Celebrating Kenyan women excelling in the tech space
According to the World Bank, Africa is the only continent where female entrepreneurs outnumber their male counterparts. In Kenya, 48% of micro, small, and medium businesses are female owned, and these businesses contribute an impressive 20% to our GDP. This group of inspirational women has something in common with their successful businesses; they’ve both been underestimated and proven the naysayers wrong on many occasions.
In a world looking to promote gender equality in the workplace while trying to reduce the prevalence of gender-based violence, it’s important to highlight successes.
Research shows that increased gender equality in Kenya could lead to increased growth for the economy. Many of our jobs are tied to empowering women too - 95% of the jobs created every year in Kenya come from the informal sector, and 85% of women’s businesses operate in this sector.
By sharing female empowerment stories, we hope to inspire women in tech to keep succeeding and to encourage more women to enter the space, thus benefitting society and our economy. Kenya is home to many powerful, successful women, and in this piece, I’d like to share just some of their stories and passions with you.
Empowering women to break the poverty cycle
Judith Owigar is the owner and founder of AkiraChix. The non-profit organisation seeks to build the next generation of female tech leaders in Africa. Initially started as a space where women in tech can come together to learn from one another, its aim is to bridge the gender gap in tech and empower women to use tech to solve African challenges.
“I am passionate about increasing female social capital in the African Tech ecosystem. This assists in propelling the entry of many young women, girls, and now children, into careers in Science Technology Engineering and Math,” she said when asked about what led to her establishing her business.
Judith has also used digital tech to address inefficiencies in the informal jobs market. She founded an online job platform called JuaKali that looks to connect job seekers with temporary employment opportunities within the construction industry.
Connecting East Africa with the world
East Africa’s first mass-market ISP, Wananchi Online, was founded by Kenyan businessperson, Njeri Rionge. She began her entrepreneurial career at the age of 19, selling yoghurt at schools in Nairobi. Fast forward to today, and she’s one of Africa’s IT pioneers. She also owns one of Kenya’s biggest start-up incubators, Business Lounge, as well as several other businesses, including a digital marketing agency. She strives to share her knowledge and skills with young entrepreneurs and seeks to empower women, acknowledging that it’s not easy to be a woman in business.
“In my experience, women and men suffer the same experience; the only difference is that women have more responsibilities. As a player in the business world, you are still expected to be a mother, wife, and homemaker. That increases the number of things you are responsible for,” she shared in an interview with How We Made It In Africa.
Crafting opportunities in Kenya
Catherine Mahugu developed Soko, an ecommerce platform that connects almost 1,000 sub-Saharan Africa artisans' jewellery with the rest of the world. In doing so, she hopes to bridge the income gap in Kenya by providing a sustainable income to local craftspeople. In addition to this, the opportunity also exists for jewellery to be sold by instore retailers, including Nordstrom and Anthropologie.
When sitting down to chat to Lionesses of Africa, Catherine shared her vision for the future. “My vision is to champion new ideas that transform society’s systems, provide benefits for everyone, and improve the lives of millions of people.”
A serial founder, Catherine also runs Wazidata, a company that seeks to bridge the digital divide through human-centred design, which boasts a client list that includes the UN Refugee Agency as well as Safaricom.
Financing the dreams of women in Kenya
"Women disproportionately face financial access barriers that prevent them from participating in the economy and from improving their lives," is what Dr Jennifer Riria shared with Lionesses in Africa with regards to women’s access to the economy.
This harsh reality is something that has driven Dr Riria on her mission of transforming the lives of women and their families in Kenya. She is currently the Group CEO of Kenya Women Holding and is a microfinance banker, researcher, and gender specialist. She has received much recognition for her efforts, including winning the Ernst & Young (EY) Entrepreneur of the Year in 2013 and 2014. To date, her financing initiatives have disbursed $1.3bn in unpaid loans and assisted over 900,000 women.
Transforming African society through the lives of ordinary people
Computer scientist Dorcas Muthoni is the founder of OPENWORLD LTD. Her company provides web and cloud-based software to e-government and businesses in Africa. One of her products is ARI, a reporting app that is used by all of the countries in the African Union.
As a facilitator of change in Africa, Dorcas has received recognition of her efforts, including the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology’s Change Agent Award, and she was selected as a Women’s Forum Rising Talent in 2009. In addition to this, she was chosen to become a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader in 2013. She received an honorary degree for her work in promoting engineering studies for girls in Africa and her ongoing commitment to the fight against poverty.
Dorcas is committed to social change. “My greatest wish is to see a global community where our society is embracing Internet technology to positively change lives and improve the efficiency of work done in our offices,” is how she described how she’d like to see tech being used for social good.
Encouraging female empowerment in Africa is the key to change
Women are taking the business world by storm, and their approach to doing so has changed the lives for so many people in Kenya, as well as on the rest of the continent. We need to continue giving young girls and women the tools, skills, and access to capital needed to not only function in an ever-evolving digital world, but to truly conquer it.