I t is International Women’s Day (IWD), one of the globally recognized opportunities to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women, while making a universal call to action to strengthen efforts to support gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.
The theme for the 2023 commemoration by the United Nations is “DigitALL – Innovation and technology for gender equality”. This is aligned with the priority theme for the 67th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW-67), “Innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls”. This year’s theme also recognizes and celebrates the women and girls who are championing the advancement of transformative technology and digital education.
UNWomen has prioritized the use of technology and innovation, identifying both as critical tools for addressing the various constraints undermining women’s participation in various sectors and has provided new means and channels for women’s socio-economic empowerment. Innovation and technology provide unprecedented opportunities to break trends and reach those who are the most likely
to be left behind.
Nigeria ranked 139 out of 153 countries in the 2021 Global Gender Gap report, illustrating the uneven picture that while men are recognized in Nigeria’s technology ecosystem, women are largely passive users. As we observe International Women’s day, we celebrate a few of Nigeria’s female champions who have leveraged the benefit of technology to foster social change. We highlight the stories of a few below for your delightful attention:
Wuraola Oyewusi – Teaches Machine Learning in Yoruba
Videos of Wuraola Oyewusi could be the best you will view on the internet today. One could binge on several of her explanatory videos on Instagram, explaining what Data Science, Machine Translation or how the World Wide Web works, in Yoruba, a language of Southwest Nigeria.
But Wuraola did not start out teaching the highly technical language of technology and innovation in Yoruba, she trained as a pharmacist and practiced for a while before her quest for excellence led her to the technology ecosystem.
“ I applied for a job and from the list of competencies, I could do everything except Structured Query Language (SQL). So I decided to check what that was, that was how I got into tech,” she told Venture Africa.
She has not looked back since. After immersing herself in knowledge acquisition, she began to understand the data science ecosystem. Then she began to break it down, into little details and conversations. “Understanding conversations makes you realise your learning is coming together. It helps you to understand what you do not know yet and what you know already,” she said.
But it was not a walk in the park for her, she started from the bottom, learning Algebra and mathematics. ““Some people studied programming in school, so it will be nice if they start with python for data science as their entry. For example, I was learning things like linear algebra from scratch.
“People who studied mathematics have always known that. So they can start with the mathematics of machine learning. It is possible a nutritionist will do a good job of understanding data related to nutrition and food. You should consider data science techniques as tools that are not mysterious. Rather they help you improve your work,” she explained to Ventures Africa.
“Understanding conversations makes you realise your learning is coming together. It helps you to understand what you do not know yet and what you know already”
But Wuraola had her claim to fame when she began to teach data and technology in her native Yoruba language to cater to people who may not have had the opportunity of a formal education. She believes everyone could learn if the medium is efficient.
“I did it just because I can,” she retorted to a question about why she taught technology in Yoruba. As a healthcare worker, she has had experience dealing with people of varying social status and she believes she could get across to anyone if she spoke to them in their own language.
She said: “I speak Yoruba a lot and have had a robust knowledge of technical concepts for a long time. I knew people would watch because they read many of my articles. As a pharmacist, I have some experience working with older people, and I have tweeted about how people would bring their grandparents and wait to talk to me. I have a way of communicating with people like this who may not be as fancy because they are curious.”
When Wuraola teaches in Yoruba, she uses simple, everyday imagery to communicate her thoughts. Fussing humour, proverbs and everyday street language that would appeal to young people, Wuraola has broken through a glass ceiling not just in tech but also in teaching, a window, not even men would dare look at previously. Listen to her teach Machine Translation in Yoruba here.
Chioma Agwuegbo – TechHerNG
Every first Friday of the month since 2017, Chioma and her team at TechHerNG hold a networking event for women. The meeting would discuss the challenges of women in the technology sector; what opportunities are available to them in that sector apart from programming and design.
At the first meeting, 80 eager and enthusiastic women showed up at the venue, and since then, the meeting has trained and mentored over 500 women. The monthly event is one of the several opportunities that Chioma Agwuegbo provides for women, who are disadvantaged in the tech industry in Nigeria through her non-profit organisation TechHer.
Chioma is a social impact systems integrator who has worked within media development and open government. A passionate Globalshaper, she is the Founder of TechHerNG, a hub of learning, support, and collaboration for women.
The hub provides a platform for technological knowledge exchange amongst women, providing real-time solutions to their tech-related problems and improving the quality of their lives and ease of doing business through a proper grasp of technology.
Chioma has focused on demystifying technology for women and applying tech solutions towards societal problems, especially as they affect women. In recognition of her work with women and politics, she was an inaugural speaker at the Global Women Leaders Forum in Iceland in November 2018. She is also an alumnus of the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers and served as Deputy Curator and Communications Director of the Abuja Hub. Through the TechHer community, Chioma facilitates a space that strives to increase productivity, create new entrepreneurial ventures, or open access to new income-generating pursuits through interaction, friendship, and mentorship.
Funke Opeke – Main One
Opeke has been playing in a sector dominated by men for more than three decades and has proved to be one of the most talented and innovative leaders in that sector when she founded MainOne, West Africa’s leading communications services, and network solutions provider.
For more than 18 years, she has been in the driving seat of sub-Saharan Africa telecommunication and IT infrastructure sector helping to build West Africa’s leading communications services and network solutions provider company.
In 2010, Funke completed a $240 million 7,000 kilometers open access undersea high-capacity cable submarine project which has since become the first West-Africa first privately owned company also Her company, MainOne also built West Africa’s largest Tier III Data Center, MDX-i’s Lekki Data Center, a $40 million investment.
In 2021 MainOne announced its transition to becoming an Equinix subsidiary via a landmark acquisition by Equinix, an American
multinational specializing in internet connection data centers. With this, MainOne will continue to grow as part of the global platform
that Equinix brings.
But in spite of the high demand of her work, she has continued to act as a role model to other female entrepreneurs, sharing her stories and difficulties of raising capital as a crucial hurdle female entrepreneurs across Nigeria and Africa face. However, she anticipates that her story demonstrates to other female founders and young women who are considering careers in tech what is attainable, especially by offering solutions that meet the needs of local consumers and global customers who are increasingly interested in doing business in Africa.
Funke obtained a first degree in Electrical Engineering from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife Nigeria, and a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Columbia University, New York.
Juliet Ehimuan-Chiazor – Google, Nigeria
Since April 2011, Juliet Ehimuam-Chiazor has been at the helm of Google’s Country office for Nigeria. In that space of time, she has led the global technology company in various groundbreaking and innovative inventions, some specifically designed to help more women become entrepreneurs and bridge the digital divide between men and women.
With Nigeria having the most extensive internet population in Africa and mobile telecommunications being the primary source of technology, Google Nigeria has provided free digital skills training to over 10 million Africans. Google Nigeria has further provided free tools to support women entrepreneurs to grow their businesses and in 2022 launched an intensive program to drive the discovery of women-owned businesses through Google Business Profiles.
Behind Juliet however, was a string of high-performance jobs and a sterling career in tech and business. Beginning her career in 1995 at Shell Petroleum Development Company as a performance monitoring and quality assurance supervisor. She then joined Microsoft UK as a programs manager, overseeing projects for MSN subsidiaries in Europe, Middle-East, and Africa.
Then she ventured out on her own in 2005, starting a company called Strategic Insight Consulting Ltd, a move many would have considered wrong. But she excelled and by 2011, she was calling the shots at one of the biggest tech companies in the world.
As Country Director of Google Nigeria, she is a global tech leader whose contributions to technology and entrepreneurship have won her
multiple awards and recognition, including being named one of Forbes’ 20 Youngest Power Women in Africa and featuring in the third series of the BBC Women of Africa strand, Power Women.
When Juliet isn’t talking technology, she is inspiring other women to achieve their goals as a highly sought-after keynote speaker and she is a member of the Forbes Coaches Council Member. “Opportunity favours the ready mind,” she told a group of young entrepreneurs and leaders recently. “You have to create the opportunities, don’t sit back,” she said.
In her sphere of influence, she is leading in adopting innovation and leadership to spur change Juliet said: “You need to have clarity around what you want for your life. I create a vision around different facets of my life, including the family, finances, etc. It sets a direction for your life and helps you to prioritise what you do with your time.”
Belinda “Bella” Olubunmi Disu – Globacom
[At] the heart of Globacom social responsibility programme, is the support to various social and philanthropic endeavours. And right on top of that is Belinda “ Bella” Olubunmi Disu, the Executive Vice Chairman of the company.
Globacom is a Nigerian multinational telecommunications company founded by businessman, Mike Adenuga in August 2003. However, apart from serving on the board of the company, Bella, as she is fondly called, has carved a niche for herself, known for her
prowess in various enterprises. This natural flair for business technology has also helped Bella to take on the mantle of managing the Adenuga Telecommunication dynasty, assuming the role of the Executive Vice Chairman of Globacom in January 2019.
For the past 20 years, Globacom’s impact on over 60million Nigerian subscribers has grown from the provision of innovation-driven high quality telecommunication services to subscriber empowerment and programme sponsorships.
Globacom’s entry into the telecoms industry in 2003 commenced with innovations like the introduction of per-second billing system, 2.5G
technology, which offered GPRS and multimedia messaging, mobile banking and mobile internet which were game changers. This has since been upgraded to 5G technology and to improve its services in rural areas and increase broadband access to the latest 5G network the company has signed partnership deals with international experts.
In 2020 Bella presented a cheque for N500million to the Lagos State governor, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu. The fund was to support citizens’ initiatives aimed at combating the COVID-19 pandemic. This is in addition to financial inclusion interventions that target women and girls across the country that have continued to leverage on access to mobile technology that Globacom provides, especially in rural areas.