• Wednesday, April 24, 2024
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Tech actors, women inclusion, japa: How govt can weave and win in tech

Inspiring inclusion: Non-profit organizations paving the way for women in tech

Every year on 8 March, the world is reminded of the need for gender equity and inclusion in societal growth aspirations as the International Womens Day (IWD) is celebrated. As Nigeria celebrates IWD this year, its clear that it faces both significant challenges and opportunities in harnessing the potential of its youthful population (with about half of them female) and advancing its technological capabilities.

Read also: International Women’s Day 2024: Celebrating 20 young women making strives in their own way

Education however remains the glue that will hold tech and the youth population together. Also very critical in the equation, if Nigeria must create Tech Actors that will help it leapfrog countries like India, China, South Korea, and others in rapid development, is the need to craft policies and strategies to tap into the japa trend.

Government wants to take giant steps
It is noteworthy that the government is envisioning 3 million tech actors by 2025 as announced by the Minister of Communications, Innovation and Digital Economy, Dr. Bosun Tijani. According to the minister, who announced the governments plans to train 3 million youth in tech skills, We are using a 1-10-100-model. We are starting with 1% of our 3 million target and that will be for the first three months. The next phase will target 10% and so on until the 3 million is achieved. This is quite ambitious and requires a comprehensive strategy incorporating various stakeholders working in synergy, including government agencies, educational institutions, private sector partners, and civil society organizations.

Read also: International Women’s Day 2024: Meet 8 women making Nigeria proud abroad

Funding will be a critical success factor for such a grand plan. One must also consider qualified trainers and robust infrastructure. We dont yet have the breakdown of the expected participants in the government scheme, but women must be well represented. Figures by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) showed that only 22% of STEM graduates are females. That figure must be improved to ensure the country taps into its available human capital assets for impact and to foster a diverse and dynamic workforce. The Enugu State government also recently announced plans to build 250 smart schools statewide.

These are exciting but isolated initiatives that require coordination to achieve expected goals. The accreditation of the Nigerian University of Technology and Management (NUTM) to instruct on and award STEM degrees and its subsequent partnerships with Oxford University, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and Indian Institute of Technology for joint programmes and exchanges could be pivotal to the overall success of the governments plans. NUTM and other STEM institutes in the country could play a role similar to that played by the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) in terms of churning out well-trained tech actors eager to introduce the next Flutterwave, Andela, Paystack, or Hotel.ng.

Japa may put the brakes on governments tech drive

Japa (slang for mass migration of Nigerians abroad) may truncate the expected impact of governments tech-focused initiatives if job and entrepreneurial opportunities for the new tech professionals are scanty. Beyond equipping individuals with technical skills, one envisages that the governments initiatives will foster a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship. By providing aspiring tech entrepreneurs with access to mentorship, funding, and incubation support, the aim should be to catalyze the growth of a vibrant startup ecosystem capable of driving job creation and economic diversification.

Government should quit seeing japa as solely a challenge. In the short term, yes. But theres a huge opportunity in japa, in the medium to long term, that government can leverage to actualize its tech dreams.

Countries such as China, India, Brazil, and many others have adroitly tapped into their japa challenges, through targeted policies, to their advantage. Nigeria thus has a template to adapt for its use to achieve similar or greater success.

India

India has a similar brain drain issue as Nigeria. Latest data by the United Nations in the World Migration Report 2022 put the population of Indians in foreign lands at 17.9 million. But India went to work to turn the drain into gain. There are several policies by the India government to entice its professionals abroad to either come back home or collaborate with in-country professionals. For instance, Ramalingaswami Re-entry Fellowship was introduced in 2006 to attract Indian scientists back home. The fellowship offers a five-year salary plus research funding for diasporan Indians willing to come back home. Similar fellowships include the Early Career Fellowship in Basic Biomedical Research and the Visiting Advanced Joint Research Faculty, among others. There are also the Global Initiative of Academic Networks (GIAN), VAJRA, and the Prime Ministers Scientist Return to India (PM-SRI) programmes.

China

China has over the years also introduced policies to bring back its foreign-based professionals and attract foreigners into Chinas burgeoning science and tech spaces. Some of the notable policies include the Changjiang Scholars Programme, Thousand Talents Plan, and the Red Son Plan.

Indeed, the government’s stated tech plan reflects a bold commitment to harness the transformative power of technology for national development. However, the will to back the plan up must be bolder if tangible progress is desired. And government, not the private sector, must drive the process. Governments in countries that are ahead of the curve in technological advancements like the US, China, India, South Korea, Japan, and others played a huge role in policy direction, research and development, infrastructure, and most importantly funding. Oftentimes, the private sectors in these nations are hesitant to fund research into uncharted waters. Not so the governments. In the US, for instance, the development of the algorithms that underprop Google and others was mostly public sector funded.

The government must get to work immediately. We are already late to the party.