool for solving that problem.”

It is clear that there exists so much untapped potential for women in Technology on the African continent. Governments and stakeholders need to do more to foster women’s technological development although programmes such as Her Future Africa and many others are making great progress for the cause.

Have you any thoughts as to how African women’s technological development could be fostered? Comment below

             Eunice Baguma Ball – Founder of ATBN

To find out more about the Her Future Africa programme visit www.herfutureafrica.org 

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