Bridging the gender gap in ICT
After completing high school, Agnes Masea was idling at home uncertain of her future. Although she yearned to go to college, her parents were not ready to finance her education.
As the 19-year-old passed time, she learnt of Akirachix — a training centre for girls looking forward to exploring careers in information technology — through her friend.
Interested in joining the hub, she made an application for an interview, and was successful. Now Agnes is among 30 students at Akirachix.
Twenty one year-old Florence Wanjogo, is Agnes’ classmate pursuing a course in programming and designing.
According to Florence, Akirachix gives her the best environment — trainers and resources — to help her be the software developer she hopes to be in future.
Akirachix was started by four young women who were driven by the need to address gender disparity in IT.
Its core aim is to demystify the cultural challenges that girls face in the IT industry and to eventually do away with the stereotype that women do not make great programmers like men.
With no prior experience in setting up a learning centre, Angela Oduor, Linda Kamau, Judith Owigar and Marie Githinji came together in 2010 to found the hub.
While still undertaking their undergraduate studies, not even the lack of capital to run the hub would kill their dreams of establishing a girls’ only IT centre.
“We had a dream but had no funds to start the school. Instead of killing the start-up idea, we soldiered on to the extent that we used our own money to keep it running,” said Angela.
During the first year of conducting training, the group was lucky to receive a Sh600,000 boost from Google Rise, which they used to buy computers and to rent a classroom for students.
The centre’s model is to train, mentor and offer networking opportunities in the IT world to girls.
The girls, all high school leavers from poor families but with interest in pursuing a career in IT, go through various classes for one year.
By the end of the training, the ladies either become experts in programming, web or graphic designing.
While commenting on the hub’s model, Angela said that the free training offers students an opportunity to become entrepreneurs or to pursue employment in various capacities in the tech world.
For the three years, Akirachix has trained 36 girls and the co-founder is hopeful that the current lot of 30 will complete their studies.
Besides offering lessons in technology, Akirachix founders organise outreach programmes where they hold talks in girls’ high schools.
“Girls tend to choose careers in high school and so the bi-monthly meet-ups we conduct in various schools for instance, Kenya High and Precious Blood, are geared towards introducing students to career opportunities in the tech industry,” said Angela, aged 24.
During holidays, Akirachix organises trainings for high school students.
The trainers, who are mainly the founders of the centre, train students on various topics like graphic designing and programming and issue certificates upon completion.
Akirachix also offers mentorship programmes to ladies who have done courses in technology but are too afraid to pursue careers in the same field.
They help the ladies build confidence and encourage them to take up careers in the tech industry.
“By working with university graduates we aim to dispel the myth that the tech industry is a men’s only field,” she added.
The group also organises career fairs. Last year they organised Girls in ICT event aimed at bringing girls from various schools and fields together to enlighten them on different career opportunities in IT.
Such a platform offers young women an opportunity to network and to get expert advise from the people practising in the industry.
A networking chance offers the ladies a platform to share their experiences and challenges. Such brainstorming opportunities offer solutions to some of the problems experienced by women in the IT field, said Angela.
Akirachix hopes to replicate the centre at Bishop Magua building, Ngong Road, across East Africa.
Now funded by Swedish International Development Agency, the hub also hopes to start classes for professionals in IT in April.
The paid for classes, will offer a three-month information security course to begin with.
Proceeds realised from the classes will be channeled back to the mother project. The founders, all IT graduates, are all employed and double up as mentors and managers of the affairs of the hub.