Re-cap: Africa, Tech & Women: The New Faces of Development at SXSW
by Liz Ngonzi, Technology Instructor, New York University, George H. Heyman Jr. Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising
On Monday, March 12th, SXSW (South by Southwest), the famed technology, music, and gaming conference that hosts 50,000+ over a 12-day period, featured a ground-breaking developed by myself and the co-founder of Project Diaspora, TMS Ruge, titled Africa, Tech & Women: The New Faces of Development.
The panel featured Isis Nyong’o, vice president and managing director, Africa, for InMobi (the world’s largest independent mobile advertising network); Ebele Okobi, director, Yahoo!’s Business and Human Rights Program, and Deborah Ensor, vice president, Africa, Health and Humanitarian Media Programs, Internews.
TMS Ruge and myself, both Ugandan-Americans, co-developed the panel to present African women in a forum typically reserved for white American men, as a means to showcase talents, accomplishments, and contributions of African women in ways that they are seldom seen. The panel also provided insights about the investment potential for companies looking to enter into the African marketplace. It also covered the impact that African women are having outside of the continent.
As a means to provide background regarding the impetus behind the panel, I provided the following stereo-typical images of what one would imagine when thinking about African women (from Google search results on “African woman"). I then spoke about the importance of adding new images to the conversation on African women, by asking the audience to view the panelists as representing another view of African women:
Moderator TMS Ruge (the only male on the panel), provided anecdotes about girls in Uganda wanting to stay in school as a means to learn how to use mobile technology, for the purpose of sending texts to their friends. He also spoke to the impact of mobile communications on his mother (a local chief), Millie Busingye, in her ability to monitor and manage disputes in her community in a more efficient and effective manner.
According to Isis Nyong'o, over 30 percent of Africans are defined as middle class, and mobile phone penetration has risen to 60 percent. Nyong'o also indicated that applications are being developed in Africa to allow users to share their own stories—with women adapting to these platforms in record numbers and a noticeable change in consumer behavior, as users are becoming producers of information, rather than just consumers.
Ebele Okobi asked companies if they “want clients or recipients?” Referring to recent missteps by companies such as Nike in understanding the role of African consumers, as well as charity organizations such as the seemingly successful Red and Invisible Children campaigns, highlighting the disconnect between these organizations and African consumers.
As a means to connect to the mostly American audience which is currently concerned about elections in the U.S., I shared an anecdote about Ushahidi
(spearheaded by two Kenyan women, Ory Okolloh and Juliana Rotich, and others), a non-profit profit organization that developed a platform that has re-defined world-wide election monitoring and crisis mapping.
Deborah Ensor spoke about the power of community radio to empower people to take control and shape the content that is relevant, interesting and helpful to them.
The panelists concluded by focusing on a need for accomplished African women to reach out to younger girls and women to develop mentoring relationships that enable them to pursue education and careers in the STEM fields (science, technology, engnineering, and mathematics).
For additional coverage about the Africa, Tech & Women: The New Faces of Development panel, please refer to the following story developed by Liz Ngonzi on Storify: http://sfy.co/hXw
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