“Ladies seem to be sorted out, afraid, less motivated or shy away from leadership, what is your say?”
The drive to interest more females in ICT in Uganda dates way back as early as 2000 with organizations such as Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET 2000), Africa Women in Technology (Afchix 2004), Women in Technology Uganda (WITU 2011), Girl Geek (2012) among others championing the lead. Over time objectives and purpose(s) for these organizations have generally been to promote and support the uptake of ICTs by girls/women in Uganda so that they can competitively innovate and take up the ever sprouting opportunities while harnessing the merits of collaboration, networking, mentorship, coaching, peer-to-peer learning, gender balance and project funding. The successes of these projects have been impressively growing until the curve reached its plateau. As an observation by many, a number of factors/challenges have slowly eroded their way into these organizations/groups affecting their activities, members as well as their outputs; among these, the most common are;
- Leadership – bottom – up involvement of the members in creation of objectives, work-plans, team growth and transition.
- Membership inconsistences – in participation, real-life use of the knowledge learnt as well passing it on to their peers.
- Few and loosely tied synergies amongst the various ‘girl’ groups
It’s from the above observations that the ResilientAfrica Network (RAN) hosted a #BarCamp panel discussion on April 30, 2015 to share a light moment with representatives from various girl groups not only to understand but also identify how they can work together with these initiatives to tackle emerging challenges and scale impact. The objective of the BarCamp was to understand the involvement and motivations of ladies/girls in girl led and focused activities.
Thirty seven males and females participated in the BarCamp, with the ladies taking the lion’s share 32 and five (5) gentlemen. Makerere University dominated the attendance though there was a surprise guest from Kenya Commercial Bank – Kampala (KCB) who spiced up the discussion. Urban Television (c/o The New Vision Publications) captured all the proceedings of the entire evening on tape to be aired later on the Innovate Program.
The ice breaker for the evening was ‘lifting the bottle’, a game into which a group of people is tasked to work as a team to lift a water bottle off the ground using lines of thread tied around their waists and joined together in the middle by a rubber band. Never at one time should one use his/her hands to help lift the bottle. At the end of the exercise, all teams had succeeded amidst lots of noises and disagreements except for one that broke their unifying tool, the rubber band…alas, all that is part of team work.
That the irony is that most participants in different game plays do not understand how applicable the tools and methods are in their own lives, the fact that the school environment has not created room for innovators and innovation.
Most if not all of the female engaging activities have no continuation themselves. Each activity is a new entity all together and this bogs down the drive to continually engage the young ladies.
Girls know what they want but there is a problem of transition, there are no jobs related to the fields that were studied. This therefore differs from what one is passionate about to what brings food to the table. Young ladies have their minds focused on the years after school, what they want to do and where they see themselves and if the road ahead is not clear, then they will most likely settle for the fruits that are easy to reach.
On leadership, that there is no clear and guided transition processes in most of the female groups to attract the brethren to take charge. The group leaders need to find an attractive way of packaging leadership before their team members.
The various groups too need to make their outputs and outcomes crystal clear so that at the point of joining, these young ladies know what they will have achieved by the end of the program and more so how effective that knowledge will be in their lives both in the short and long run.
That girls like easy things and yet the technology world is not like that. “At the beginning of most training sessions the girls are many, but with time they drop out.” Consistency and persistence are very pertinent in this journey.
It is a question of “culture”; most females have not been brought up with a notion of hard/difficult things/work being for men. In as much as we have to bring more women into this innovative space, there is great need to teach them how to develop their personalities and enhance individual development. What is key for now is to follow one’s passion and goals.
That different fields require different skill sets and girls are actually spoilt for choice while identifying career paths. The girls have to be honest with themselves because leaders cannot practically help them much in realizing their goals beyond mentorship.
That the software world is so unpredictable, unlike other disciplines that have clear steps defined out for them; in technology the girls have no promise for the future. There is no stability, no promised jobs after University or its equivalent, so they have to be very creative and persistent.
That if a single girl could do it, and then the rest can do their best to follow.
Factors that thorn the path of leadership for ladies
- Society and culture as well as some families which term the boy as the leader even when they are younger, this single handedly fails the girl from the start.
- Policy makers specifically in education where the 1.5 is added to the girls’ credits to enable her join the University. “What are we trying to tell the girls, that they are not able to make it on their own? What does it instill in us? Low self-esteem and also a lack of self-drive. The girls need to know that the leaders can only show you the way and you do the rest yourself.”
- Intimidation: That naturally, males do not take it in so well when a lady holds a top leadership position. The ladies too do not know how to handle the intimidation. “People older than you will keep throwing sarcastic statements about you, how will you handle this? How does one make it through such situations?”
- Participation of girls is better when they are amongst each other. The difference is evident in the mixed schools where males and females freely interact towards a common goal.
- The leaders themselves need an advocate group, a network that can help them to get together, be mentored and continuously improve their leadership skills.
- Female groups should be smaller to easily allow knowledge coupled with more supervision and mentorship. Here, reference was made to a book, “Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill.”
- Girls should identify their niche and follow through with it.
- Many women wait for things to happen, “but we need to realize that we do not have to wait. If you want something, go for it.”
- Ladies were encouraged the girls to share their stories as much as possible. This is one of the best ways to motivate more ladies into a profession.
Why there are loose synergies amongst the various ‘girl’ groups/initiatives and how these can be strengthened
One participant defined the word ‘synergy’, saying that it is the interaction of two or more agents or forces so that their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects.
Need to consider the history of these female groups. Why they were started? What were there ideas for sustainability? Were the founders ever profiled? Most of the groups have leaders behind them, do we know their level of exposure, and do they have a unifying image? Do they have something to learn from the rest? Do they listen? Are they open minded?
RAN needs to understand how the girl groups do their things, how do they run their events, and how extensive are the men involved in these activities? She asserted that it’s alright to have a multi-diversity of platforms and groups but ensure support of the founding leadership and most importantly build trust.
As the event timed down to two hours, the audience was left in deep thought by all the presentations. The RAN4Gals platform that had convened the camp was introduced. They shared that one of RAN’s goals was getting ladies to the helm of innovation and they were exploring doing this without necessarily re-inventing another wheel (creating another girl group). Therefore, through a platform were various groups and individuals meet, RAN4Gals would be able to make its contribution in form of capacity building, seed grant funding and incubation.
The BarCamp participants were invited to the 2015 Technovation National challenge scheduled June, 2015. Unlike Technovation 2014, this year the challenge is slated to host multiple presentation panels hinged on various themes that address resilience and sustainable innovations championed by ladies.
Take home messages
- That it is okay to have various lady groups but important to study them and make informed synergies
- Technology requires consistency and persistence, energy & thought
- Effects of culture, the difficult tasks are reserved for the men.
- On the side of the ladies, there is need for individual development. Understand what makes you tick and move with that.
- Need for the community to support the girls in all aspects of life
- Girls need to be honest with themselves, especially about their goals and interests.
- Women need to learn how to work for concrete outcomes with fewer expectations from others.
- The current education system is more theoretical than practical, it is best to work beyond that.
- Students are only motivated to finish school and look for jobs (trained as job seekers but not creators) which is absurd
- Girls get more motivated to work amongst fellow girls
- Always appreciate the good skills in girls and support them
- Inspire young children at all levels of life and expose them to various activities
- Some families wrongly set boundaries for the children as they grow up for example boys are given toy cars while girls are given dolls.
The Panel that guided discussions at the BarCamp constituted Nodumo Dhlamini, Program Manager Information Communication, Knowledge Management at RUFORUM, Victoria Mbabazi, Google Student Ambassador-Makerere University and Lillian Achom, Program Coordinator Afchix.