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Women in Stem

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The African Technology Industry is beginning to feel the heat of many innovative women who are uniquely building the tech industry in their various regions. In West Africa, Rebecca Enonchong, stands as a dedicated tech entrepreneur with unrestricted dedication towards upholding technology in Africa.

Rebecca was Born in Cameroon in 1967. In her early teens she relocated to the United States with her family. While in the States, she started working as a door-to-door newspaper subscription vendor at the age of 15. When she was 17 she was promoted to the position of a manager at the same company.

Rebecca holds a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in Economics from the Catholic University of America. Having concluded her undergraduate studies, she went on to work for a number of organizations including Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) and Oracle Corporation, and she was also an independent consultant serving multinational clients.

In 1999, after Rebecca founded her footing in tech she pitched her tent in digital technology when she founded AppsTech. AppsTech is a Bethesda, Maryland-based global provider of enterprise application solutions, an Oracle Platinum Partner with customers in over 40 countries in three major continents. It is therefore safe to say that the company has grown into a leading global provider of enterprise application solutions.

Beyond AppsTech, Rebecca has built several other startups and incubators and she sits as the Board chair of several organisations.

She is Board Chair of Afrilabs, a Pan-African network of over 100 innovation centers in over 20 African countries that help mentor entrepreneurs. Also she is the Board Chair of ActivSpaces (African Center for Technology Innovation and Ventures) supporting entrepreneurs from two tech hubs in Cameroon. She is the cofounder and CEO of I/O Spaces, an inclusive co-working space in the Washington DC metro area. She sits on the board of Venture Capital for Africa (VC4Africa), of Salesforce.org, the African Media Initiative, Eneza Education and iamtheCODE.

Rebecca was named a Global Leader for Tomorrow (GLT) along with other tech entrepreneurs such as Google co-founder Larry Page and Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff by the World Economic Forum of Davos, Switzerland in 2002.

In 2013, she was recognized as a finalist for the African digital woman award. 

Rebecca has also gained fame as one of the more followed sources for African tech news on Twitter, with over 30 thousand followers. Her handle, @Africatechie, has become a nickname for Rebecca in IT circles.

In the media world she is not left out been listed as one of the ‘10 Female Tech Founders to Watch in Africa’ by Forbes magazine in March 2014. Also, the New African magazine named her one of the most influential Africans in 2014, 2016 and 2017. She was also listed as one of Africa’s 50 most influential women of 2017 and as one of world’s 50 most influential Africans in 2018, in Jeune Afrique magazine.

She is co-founder of Cameroon Angels Network and co-founder and Vice-President of African Business Angels Network. Rebecca currently serves as a mentor/advisor to several technology startups. She was the founder and Chairperson of the Africa Technology Forum, a non-profit dedicated to helping technology startups in Africa.

The Tech Industry has been greatly impacted by this rare amazon, and we undauntedly consider this a great pleasure to celebrate this great woman in STEM.

There is nothing as powerful as a group of single-minded and strong-willed women who have refused to take no for an answer to what they believe in life. These classes of women are unstoppable to any force that tries to limit them. 

Today, women have begun to dominate all fields and industries especially in fields and countries where they have been underrepresented in the past – the tech-industry for example. It is no longer news when we hear the tremendous results of various women in tech.

In Ghana we have Anne Amuzu-Ewoenam a young, self-motivated and vivacious technology entrepreneur who has pitched a tent for herself in the ICT sector and has impacted on the tech industry in Africa. In 2014, Anne was named one of the 10 female tech founders to watch in Africa by Forbes.

According to Anne, “There is no female brain and male brain, we are all persons not just gender. Career and professions don’t have gender. It’s about your ability, not your gender. So, if there is something you can do, you don’t have to look at who is in there. They are human beings just like you.” 

Anne is known as the co-founder of Nandimobile; a company that develops software that enables business organisations to deliver customer support and information via mobile phones.

Nandimobile was formed in 2010 by Anne and two other students from MEST called Michael Dakwa and Edward Amartey-Tagoe. The software company was created to serve technological needs of organizations and businesses in her home country – Ghana. When Anne spoke about the process undergone in establishing Nandimobile, she said “It was a long process. We went through a lot of refinements, so by the time the actual product was out, it was something people wanted. We have been very, very big on getting feedback from our customers since they are the ones going to use it.”

The company made it first step into limelight in 2010, when its maiden product ‘Gripeline’ was said to solve a worldwide problem and was awarded the Best Business at the Rising Talent launch conference in San Francisco. Nandimobile has gone on to win various other awards within and outside Ghana. Anne has also graced panels across several continents.

Anne was also part of the team that developed an app called Keni. Keni helps to give people an easy access to varieties of essential services like banks and ATM’s, fuel stations, health services, pharmacies and shops in Ghana.

She was part of the #IlooklikeanEngineer campaign on social media. The campaign was aimed at bringing gender disparity and sexism in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) to the fore of discussions.

In order to give back to the society, Anne has devoted herself to teach young Ghanaians how to write code.

In 2013, she was nominated for the Annual Fortune/U.S. State Department Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership Programme.

Since creation, man has been in pursuit of making life much easier for inhabitants of the earth. Anne’s creations make it easier for people within and outside Ghana to send information literally with a few taps on a phone. For this reason, Amazons Watch Magazine is delighted to share her story and her dedicated effort in standing up for women in the technology industry and also looking out for the growth of others in order that they might become better versions of themselves.

To every female entrepreneurs Anne says: “Find your passion and what you are good at. Learn and read a lot on it and just do it. Sometimes we over-analyze and it paralyses our ideas. Ideas are nothing if they are not implemented. Ideas and visions are always clearer when you start implementing them.”

Across the globe there are young and resilient personalities in the STEM fields who have been adding values to the STEM industry and impacting on the lives of other people through research, innovations and special initiatives.

In the Middle East, we have Aya Mouallem a young Lebanese university undergraduate who is working to make the world a better place. Aya is the co-founder of All Girls Code, a nonprofit initiative that is helping young women in the Middle East find a footing in STEM.

During the Devex World 2018 in Washington, D.C., Aya shares her story on how her journey in STEM began and how far she had gone in helping fellow women in the Middle East.  An excerpt from Johnson & Johnson.

“I was always a curious kid. I asked way too many questions about how everything works—so much so that my teachers and parents frequently had to look up the answers just to satisfy me. And I was always tinkering with things.

In Arab communities, including in my home country of Lebanon, girls unfortunately are not encouraged to do these things—they are only expected to play with dolls. Thankfully, my parents encouraged my tinkering skills.

At a young age, I was fixing PCs and smartphones, and began to learn coding on my own. In high school, a friend and I taught ourselves Python—a type of computer programming language—and used it to create a program that designed spiral staircases. The project ended up winning all the science fairs we participated in.

Naturally, I decided to pursue computer engineering when I enrolled in the American University of Beirut in 2016. In my first software engineering class, I was one of two girls in a lab with more than 20 students. As I moved up in my degree, the overall number of girls decreased even more. I never felt disrespected or underestimated because of that gender disparity, but I was troubled by it.

One day, when a female friend of mine did not do well on an exam, she laughed and said, ‘Aya, I shouldn’t worry about my grade. I can always get married, have kids and stay at home!’

I was shocked because I was not raised that way. But soon, I heard this opinion echoed by several other young women at school. I also came to know women who transferred out of computer engineering because they were disheartened by how few females they saw in the field. That is when I realized just how much a role society plays in why girls tend to avoid the engineering field, or join it only to leave before they have made their mark—and it frustrated me.

I reached my breaking point when an older family friend questioned my choice of major by saying that ‘females cannot do that type of complex math.’ That comment struck me as wrong on so many levels. But, I thought: If I cannot correct the archaic mentalities of many of the older generation, I can at least help the next.

That is when I decided that I would work to get young girls interested in STEM and help them feel confident in their abilities, so if they decided to pursue STEM fields, they would not feel pressured to drop out because of societal expectations and stereotypes.

I talked to my classmate Maya Moussa about my plans to start an initiative around these ideas, and together in March 2017, we founded All Girls Code, which provides free, hands-on coding experience and technology workshops to girls up to the age of 18 in Lebanon.

The Impact of All Girls Code—All the Way to Google

We have been around for a year now, and in that time, 100 girls have been introduced to STEM in an empowering environment, taken crash courses in leadership training, participated in a hackathon, built websites and apps, and learned and applied university-level algorithms. I am very proud to say that 90% of the girls who have attended All Girls Code programs—and applied to universities—have chosen to pursue STEM fields.

I am also proud that all of our work so far has been done by volunteers on zero budget. At times, between other university students and the parents of participants, we have had as many as 100 people helping us out. We host our events at the university Maya and I attend, so we do not pay to reserve a place. The computer science and engineering departments at our school have also been very helpful and supportive, installing any additional software we may need.

All of this resourcefulness has paid off.

We were honored by Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri when he announced All Girls Code as a partner in his Summer of Innovation Program, which celebrated activities in the areas of innovation, entrepreneurship and creativity.

Maya and I were chosen as Women Techmakers by Google because of our work to encourage females to pursue tech fields, and I was announced as a Stanford she++ Ambassador, and consequently attended the she++ Gala in Silicon Valley, which celebrates diversity in technology.

I mention all of this because I want to set an example for all girls. I want them to know that they can change the world if they set their minds to it.

In the next year, Maya and I plan to collaborate with tech companies to further expand All Girls Code. We have funding from Stanford she++, which we will use to buy parts for hands-on robotics workshops. We plan to carry on with our work for free so that everyone can participate, including refugees, who we welcomed at our last event.

We are also currently working on developing a board for the initiative, since Maya and I will be spending more time abroad soon, and we want to be sure that those who take over the day-to-day running of the program will be ready for the challenge.

There is always a space for a go-getter, Aya’s story has inspired and push many young girls into pursuing their dreams.

Despite the patriarchal nature of most Middle East countries, women from the region have been able to carve a niche for themselves in almost all facets of life.

Among these women is Iba Masood, a successful woman in STEM. Iba is a Pakistani woman born and raised in the United Arab Emirates. She is the co-founder and CEO of a project-planning and recruiting company called Tara AI.

Iba is a hardworking and purpose-driven woman, who currently heads the evolution of TARA Intelligence Inc. in Silicon Valley. Her company has recently raised $3 million in new seed funding from YCombinator, Moment Ventures, GSV and others. Prestigious organisations like; Ford, Cisco and Orange Telecom are using artificial intelligence from Tara AI to find top coders for freelance software projects.

She was thirteen-years-old when she bore the dream that births her present status. She had always wanted to own a tech-related company in the United States, one that would come to being with her ignition, and grow to become a huge, useful, successful, and resourceful to the technology industry.

In pursuit of this dream, she went on to study and at the age of nineteen, Iba gained a Bachelor’s in Finance and was the top of her class. Unfortunately, she had graduated at a time when the world was hit with global economic recession. Despite her good grades, getting hired was a huge problem for Iba, so she was unemployed for a long time. However, she stayed focused and continued to apply jobs while looking out for opportunities to begin creating the future she had dreamt of. 

Finally, her dedicated efforts began to bear fruits when she was accepted into a trainee program at McKinsey which paved the way for her new role at GE. Although on getting to GE she was offered a very low salary, she was not perturbed, rather, finding herself in a job that pushed her towards her career extremely challenged her. The job exposed her career instability, which made her realized that she needed to grow and gain capability in order to support herself financially, do work that was rewarding to her, and have the potential for growth and development in her future.

So she stayed focused in gaining stability which was her topmost priority at the time and it pushed her to take premeditated risks to attain her goals. She foresaw the beauty in taking risks because of the potential reward that it could bring. She had resolved that if she was not getting what she expected she would go the extra mile to get to her dreams.

Iba founded her first company at age 21, which started out as a career platform for graduates to find jobs. At its inception, the platform was dedicated to catering for hundreds of Enterprise customers in the Middle East. She had always wanted to create a platform that would yield profit, jobs, and many more useful tools and products for the technology industry. Iba belived in herself that she had something that would be an advantage to the tech industry. She wanted to create something that had even more potential, and her previous success boosted her confidence to move forward.

Iba first came to the US on a visit visa and eventually stayed with the pull of her latest dream and entrepreneurial endeavor called TARA. She soon realized that her preconceived faultless view of the U.S.’s technology sector was not so true to reality. She had thought that the industry was a merit-based space in which everyone had a fair and equal shot. However, contrary to her perception she realized that being a woman and/or a person of color in the start-up world means it may be more challenging for you to get funding, or get opportunities for starting out/growth that others may get more easily. Having lived/worked in multiple countries/cultures, Iba resolved that the US has a long way to go in improving opportunity for minority groups.

Facing these challenges, Iba’s resolve was strengthened that the platform she was working on, TARA.AI, was a tool with which she could make positive and required impact in the industry. TARA’s Intelligence is used by software companies to predict and build an early version of their product. This allows a company to predict the tasks they will have to accomplish, and the milestones they will have to reach in order to successfully execute launching a new product.

A part of her journey that Iba is very proud of is having TARA become a YCombinator company. Iba first applied to YC at 17, and was not accepted. When she was 26, she gave it another shot but this time she was intimidated, feeling that as someone without an ivy league degree and as a Silicon Valley outsider, she may not get accepted. But despite the very real fear, she applied anyway – and not only got an interview, she also got the job.

She often tells her team that no woman is an island. Learn to build a network of friends, partnerships, mentors, peers, advisors, so you never feel that you are working alone. A solid way to ensure consistent development and growth is to surround yourself with a network of people who will constantly push you to grow, look at problems from different angles, and above all, keep believing in your innate ability. 

Her words to other women: At every stage of the process (even when you’ve seen years of success), surround yourself with people who are smarter than you – absorb their wisdom to ensure broadened understanding, and ever-increasing knowledge toward happiness and success.

By Miracle Nwankwo

Stories have been told about people who died in regrets knowing they never pursued their dreams and passion in life. This is why in recent times, parents, guardians, and teachers have begun to take conscious steps in helping their children find their passion and pursuing it wholeheartedly. 

To this end, the women in STEM category for this week brings you the story of Sarah Asio to help understand the impact and necessity of building on your talent and pursuing your dreams no matter what it takes.

Sarah began her journey into STEM as a little girl in Uganda who was attracted to mechanical appliances and electronics around the house. She decided to take up a course in electrical engineering, and build on her knowledge but she was discouraged by someone who told her about the infeasibility of gaining a degree in industrial engineering. Filled with passion to effect changes on her country’s infrastructure and economic development, Sarah stayed keen on finding her way despite the odds. Fortunately, she soon realized that she could still thread on the path and become a remarkable influence on her community back home in Uganda.

“In Africa, infrastructure and development are really important. I understood that my economy needed more input in this area and I made a more informed decision to pursue my first degree in industrial engineering. It would be the best way to make an impact in my country,” she says.

As soon as Sarah discovered that she had the ability to pursue her dreams and become a blessing to her people, she began to walk on the path she has chosen despite the cost.

After college, she went to the United States to pursue her master’s degree at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, afterwards a doctoral degree in industrial engineering at Texas Tech University.

She also had her share of the struggles that comes with surviving as a foreigner in a non-indigenous country, such as having to pay for her fees and many more. However, Sarah testifies that due to her Christian faith and continued efforts in applying for scholarships she was able overcome those financial challenges. As a result of her persistence, she received an AAUW International Fellowship that funded her master’s degree in industrial engineering at University of Nebraska, Lincoln. She also found a sense of community in international student groups as a replacement of a family which helped her navigate life and education in the Western world.

Sarah took a job at the Bayer, which required knowledge on digitizing agriculture. As a result, she got preoccupied with data science and began developing digital tools and solutions to enable the production of adequate food with less seed and ground by farmers.

“I was able to connect my original passion of making a difference and trying to empower economies to mature and remain sustainable, while also providing for indigenous people so they can develop as a nation.”

Having conquered negative words that tried to prove that she was incapable of doing what she had set her heart on; Sarah has been all out to inspire people with knowledge so that they can find their strength and pursue their dreams. In doing this, Sarah joined forces with local partners in Uganda to search out raw talents who are interested in areas that surround data science to harness and help them build a future. Under this platform she provides basic knowledge in STEM through tutorials and further steer them in the right direction to obtain technical certifications.

“I strongly believe in the grassroots approach in finding and training local people with the skills and talents to innovate what they have in order to solve problems in their culture and community.”

She has achieved some remarkable feats on this journey. She has also helped some Ugandans to create influential and innovative products for their communities. 

She enjoys recounting her journey in STEM and learning as it continues to evolve. Learning more about people has given her a strong platform to build her relationship. Relating with the grassroots creates a better interface with the lows of the society to enable a fruitful interaction as well as addressing their needs.

Sarah is also bent on navigating the workplace as a woman, she therefore encourages women to unapologetically own their accomplishments.

In line with that, she tells women to; “Look at what you have achieved and know that you have the right to be in the environment you are in. Stand boldly for yourself and let no one overlook you or sidestep you. Own your own truth. Speak confidently and be proud that you earned the right to be there on merit.”

As a beneficiary of the AAUW, her story is told in partnership with AAUW, which has a long history of opening doors for women and girls in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), from the classroom to Capitol Hill. 

Sarah currently serves as the Data Science Lead at Johnson & Johnson where she works at combining business strategy and developing technical solutions in line with the organization’s values and global presence. In her belief, data science will propel the advancement of artificial intelligence. Like other rare and unexplored fields, it is an untapped mine. She foresees that in the nearest future, services and products will be completely transformed by decades of data from end-users, consumers, and practitioners. Sarah expects to see services across industries that are more attuned to the consumer’s needs, as she believes that this type of data has the power to diagnose problems occurring societally and make a real impact. 

The hands of women are recently being stained in valuable scientific innovations which continues to proffer solution that aids the survival of man. Being in a field that require so much to keep the earth moving, women in STEM have been up to task delivering and meeting needs on every ground.

Amongst these numerous women that make up the Women in STEM hall of fame is the Senegalese scholar and scientist Awa Marie Coll Seck who was born on January 1, 1951 in Dakar, Senegal. 

Dr. Coll Seck has been working in the field of health and disease prevention in her native country and internationally. After earning a degree in medicine from the University of Dakar in 1978, Dr. Coll Seck served for more than ten years as a specialist in infectious diseases in leading hospitals in Dakar, Senegal and Lyon, France. She specialized in bacteriology and virology, infectious and tropical diseases. She also studied applied epidemiology and biostatistics in Annecy, France. In 1989, she was appointed Professor of Medicine and Infectious Diseases at the University of Dakar and Chief of Service for Infectious Diseases at the University Hospital in Dakar. She was the Director of the UNAIDS Department of County and Regional Support for Africa, Asia, Eastern and Central Europe, and Latin American and the Caribbean from 1996-2001. In 2002, she served as president of the Assembly of the Ministries of Health of the West African Health Organization.

From 2001-2003 and 2012-2017, Dr. Coll Seck served as Minister of Health, Senegal. As Minister of Health, she initiated far-reaching reform of the health sector in Senegal and engaged a wide range of government, civil society and private sector partners in the implementation and expansion of public health programmes. She mobilized strong political commitment within her country for health to be rightly recognized as key to economic and social development, and she successfully mobilized financial resources both domestically and from bilateral and multilateral international donors.

From 2004-2011 she was the Executive Secretary of the Roll Back Malaria Partnership based in Geneva, Switzerland. She has been a coordinator, counselor, and trainer with the National AIDS Program and a member of the World Health Organization country team in Senegal.

Dr. Coll Seck is also a member of the WHO Advisory Group on the Ebola Virus Disease Response. In January, 2019, the WHO Advisory Group established strategy to prevent the spread of the deadly Ebola virus. One of the responses was to immunize first responders and health workers who fight against this disease, partnering with the Vaccine Alliance, UNICEF and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Dr. Coll Seck has been honored on numerous professional and academic grounds, including the Knight of the Order of Merit of the French Republic, Officer of the Order of Merit Senegalese; and Knight of the Order of Merit of Burkina Faso. She is an honorary member of the Academy of Sciences and Technologies of Senegal and the author of more than 150 scientific publications. In January 2016, Coll-Seck was appointed by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to the High-level Advisory Group for Every Woman Every Child. Also since January 2016, she has been serving on the Guttmacher-Lancet Commission on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR). 

Dr. Awa Marie Coll Seck has tremendously impacted the health sector of Africa and she is indeed an Icon worth emulating.

Taiwan has a large number of successful women in almost every sphere of life, in technology, business, agriculture, governance, education and much more, with a label of hard work.

These women are inspiring, never giving up and courageous. Some rose from grass to grace while other followed successful paths created for them by their fathers through inheritance.

In the field of technology, women in Asia including Taiwanese are known to attain unimaginable feats and positions through intelligence.

Eva Yi-Hwa Chen of Taiwan who was born and raised in Taichung, having schooled at the National Chengchi University in Taipei where she earned a degree in philosophy. 

After her undergraduate education at the National Chengchi University, she worked for a short time at two specific companies, one of which was Acer Inc. as a member of the research department.

Chen moved to the United States in 1984, where she obtained a master’s degree from the University of Texas at Dallas studying management information systems.

Chen is the cofounder of Trend Micro, a multinational security software company that develops security software for servers, cloud computing environments, consumers, and small, medium and enterprise businesses. The company was established in 1989 by Steve Chang, his wife, Jenny Chang, and her sister, Eva Chen. The company sprouted out in Los Angeles, California but the global headquarters is situated in Tokyo, Japan, and regional headquarters in Asia, Europe, and the Americas.

As a co-founder, she held the position of the executive vice president of the company until for eight years until 1996 when she became chief technology officer.

From being the CTO Chen was made CEO of the company in 2005, but she faced a huge challenge which almost weighed her down.

Prior to being the CEO of Trend Micro, while she still served as the company’s CTO Chen invented the Network VirusWall, an additional invention to the company’s profile. 

From being a traditional antivirus provider, Trend Micro shifted its focus to cloud protection, purchasing Canadian security company Third Brigade in 2009 and cloud storage service humyo in 2010 under the leadership of Chen.

She became one of Asia’s big time short as her fame spread around her region. Chen was awarded a Cloud Security Alliance Industry Leadership Award for her contributions to cloud security in the Asia-Pacific region in 2012.

She resides with her family in Pasadena, California. 

 

Miracle Nwankwo