“Until the lion has his or her own storyteller, the hunter will always have the best part of the story.” ~ Ewe-mina Proverb
In 1992, when I moved to Massachussets to work for the-then number two computer manufacturer, Digital Equipment Corporation, I could never have predicted how much people would come to rely on the Internet which, at that time, was in its very rudimentary stage. At this point, many of us access the Internet multiple times daily via mobile devices. I also could never have imagined how it could be used to bridge the digital divide, by providing platforms for those who otherwise would have remained invisible, enabling them to tell their own stories, in their own languages, and most importantly, from their own perspectives.
I have since been witness to the evolution of information communications technology from a single industry, to an all-encompassing group of innovations that change how we live our lives, who we share those lives with, how long those lives last, and even how the others grieve us at our time of passing. With respect to grieving, the most recent and significant case in point is the fact that hundreds of thousands of people around the globe learned about the passing of the late and great songstress Whitney Houston via Twitter (one hour prior to reports from traditional media). Subsequently, millions of us experienced her Newark, NJ “home going” via live streams.
The increased access to information and stories has made me realize that the continent where I was born and its people still remain largely misunderstood and frankly, exploited. Of particular concern to me are African women, who have largely been characterized as breeders, incapable of caring for themselves and their multitude of children, and certainly in no way contributing to their continent of origin, let alone the world. The words that come to many when they read or hear the words “African Woman” are: victim, voiceless, definitely not virginic and lacking value or viability. The following Bing.com image search I conducted using the words “African Woman”, are proof of what one will see when trying to learn about the women of Africa (click to enlarge):
It is against this backdrop that fellow Ugandan TMS Ruge and I decided to organize the panel “Africa, Tech & Women: The New Faces of Development” for the famed technology conference, SXSW, which attracts tens of thousands of people over 12 days to Austin, TX every March. Our purpose is to present African women in a forum typically reserved for American men and showcase their talents, accomplishments and contributions in ways that they are seldom seen. We also wanted to provide a balanced view about the realities surrounding the impact technology is having on women in Africa, including anecdotes about how in some cases, women’s access to mobile phones is contributing to domestic violence and other issues in the home as women become more empowered.
TMS Ruge and I met on Twitter two years ago, began collaborating when I began contributing to his blog Project Diaspora at the beginning of 2011, and we have since been involved in a number of Africa-centered conferences, meeting for the first time in person in June 2011. Why this is significant is that although TMS Ruge and I hail from the same country, Uganda, and have many similar interests, we most likely would not have been able to connect, given that we live in different parts of the U.S. and have different social circles. However, through social media, we were able to connect and jointly develop a concept for our panel via Skype, email, Twitter and Facebook. The story of our meeting is testament to the power of social media to contributing to the making of new connections that can potentially help facilitate change. Part of the change that we are hoping to make is the way in which African women are viewed. While the majority of the world sees images and reads stories that reflect part of the reality, we believe it’s time that people see and experience more.
The team we brought together for the Africa, Tech & Women: The New Faces of Development panel, have met only virtually at this point. However, they all uniquely leverage technology to shape Africa’s future and tell its story through:
Digital Advocacy: Ebele Okobi, Yahoo! (Nigerian-American)
Small Business Mobile Advertising: Isis Nyong’o, InMobi Africa (Kenyan-American)
NGO Branding / Fundraising (Online and Mobile): Liz Ngonzi, New York University Heyman Center for Philanthropy & Fundraising (Ugandan-American)
Media and Internet Connectivity: Deborah Ensor, Internews (American with deep Africa health and humanitarian reporting experience)
Social Entrepreneurship (Moderator): TMS Ruge (Ugandan-American)
View team bios on the SXSW site.
Our hope is that our panel will inspire more African girls and women to pursue studies and careers in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields, with an understanding that the tools and knowledge they will access, coupled with their own talents and creativity, will empower them to contribute to the global economy, while at the same time, enabling them to authentically tell their own stories and re-define how they are viewed around the globe.
THE LIONESS IS SURELY ROARING!
Follow Liz Ngonzi on Twitter.