BusinessDay

Bridging gender gap in technology

… Identifying Eko Innovation Centre, Africa Agility efforts

Many states that see Abuja as the only feeding bottle have a lot to learn from Lagos State. Apart from initiatives in transportation, Outdoor advertising and others, the biggest commercial city in Africa under its present governor has realized that to leapfrog and create real economic value for the citizens, technology is key.

In addition to encouraging technology hubs to create unique solutions that solve unique challenges within the entire civic ecosystem, it is also encouraging women participation in tech. Daniel Obi writes on empowerment of women in tech initiative as pushed by Eko Innovation Centre and Africa Agility.

Under-representation of women in tech
In the last 30 years, much effort has been made in the involvement of more women in workplaces in both the public and private sectors.
In certain instances, factors such as policies, women education, gender parity campaigns have driven more women participation in the workforce at all levels. As at 2020 female labour force (15 years and above) in Nigeria was put at 44.82 % according to Trading Economics which relied on data from World Bank.

But, despite this progress across fields, the percentage of women in technology is abysmally low globally. This data was succinctly captured by Martin Luenendonk, CEO and Co-Founder of Cleverism.com in his article in ICT Solution and Education, ISE Magazine, where he said “there is a huge gender gap between men and women in the Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields”.

This statistics was buttressed by the founder of Agility Africa, Aanu Oluwapo Gopald who frowned at the under-representation of women in the tech space. According to her, there is 75% male and 25% female respectively in tech space globally. Out of the 25 percent women, only three percent is black Africa American women. This leaves the African continent and Nigeria with an insignificant percent of women in the tech space.

Closing gender gap in Nigeria

Some reasons have been advanced for this gender parity. This includes that girls are less likely to study STEM subjects, but looking beyond this and ensuring that more women thrive in this present digital economy, Eko Innovation Centre, an innovation hub based in Lagos partnering Agility Africa whose aim is to leapfrog Africa and create a digital economy are focused on training 10,000 girls in innovation technology in the next five years.

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Eko Innovation Centre, a leading innovation hub in the country, is created to foster the growth and development of start-ups and entrepreneurship in Nigeria. It empowers start-ups from concept to commercialization. It is behind initiatives such as Lagos Smart Meter Hackathon, Art of Technology Lagos among other laudable initiatives in partnership with the Lagos State government and others.

On the other hand, Africa Agility, a non-profit organisation, over the years has embarked on several initiatives in line with its vision of a dignified smarter and brighter future for children or youths of the under-served community and the entire continent as a whole. These include STEM for Rural Areas; Agile in Higher Education; Agile Philanthropy; and Girls in Technology.

The two organisations in partnership with Impact Lagos are not only determined to close the gender gap in technology but spur girls to acquire technology skills that the future economy demands. At the girls’ boot camp in Lagos, the girls are taken through AI, Machine learning, data science, web development and more.

The organisations have so far trained 200 girls and many of them have been engaged by various companies while others are either freelancers or tech-preneurs.
Victor Gbenga Afolabi, the Founder of Eko Innovation Centre explained more recently when Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo Olu visited some hubs in Lagos including Eko Innovation Centre to appreciate the innovations around hubs.

“For this year, we have partnered with Africa Agility to equip the Nigerian female youth with the necessary digital skills they need to access opportunities in tech and business. We trained 100 girls last year and another 100 this year as part of the Girls in Tech initiative. The beneficiaries include undergraduates, unemployed, single mothers with no previous IT skills and we groomed them in the Bootcamp for about a month which ended with a 3-day hackathon to proffer tech-enabled solutions around the Lagos T.H.E.M.E.S agenda.”

Noteworthy, T.H.E.M.E.S is an acronym for the administration’s six strategic development agenda of the Lagos State Governor namely, Traffic Management and Transportation, Health and Environment, Education and Technology.

Speaking on why the initiative is focused on only women, he explained, “Women are disproportionate in tech globally. In Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa, less than one percent of women are actually part of the total tech ecosystem and we think the future of the world is around tech. We see it as a way of creating women emancipation and balance the imbalance that currently exists around the talents that are currently present in the technology ecosystem.”

He added that in the first two editions of the Bootcamp about 200 have been trained and plans are on the way to train 10,000 in the next five years. “The plan of Eko Innovation, Africa Agility and Impact Lagos; who are partners on the project, is to train 10,000 girls in Lagos state over the next five years.”

Afolabi said that achieving a smart city and inclusion of more women in technology is the aim of its partnership with Africa Agility on Girl in Tech Bootcamp Lagos.

“Eko Innovation Centre (EIC) is an innovation hub committed to accelerating the growth of businesses, leveraging technology at the core of their operations. So, we are positioned as an accelerator within the tech ecosystem. We help startup develop and accelerate their go to market strategy.

“The EIC focuses broadly on civic tech, working to drive social impact by developing tech solutions to problems faced by governments in state and regional levels. These include innovations like those developed at the Lagos smart Meter hackathon held last year”.

Similarly, Gopald said in the last three weeks, the girls have learnt Artificial intelligence, machine learning, data science, web development, UI/UX, and agile. She explained that the six programmess learnt are most popular digital cutting-edge technology highly sought out in the world.

“The future of this is to change the narrative that girls do not belong to technology and we want Lagos State to be a pacesetter in championing this movement to have more girls in the technology industry. Also, for these girls to be able to solve some of the complex problems in Lagos,” she added.

Specifically, the Eko Innovation Centre and Agility Africa are asking for Lagos State government support to realize their dream of training 10,000 girls as it takes a lot such as fund, equipment to train the girls.

Governor’s visit a morale boost
The visit of the Governor to hubs around Lagos marked his final round of trips to innovation hubs across the state as part of activities marking his two years in office, and also to connect first hand with players in the tech ecosystem.
At the Eko Innovation Centre, the “Girl-in-Tech” programme featured various exhibitions across health, waste and traffic management and how technology has been deployed to help solve the challenges faced within these sectors in the state, as well as help government, get adequate data for good governance.

The governor applauded the innovations exhibited, stating that it aligns with his T.H.E.M.E.S agenda. He added that the initiative will help fast track the digitalization of the state’s operations and fuelling technology-driven innovations to transform it into a 21st-century digital economy and smart city.

He said “Technology will give us the opportunity to leapfrog” as he vowed to support the initiative. He explained further that empowering women will greatly help transform the state considering how they are dedicated to work and how their impact are always felt when they embark on a task. The visit was a morale booster to the hub.
The creation of hubs in Lagos to leapfrog the state’s economy and the decision of the state governor to visit the hubs underscore the realization and importance of technology to business operations and solving civic challenges. The creation of Eko Innovation Centre indicates that women must be carried along in the present digital world.

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