Youth Johnson, the convener of StartHub Women in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, a community of young women championing the visibility of women in our society through technology and entrepreneurship talks about the impact of technology in the lives of women in the state, their interventionist projects in schools for kids and the challenge of accessing public schools.
Tell us about your organization – StartHub Women?
Starthub Women is a not-for-profit initiative of Start Innovation Hub Technology Foundation. It was founded in July 2018 at Start Innovation Hub as a community of young women using technology and entrepreneurship to champion the visibility of women in the society. We envision a community where women are proportionally represented as technical leaders, executives, founders, VCs, board members and software engineers.We do not only encourage women to start up faster in technology entrepreneurship, but also support the growth of women that are already in tech.
Do you think that Starthub Women have made an impact on the lives of women in the state?
Well, I am not assessing myself, but I believe that we are trying. We are the very first that is focusing on women and empowering them to use technology or information technology. The role of women can’t be over emphasized in the society. We believe that women can strongly be part of the new narrative which is technology. Yes, we are making strides in the ecosystem, we have created kids coding program during the holiday periods and parents are impressed on how we have been able to expose the kids to the nitty gritty of computing.
Having started the kids coding program, the responses are reassuring by the parents and the kids. Our kids program is one of the most effective in the region and with this; we can say that we have created an impact in the society.
How is your kids coding program and what is the level of acceptance in a state like Akwa Ibom?
The response has been impressive and overwhelming; this is with the Africa Code week. Our success stories in the holiday program have encouraged us over these past two years that we established. The children are overwhelmed and overjoyed. The kids would come to us and tell us that they will want to learn more about coding. One girl that was among those that we were teaching coding came and told me “Madam, we didn’t know that coding is this interesting”, this is the level of recognition.
Our holiday program is so accepted in Uyo, that top government functionaries bring their kids to learn coding and computing. We have also the Africa Code week here, built relationships with selected schools and they have shown promise. Note, we didn’t only partner with schools in urban area, we engaged the schools in rural areas also. Schools in these rural areas have shown tremendous promises.
How has your engagement with public schools?
Well, accessing public schools in partnership is a bit challenging because of various factors such as bottlenecks and access to computer labs. It was easier for us to work with private schools but we came to the realization that the majority of the children are in public schools and these public schools do not have computer labs and computing program.
This we are trying to change by our interventionist program for these kids. We strongly believe in Starthub Women that women and children must be equipped in the area of IT , this would prepare them for the 4th industrial revolution. Accessing public schools are challenging though talents and children with fantastic ideas are in public school but access is an issue.
StartHub Women as a project, what is it about?
We are just a community of women in Start Innovation Hub, we started last year and we want women to know and appreciate technology. We came about this when companies write us that they want coders and when we source coders we realize that women are just less than ten percent of those that are given to clients. StartHub Women are dedicated to changing this narrative and making women love technology. We want women to be given a voice in the information technology ecosystem; we want them to be visible and impactful. That is our critical mission. Ours is to start a community of women that loves IT and code.
Are women getting interested in this project?
The number of women in the hub has been on the increase since we started. We also deploy them to go implement STEM curriculum in schools.. We in startup Women, We strongly believe that women’s role in life transformation using technology is vital.
We also encourage women to incorporate technology in whatever they are doing. Let’s take, for instance, if you make hats, we expose you to digital marketing tools and how to leverage various online platforms for visibility, these women want to learn and they are doing great.
What are the challenges that you are facing?
Well, funding has always been an issue for us, we are strictly a private venture and we have limitations on what we can do, though we would want to reach more in terms of empowerment and capacity building. We have smart kids that are good in computing, if we can nurture these kids, they would go a long way, we also have seen women in the state and region that have great products but do not know how to make these visible. We have been able to bring many women on board as coders, we have thought somehow to code and there are many success stories, we have also made a whole lot of other women how to integrate IT in their business. We would love to do more, but we are incapacitated by funding.
We want to reach out to rural schools, Girls’ schools and also impact in the lives of these kids by giving them the desired exposure. Also, there should be policies by the government to ensure that women are impacted. We would want to work more with these public schools, but the resources are what I don’t have and it is heartbreaking.
Do you think that kids in public schools can compete and grasp this IT concept?
There are smart kids out there and I have seen them in public schools and these kids don’t have the opportunity because there are no facilities to take them to a new level. How I wish there are facilities in these public schools, we can work or partner with the government on what to do in these public schools. This is in the area of IT and how these kids can benefit from the intervention program we are offering in the state.
The scratch education that we have in place, it has exposed us to the potentialities of kids in the state, though private schools have put it in their curriculum and it is a year in year out thing but unfortunately the public school is a challenge. Accessing them is a big challenge and funding greater challenge.