In West Africa, the Ghanaian capital Accra has become the hub of a vibrant start-up scene. Here, the applications of the future are being developed, such as programs that use machine learning to help diagnose eye disease or apps that enable households to save energy. Ivy Barley is just one of those involved. Barley is a software developer who taught herself to code and has now set up an initiative for women working in the tech sector. She says, “The future of technology is female and African.”
Digital skills taught by women for women
Barley’s initiative Developers in Vogue supports, among others, graduates who want to become software developers. The courses are run in cooperation with Ghana’s National Vocational Training Institute. The initiative also offers coaching and mentoring programmes run by women for women who want to set up a digital business. Within a year of the initiative’s launch, more than 100 women are already part of the community. Developers in Vogue is part of the program for sustainable economic development that the German development agency GIZ is carrying out in Ghana. In cooperation with Ghana’s vocational education and training agency, the programme develops and carries out training courses in information and communication technology. Coaching and mentoring programs to help young women found their own companies are also part of the project.
This is just one of 32 projects run around the world under the umbrella of the eSkills4Girls initiative, which empowers women and girls to engage with the tech sector. GIZ runs eSkills4Girls on behalf of the German Ministry for Economic Development and Cooperation (BMZ) with the aim of closing the digital gender divide and boosting women’s employment.
The initiative promotes training and employment for women and business start-ups by women in the tech sector. eSkills4Girls was launched in 2017 in the wake of Germany’s G20 Presidency and is jointly financed by the European Union. Around the world, women occupy just under a quarter of all jobs in the tech industry, one of the most important growth sectors. This means that women are losing out on the opportunities for economic and social development that working in the sector involves.
As well as cooperating with local stakeholders and organisations, the initiative supports partnerships with companies. For example, a training programme called Africa Code Week is run each year in partnership with software producer SAP. It gives female students their first taste of programming skills. In 2018, almost 14,000 girls and young women across 15 African countries took part in workshops.
Skills in demand
GIZ also supports projects in Rwanda that help women into jobs in the tech sector. The country’s digital economy is growing rapidly, but women have so far been largely unable to benefit from this growth. On behalf of BMZ, a programming academy – ‘WeCode’ – has therefore been set up.
The training comprises two parts. An intensive eleven-week course teaches participants the essential basics needed to work as a programmer. Those who are most successful then go on to advanced training, learning a range of programming languages and qualifying as specialists in areas such as app development or data analysis. Ineza Mutimura, Principal of the Moringa School, which runs the training courses, says “Within six months, participants acquire the skills to develop solutions for the software market.” Successful participants also take up employment with companies in the region who deliver commissions for the domestic and international markets. The aim is that 300 women will have undergone training by the end of 2019.
Against the background of rapid change in the technology sector, participants do not merely learn the specific technological skills for individual applications. The aim is rather to equip them to adjust to changing conditions in a dynamic industry and to acquire new skills rapidly. Angela Karenzi is training as a web developer at the academy. She says, “We don’t just acquire programming skills. We’re also learning to develop our personal and leadership skills.”
Women like Angela Karenzi and Ivy Barley are role models for young women and help to dismantle the clichés and stereotypes that are still common. And they are not alone. In a publication documenting the eSkills4Girls initiative, 30 women from around the world tell their success story and illustrate the wide range of opportunities the tech sector offers.