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Meet the EQUALS in Tech Award finalists: the Miss.Africa Digital programme

This article originally appeared in ITUNews.

Miss.Africa Digital, a Pan-African programme to promote digital skills for women across the continent, has been named as a finalist for the Equals in Tech Awards, which take place in Geneva, Switzerland next week.

Sophia Bekele is the Founder and CEO of DotConnectAfrica (DCA) Group, a Kenya based organization that runs the Miss.Africa program and administers the Seed Fund grants and awards.

She explains what Miss.Digital Africa is all about in the Q&A below.

1. Can you tell us about this project that has been nominated for the EQUALS in Tech Awards?

The Miss.Africa Digital program is the first Pan African initiative to support women in technology. It is private trust that aims to encourage African women all across the continent to embrace technology while developing a range of skills.

Our most popular Miss.Africa Annual Seed Fund competition is run Africa-wide, and provides grants to women and girls that have submitted original projects in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). The grant assists these women to launch or further support their own initiatives. The objective is to increase women’s leadership in Africa by enhancing their digital skills and access to jobs.

The Seed Fund competition program is in its third year and has had a meaningful impact in Madagascar, Kenya, Cameroon, Ethiopia and Nigeria.

2. What are some of the challenges you are trying to address with your project?

The Miss.Africa Digital Program aims to develop hands-on solutions to Africa’s many needs through innovation and technology inclusion.

Our approach is to first bridge the digital gender divide by providing girls and women with skills that give them the ability to develop intelligent local solutions to their everyday challenges. These are often the solutions society needs for sustainable development.

By funding initiatives that empower women in far-flung areas in Africa, we also encourage local skills development and reduce migration to cities.

Employment and revenue-making opportunities are still few in many parts of Africa. Many students leave university with no employment opportunities. Our program aims to inspire self-employment.

Education institutions have been slow in developing STEM programs, especially as a means to promote gender equality. Through awareness raising, partnerships, and funding mechanisms, the Miss.Africa program helps to create and accelerate the development of STEM programs in these institutions.

3. How are you bringing innovative approaches to these problems?

The Miss.Africa Digital programme leverages available technologies to expand its outreach and runs a number of communications activities and training programs, such as:

a) Sharing success stories and experiences of women-in-tech through Miss.Africa Voices, a regular online video journal.

b) Echoing these voices through multilingual social media platforms, weekly ICT digests and periodic newsletters that run in English, French and Arabic.

c) Providing women with rigorous ICT training, internet literacy and life skills through our in-house digital academy internship program.

d) Encouraging the involvement of women in the STEM disciplines through the annual Seed Fund competition.

e) Enabling the winning start-ups and early stage initiatives to have access to private equity investments and to grow and monetize their business plans through an innovative business incubation program we aim to start next year.

4. Can you explain why skills for women in tech is so important?

An African proverb states, ‘If you educate a woman, you educate a family (or nation)’. Skills in tech for women are important because women bring an important perspective.

According to the World Economic Forum, women hold only 26 percent of all tech jobs. If current gender gap trends persist, women are at risk of losing out on tomorrow’s best jobs and entrepreneurship opportunities. Women’s digital skills must be developed to increase their chances to be hired in industry roles.

Skills development can help women increase their individual opportunities through increased job placement and entrepreneurship, leading to gender equality and economic development.

The world is operating in a digital and mobile environment. The development of tech skills, adequate financing and policy coherence are important to enable women to have options.

5. How does it feel to gain international recognition from ITU and UN Women for your work?

Miss.Africa Digital programme is greatly excited and honored to be selected as a finalist by ITU and UN Women out of a pool of nearly 300 nominations from around the globe.

We feel inspired and encouraged to continue leading and innovating to increase the number of women in tech and accomplish our mission of bridging the STEM gap in Africa.

We trust that the experiences we share from our current cohorts and alumni will reveal how developing the digital skills of women and girls has a positive impact and will inspire people around the world . Our partners and supporters will also be motivated to do more to keep our programs alive. Most important, our Miss.Africa beneficiaries will walk taller through this recognition.

Sophia Bekele is the Founder and CEO of DotConnectAfrica (DCA) Group, a Kenya based organization that runs the Miss.Africa program and administers the Seed Fund grants and awards.

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