A large concrete room, lit solely by a row of windows and decorated only by wires and cables running from ceiling to computers, is the home of one of the Tech Needs Girls programs. Here, in this nondescript building in the center of Nima, a slum in Accra, over two dozen girls anxiously await Regina Agyare’s arrival.
Founder and CEO of Soronko Solutions and a 2014 Vital Voices VVLead Fellow, Regina is a technology pioneer in Ghana and one of the few women leaders in Africa’s growing Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector. She uses almost 80 percent of the profits generated by her for-profit web and mobile development company to fund programs that offer girls an opportunity to learn science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills.
Girls in Nima, and across Ghana, lack access to formal education beyond primary school and receive little exposure to ICT. Through Tech Needs Girls they are taught to use computers; read and write code; and design prototypes for mobile applications. The girls showcase newfound confidence as they open up about their professional goals and proudly show off their computer skills. Regina’s personal mission of using technology to drive girls’ potential is taking shape.
This experience resonates with me today, April 24th, as we celebrate Girls in ICT Day. Celebration of and awareness around this day is vital as we recognize the power of ICT to facilitate progress in our ever-changing global landscape.
I believe that ICT can be the great equalizer. It can serve as a conduit to give voice to the voiceless; to offer access to information, resources, connections; to train and educate those held back by circumstance or trait; and so much more.
For ICT to advance development outcomes, however, citizens across the Global South must have equal and affordable access. According to a 2013 report by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), only 31% of those in the developing world are connected to the Internet. Disparities are greater between men and women in the Global South where only 29% of women are Internet users.
Vital Voices, through the VVLead Fellowship Program, a three-year initiative funded by the UK government’s Department for International Development (DfID), is committed to identifying innovative solutions and forging new partnerships in an effort to bridge the ICT divide. Through VVLead, we offer women leaders a unique opportunity to connect with, learn from and collaborate across geographic boundaries, largely through virtual programming.
VVLead is also comprised of dozens of women leaders such as Regina who harness technology for change.
- 2013 Fellow Neema Namadamu runs cyber cafĢ©s for women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s South Kivu Province.
- Rebecca Chiao, a 2013 Fellow, uses ICT to enable women in Egypt to report harassment and abuse.
- 2014 Fellow Dr. Dorothy Okello advocates both in her home country of Uganda and globally for access to ICT in rural communities and greater engagement of women and girls in the sector.
Each of these women and thousands across the globe, recognize the power of ICT in solving some of the great global challenges.
Thinking back on the girls in Nami, I hope that they will be the faces of the next generation of ICT innovators. So let’s celebrate a day that recognizes the power of engaging girls in ICT as we work together to tackle global issues ranging from violence against women and forced/early marriage to economic empowerment. ICT that is both affordable for and accessible to all is a critical step in this direction.
To learn more about Regina Agyare, Soronko Solutions and Tech Needs Girls, please visit http://www.soronkosolutions.com
And check out their recent coverage on CNN.com