Uganda's 'techie' women making their mark

"More than 90 per cent of projects across Africa are now driven by communication hence the growing importance of Information Communication Technology (ICT)." - Lee Taaziva, Zimbabwe Computer Society Vice President.  FELIX NDUNG'U |NATION MEDIA GROUP

Information, Communication and Technology has generally been a male dominated sector globally. From the time of invention of the first computers, innovators and developers have predominantly been male.

However, the tech landscape has rapidly advanced in the last decade. Women are fast catching up with the ever evolving tech landscape just as fast as their male peers.

The last year has seen, among other interesting developments in the tech world, Yahoo!’s CEO Marissa Meyer take on the job while 6 months pregnant, making her the first ever pregnant CEO of a fortune 500 tech company.

Closer home, in Uganda’s tech world, the number of women in tech has shot up as more and more take a keen interest in what was once considered a men-only industry.

Evelyn Namara

A graduate of computer science from Makerere University, Evelyn always had a passion for working with women and tech. For this reason, she left her IT unit administrator job at Communications giant Orange Uganda to become the Programme coordinator at Solar Sister, a social enterprise that seeks to create employment and income generating opportunities for women in rural areas.

The organisation uses an Avon-style business model to create access to clean energy in areas that lack a reliable supply of electricity. They have only one catch: they give loans only to female entrepreneurs.

She says that many of her peers thought she was throwing away a great job when she left Orange for Solar Sister. She asserts that this is not the case, saying that she has experienced tremendous personal growth as well establishing herself as a female leader in the tech world in Uganda.

Her work has not gone unnoticed. The savvy 28-year-old was the recipient of the 2012 Anita Borg Change Agent Award which rewards women the world over whose work has had a tremendous impact in shaping the world in the field of Women and Technology.

''I have always been a techie in everything that I do. I feel that I have impacted people's lives with my job at Solar Sister. The fact is that I use my technical skills to drive the work that I do today to impact the grassroots. It's not just about building enterprise, but also about using technology to put information out there and make it useful to people.''

Maureen Agena

Maureen describes herself as a new media enthusiast, trainer, youth activist and a trained citizen journalist. She is a self-confessed lover of mobile technology and is passionate about gender issues in technology.

Until this October, she had worked as a programme manager at Text to Change, a Mobile for Development company. Prior to that, she worked at Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) for 3 years as an Information & Communications Officer. She holds a Bsc in Information Technology and an Msc in Information Systems.

She also took part in the organisation of the just concluded TEDxWomen conference on November 1st 2012, held in Kampala that focussed on women and their issues

Maureen originally wanted to do Business Administration at the university but her father inspired her to get into tech. The rest, as they say, is history.

According to her, the reason why there are still so few women in the tech industry in Uganda is because from a young age girls are socialised to believe that computers and technological knowledge is for boys and that girls are better suited for studies in the Humanities.

''There ought to be a change in gender attitudes. Girls should be brought up to believe that they can also do just as well in the ICT industry as their male counterparts have.''

Esther Akello

This IT specialist with the Bank of Uganda has built quite a name for herself in the Ugandan tech industry. She was in the team of organisers of the first ever TEDxWomen conference in Africa that took place in Kampala, Uganda. She holds an Msc in Information Systems and a Bsc in Computer Sciences.

The Makerere University graduate previously worked for Eskom Uganda before landing her current job. Of women in tech, she says that few Ugandan women study IT courses and of those that do, few of them make a career of it.

Barbara Birungi

When you ask around about who's who in Uganda's tech world, Barbara's name is likely to come up quite a number of times. Aside from being a blogger and tech enthusiast, she is the Country Director of the Hive Colab.

She describes the Colab as an innovation hub, business accelerator and incubator for technological start-ups not just in Uganda but East Africa. It is a technological space that can be used by potential innovators and creative types who otherwise lack the resources to grow their ideas.

She says they do this because the space and resources (internet, business mentorship) required to do so are quite expensive and many young techies cannot afford them. They also help them come up with business models for their start-ups as well as helping them patent their original ideas.

She also founded WITU (Women in Technology Uganda), a forum for finding "real long-term solutions for the problem of attracting, retaining and advancing more women in the IT industry." Barbara strives to do this through mentorship and training of Ugandan women interested in joining the tech industry.

Christine Ampaire

The third-year university software engineering student is already a well known name in Uganda. Along with her fellow students from Makerere University, she was instrumental in developing the MafutaGo App, an App that was created to help Ugandan motorists locate fuel stations at close proximity selling fuel at the cheapest price.
She says the App was designed as an answer to the turbulent fuel crisis in Kampala.

“It was a product of a 48-hour hackathon called Garage 48. We are a group of students who are passionate about our country and the city we live in. We wanted to address the daily struggle of rising petrol prices in Kampala.”
The Mafuta Go application emerged the first runner-up at the Premier Mobile Awards in Barcelona, Spain.

Terry Karungi

The third-year Computer Engineering student at Makerere University is also a production manager at Kola studios and the only female member of the team behind the widely popular Matatu game. Other Games by the team include Zworld, Walls and Tapt.

Kola studios is one of the few App makers in East Africa that exclusively makes gaming Apps as majority of developers focus on utilitarian Apps.
She says she got into the tech world because “It’s interesting and there’s a high probability of making it in the technological field as compared to other industries. It also does not need too much start-up capital.”

Asia Kamukama

This lady may not be a software developer or a techie per se, however, she has made it her mission in life to bring computers to those in the rural areas of Uganda.

She got her first taste of computers while she was in university. After getting a job as a librarian, she was tasked with recording over 10,000 books into a paper system. It was very cumbersome, so she looked for volunteers who could help out.
One volunteer, an American, came along with a computer and was shocked that a university student had never used one. This incident aroused great interest in computers for Asia.

Eager to create access to computers for children in rural areas, she co-founded Maendeleo Foundation with the goal of promoting the use of ICT in schools and rural communities.
Of women and tech, she says most women are just intimidated by tech and don’t think they have what it takes to venture into IT.

“Girls are usually very shy and as soon as you urge them on and explain how things are done, they pick up and eventually get so interested in learning how things work. Introducing tech to women at an early age like in primary, secondary and vocational schools will see the number of women in tech in Uganda go up”

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