Jjiguene Tech Hub – A Senegalese Tech Hub Inspiring More Women Into IT
A report tabled last year by the McKinsey Global Institute think tank, revealed that internet-driven businesses contributed to 3.3% of Senegal’s GDP growth; the highest level attained by any African country, followed by Kenya at 2.9%. That being said; it should be enough reason for applauding the ICT development being evidenced in Africa.
But upon a deeper look at these achievements, one can’t help but notice the gender imbalance in the IT industry. There is no doubt that men far outnumber women; while this scenario is not unique only to the African continent. It still remains a fact that the percentage of women in IT across Africa is much lower than the global average.
Taking a look at Senegal, a report tabled by the International Youth Foundation in 2009 reveals that women only make up 14% of the IT jobs in the country. Meaning to a large extent men are the only ones reaping the benefits that IT is contribution to the growth of the country’s GDP. Leaving the women even more disadvantaged.
But one 24-year-old, Coudy Binta De, has set herself out to correct this imbalance. Ms De was featured yesterday on BBC, for the remarkable efforts she is putting in getting more Senegalese women into the IT industry. Ms De’s interest in IT began at a young girl when she had gone to pay her mother a visit at work.
Her mother worked at one of the Senegalese government’s first computer departments. Ms De, who grew up to become a Computer Engineer says, “Seeing those big computers, with their black screens and green text, was just amazing for me.” It would appear this was the moment in Ms De’s life that the interest in IT and computers begun.
After pursuing her education and successfully becoming a Computer Engineer herself, Ms De teamed up with three other female Computer Engineers and decided to inspire more women to venture into the IT industry by acting as their role models. Together, they have established Senegal’s first tech-hub run by and for women.
The tech-hub located in Sacre Coeur; a middle-class suburb in Dakar, known as Jjiguene Tech Hub. The word Jjiguene means “woman” in Wolof – the most popular language in Senegal. The hub is made up of five sparsely furnished rooms, whose occupants are women, most of whom are in their 20s. The walls are decorated with bright brainstorm doodles drawn on sketchpads to add a bit of colour to the rooms.
Some of the women at the Jjiguene Tech Hub are there to learn while others are developing their entrepreneurship ideas. 26-year old, Awa Caba, who is a Co-founder of the hub and an app designer says, “We want to be a role model for girls and for women in tech. They think it’s just for men.”
The hub teaches tech to women both on its premises and off the premises, by visiting elementary and secondary schools throughout Senegal. The training ranges from basic introduction to IT like how to use programmes like Ms-Word and Outlook, to coding in HTML and CSS. So far they have been doing all these trainings free of charge thanks to local businesses and Microsoft’s sponsorship.
Kate Manon Sio, an 18-year-old girl and one of the youngest students at the hub who recently cleared high school and is now weighing her options for a university degree. Reluctantly joined the hub, as she was initially contemplating studying languages or communications, but later changed her mind after getting into the hub.
“Initially, I wasn’t excited about it, but I changed my mind because I realised that technology is very, very interesting. Particularly for girls,” says Ms Sio, “Before, I didn’t have the opportunity to talk with girls and women involved in this field. Even though, I use technology and a computer. I thought it was for men.”
In addition to educating the young women on tech, the hub also gives the girls life-coaching and how to develop self-confidence. As can be attested to by Aminata Balde, a 22-year-old telecommunication student.
Ms Balde says, “Here at the hub they have really pushed me. I learned how to be confident as a girl. [Before] I was always afraid to express myself or to handle stuff.”
The hub has been so successful over the years, starting with 4 members two years ago and can now boast of 65 members.
Ms De says, “All the success stories [in Senegal’s IT sector] have been about men. But we have always known that there are a lot of women who are perfect [for the industry].”