Meet Susan Oguya – A Member Of The Akirachix Who Invented An App To Help Farmers
Susan Oguya grew up in a remote farm located in the western region of Kenya. Growing up she had no computer of her own to speak of, but she occasionally got access to her uncle’s computer: her uncle worked in Nairobi. Whenever he travelled to their rural home for the holiday seasons, he would bring along his workstation computers: by fitting the monitor, CPU, mouse and keyboard in the back of his car.
Susan’s uncle would then set it up on their living room, and this is when Susan first began developing a keen interest in his uncle’s machine at the age of 15. Susan says, “So he’d bring it over, we’d use it, and then he would go back with it… So in the times when I didn’t have a computer, there were books that he left. Books about what is a computer, parts of a computer, what is a ROM, what is a RAM. It’s really basic”. Susan later got a better exposure to computers when she reached the university, it was natural for her to major in IT.
At the university, Susan thought up of an idea of a mobile phone application that could help farmers back at her home. Compared to the developed countries, Kenya comes off as strange given the fact that even the peasant farmers own a cell phone. This is largely attributed to the fact that for years, the Kenya government was not able to afford setting up copper phone cables in the ground, and when the cell phones were introduced into the local market; they went viral thereby becoming the primary means of communication.
This allowed Kenya to have a large number of cell phone users, meaning they all stand a chance to benefit from the ever increasingly innovative mobile app applications. Oguya thought up of an app that will allow the farmers to look up the prices of crops in the market by simply sending a text message. This removed the corrupt middlemen out of the information distribution channel, as Oguya says it, “Yeah, corrupt middlemen… Let’s say skipping the corrupt middleman”.
At the university Oguya was only one of the 10 women in a department of 80 undertaking STEM-related discipline: this is about the same ratio you would expect even in a typical computer science class at Stanford University. Despite her creative idea, most of her teachers doubted her ability to program this app she had been talking about. Oguya faced a lot of skepticism largely attributed to the fact that she is a woman. Oguya said, “In my culture, it’s like men can only communicate with men. And I was like ‘OK’. Then if I could share this passion, like try and explain to the person, this is what I want to do? It’s only a woman who could understand me better”.
Sadly she had to wait until when she was in her 3rd year when she ran into a computer researcher named Jessica Colaco at the University’s hallway that she finally got the encouragement, mentoring and opportunity to develop her farming app idea. If you can remember, last week Innov8tiv Magazine featured an article on Akirachix: a “support group” for the Female Geek to reach her full potential. Jessica Colaco is a senior member of the Akirachix, and she says, “I remember when I met her in the corridor, Susan was really shy. She was like, ‘Excuse me, are you Jessica Colaco?”.
Oguya got introduced into the Akirachix by Colaco who told her, “Come meet other women who also have a passion like you, but they want to relate to other women who don’t know that this exists”. So Oguya began spending her Saturday morning with Colaco among other women, and together they would be snipping codes and reading through hackers’ “cookbooks”. It was from this informal gathering that the Akirachix was born. Susan Oguya upon her graduation was confident enough to pursue and develop her idea and founded a company called M-Farm which currently has a staff of 18 people, and serving more than 7,000 farmers across Africa using her app.