Last month I had the pleasure of attending a Women Who Code event in Kumasi, Ghana.
The potential of woman entrepreneurs remains largely untapped across the world. Few industries experience this as dramatically as technology: according to the World Economic Forum, less than 20% of those working in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths) are women.
And yet, technology has never been more important for our increasingly interconnected societies. Social media. The YouTube generation. The advent of mobile money taking the African market by storm. Technology has already proven its capacity to fundamentally reshape our societies. It is fast becoming the creative driving force behind almost every sustainable business in our global economy. It has the potential to help overcome some of the largest issues facing the world today. However, we definitely cannot achieve these lofty heights if we continue to ignore 50% of our potential global tech workforce. Enter Women Who Code.
Women Who Code is a free meetup-style network of women
Since its launch in 2011, Women Who Code has connected more than 80,000 women globally and produced 4,200 free technical events in 20 countries. Late in 2015, Afia Owusu-Forfie created Women Who Code’s first Sub-Saharan African programme in Ghana’s capital Accra and, in the spirit of supporting innovation and community enterprises, I was delighted to be invited to represent Challenges Worldwide as the Accra branch set foot in Kumasi for their maiden test events last month.
On the evening of Fri 7th October I headed down to Kumasi’s bustling Tech Junction and, after only a couple of failed attempts, secured a good price for a taxi to drive me out to Garden City University College for the ‘Excel In Your Career’ workshop I was to help lead. Thanks to impenetrable traffic and many a road trench, I arrived with just 2 minutes to spare before kick-off. I was shown into a room and was delighted to see nearly double the number of students we had anticipated. I was greeted by the friendly face of my fellow Women-Who-Coder-Afia Owusu-Forfie- who had Skyped in from the US to lead the session virtually.
Over the next two hours we ‘interviewed’ five brave community volunteers one by one, all in front of a packed room. It was fantastic to see the women show a real range of backgrounds and passions and really rise to the challenge of the evening. The most interesting thing for me was to witness the similarities between the women here in Kumasi and those I’ve met back home in London during similar tech career workshops. The Kumasi women had the same fears and concerns about interviews and our feedback session focused largely on the same issues with self-confidence and belief in their own awesomeness. This alone really proved to me the importance of a global network of women to help overcome these potential barriers to success. The comradery atmosphere in the room was really inspirational and, despite a couple of technical issues, a power cut and a massive downpour of rain, it was a brilliant evening where empowerment was definitely top of the agenda.
For more information on the Women Who Code community check out their website or find events near you.
Ghanian tech startup TinyDavid has created an exciting location mapping service that is revolutionising the market for African enterprises. With the Support of Challenges Worldwide TinyDavid are on a path to change the world.
Why are Challenges Worldwide working with TinyDavid?
Charity and NGOs both in the continent and across the world are indispensable combatants in the war waged against poverty in Africa. Their humanitarian efforts in fighting off disease pandemics, providing shelter, potable water, and other important relief services have continually been hailed. While most of them are persistent at first in providing as much aid as possible to selected communities, they can only do so much and would have to channel their resources elsewhere.
Sustainabilty and Scalability
This lack of continuity always begs the question of how scalable and sustainable these projects are in the long term. This inconsistency defines the incentive for the alternative approach of other pioneering NGOs. Challenges Worldwide believes that by supporting the development of fair and inclusive local economies we can help alleviate poverty and bring a lasting positive impact to communities in low- and middle-income countries by empowering emerging businesses to make them more sustainable and successful. Through the International Citizen Service (ICS), a UK Government funded development programme that brings together young people from the UK and developing countries to volunteer in disadvantaged communities in Africa, Asia and Latin America, Challenges Worldwide volunteers work together with micro and small-sized enterprises where they can have a direct positive impact through sharing their capabilities, skills, perspectives and experiences.
Whats in it for the volunteers?
It’s an enviable opportunity to develop professional skills to enhance the employability of volunteers over the long term and create a global cadre of future wealth creators who have a practical understanding of the vital role of economic development in reducing poverty. Having already influenced dozens of small businesses in Ghana, the programme seeks to increase its impact to further parts of the country. TinyDavid is one of the enterprises being supported by Challenges Worldwide.
For a technology based enterprise, TinyDavid is a particularly peculiar name. However, the story behind the name brings the company’s mission to life. The business’s motto ‘tiny solutions to big problems’ is clever mantra from the famous bible story of the encounter between the giant Philistine warrior Goliath who was defeated by a tiny teenage boy, David. This creativity, illustrated in the brand, amongst other such ingenuous and unique ways of thinking is what has allowed the business to overcome any challenge thrown its way, and flourish in the process of becoming a game-changer in the Ghanaian tech industry.
So what is TinyDavid?
In Ghana, it is no mystery that finding your way around can be a bit of a hurdle, especially if you’re new to an area or in worst cases a visitor from a different continent. Although the average Ghanaian is irrepressibly hospitable and beaming with friendly smiles willing to give a helping hand to lost people in the neighbourhood, he is poor at giving directions. Unfortunately, our goodwill often gets such people who have gone astray even further confused. People cannot necessarily be blamed however since houses rarely have numbers, and street names are near enough invisible. The usual practice is that well known locations such as businesses or schools are used for navigational purposes but are rarely reliable in poorly zoned areas. This is where TinyDavid and more importantly their app, SnooCode comes to salvage this menace of directional errors.
The SnooCode app founded by Sesinam Dagadu in 2011 produces a unique specified code which uses a combination of any of the 26 letters from the English alphabet and numbers to accurately generate a code which will pinpoint your location using GPS technology. You are then enabled to use this code to identify the distance, time expected for distance to be travelled and plot routes to your very exact location without the usual stress of asking your way around town.
The prospects of such an amazing app coded to be user friendly to every layman is just limitless. This multipurpose usefulness of SnooCode has already been exhibited as a potential ally to not only the individual but to benefit broader society.
Why is SnooCode so revolutionary?
In an epidemic situation for example, the ability to produce an accurate location for local authorities to use allows them to act swiftly and efficiently, reducing the risk of several damages occurring. In different areas across the capital where up to 160 emergency workers have been trained to use the app, its social impact already in these early stages of development is phenomenal. An application like this has the possibility to do wonderful things.
How will it help the people and enteprises of Ghana day to day?
Mr Dagadu has reiterated that pertinent avenues like ambulance services and food delivery services have very low efficiency rates in Ghana as compared to that of other advanced countries largely due to the inability to produce an address and know where on earth to deliver to. While such efficient addressing systems are popular industries in places like the UK, and provide employment for many (particularly the youth) they are still fledgling in Ghana. The system has the potential to benefit young people greatly, as the addition of work experience in any form has the ability to bolster your CV remarkably and make you more employable.
The vision of TinyDavid is to export this ideology to Ghana which can provide jobs for a developing country where unemployment is rife, and essentially bridge the gap of uneasiness of finding directions in the country. It is quite apparent that Mr Dagadu is on the verge of revolutionising both transport, address systems and service delivery in Ghana. With the correct guidance, support, investment and marketing in place, SnooCode along with TinyDavid can balloon in size especially in a country which is as consumed with cellular technological advances as Ghana is.
During the 12-week programme in which Jon and Kailian (the assigned volunteers), from the UK and Ghana respectively, have both undertaken rigorous Chartered Management Institute (CMI) training as Junior Business Associates. The pair has added a fresh insight to TinyDavid’s operations and offer recommendations based on the Challenges Worldwide Enterprise Support Framework, paired with their cross cultural perspectives which has proven invaluable to the business over the past weeks.
They have conducted analysis involving the financial performance of the business, as well as using other tools to segment the market, and get to the root of the business’s hitches. All whilst gathering enough data to profile the business to be able to recommend suitable changes. As well as the analysis conducted, Jon and Kailan have gone the extra mile of getting involved in the day-day activities of the business while using their previous experiences and acquired training to make relevant decisions to positively influence the business such as developing potential features for the app.
Continued support from Challenges Worldwide
However, the programme doesn’t just end there. Challenges Marketplace, an online platform linking businesses across Africa to investors across the globe has the capability to help TinyDavid reach its peak potential. TinyDavid will be able to report monthly and build up a portfolio of themselves, which they can then use to attract investment. The more information uploaded on Marketplace allows for more investors to trust the business, understand it’s purpose and their track record to judge whether investment will be a worthwhile venture. Making funding accessible to these businesses is a key part of the programme in its mission to achieve the ultimate goal of alleviation of poverty in Africa through enterprise empowerment and strengthening business ties. While the attraction of funding is purposefully a keynote for Marketplace, it also enhances networking and creates specialised contacts in relevant fields all geared towards achieving TinyDavid’s business goals whilst meeting Challenges Worlwide’s wider social targets.
As Challenges Worldwide volunteers, Jon and Kalian have both gained massive experience with this opportunity to work on a project such as SnooCode especially in the early stages where their help, and guidance have had a substantial impact.
Their input into SnooCode has been invaluable for TinyDavid, but the Challenges Worldwide’s work does not, and will not stop with the end of the 3-month volunteer placements. With an in-country business portfolio team as part of Challenges, TinyDavid has access to all the support it needs, and with other relevant opportunities available, TinyDavid could quite possibly become one of Challenges Worldwide’s biggest success stories.