By Elaine Pirozzi
For Regina Honu, it began with Pac-Man. When she was 12-years-old, her father brought home a computer, and like many kids before her, she fell in love with the game. But it wasn’t long before she wanted to do more than just play. She wanted to create her own game, and she realized the only way to do that was to learn to code. Then as now, coding was something that very few girls did, in her home country of Ghana. But Regina aims to change all that.
After college, Regina went on to work as an IT specialist at an international bank in Accra. Though she had already broken one barrier by becoming the first and only female IT specialist at the bank, it wasn’t enough for her. Despite the fact that some of her friends thought she was crazy, she left her comfortable position after six years at the bank to start her own company in 2012.
She named the firm Soronko Solutions, which mean unique in her local language, Twi. And unique it was: she was one of her country’s first female tech entrepreneurs. She started Soronko, a software development company, with her own savings and one computer and a desk at her parent’s house. Since that humble beginning, she has moved into her own office and has ten employees and dozens of clients.
Building a successful company would have been enough for most people, but Regina was all too aware of the gender barriers within the tech field and the importance of teaching girls both technology and leadership skills. She wanted to do something to provide young girls with more opportunity.
“I believe that technology can be a tool for developing countries to grow economies and help solve societal problems. I wanted to use technology to create social impact and bridge the gender divide.” So Regina co-founded Tech Needs Girls, an initiative whose mission is to mentor girls to lead and innovate through learning to code.
Tech Needs Girls grew quickly and currently has 3500 girls enrolled. The programme provides over 200 mentors, all of whom are either computer scientists or engineers. The mentors teach the girls to code, while also acting as role models to encourage participants to pursue careers in tech. The program is active in eight regions of Ghana and Burkina Faso. Regina and her team scaled Tech Needs Girls by starting the first coding and human-centered design school in West Africa. The school, Soronko Academy, aims to increase impact and ensure the development of critical thinking and problem-solving skills in young Africans.
“Before I launched the company I had no idea what a social enterprise was,” Regina explains. “But I did know that in as much as I wanted to drive social change I did not want to depend on donors. I wanted to generate an income and use the profits to run the not-for-profit.”
And that’s exactly what she’s done. The stated mission of Soronko Solutions is to use technology to drive human potential, and Regina is living that mission.
“To be successful in a business venture you must be innovative and learn how to evolve when customer and market demands require an evolution. Working in the tech space, our biggest challenge has been changing the mindsets of our clients and beneficiaries in a country where the technology landscape is growing.”
Regina believes that the attitude in Ghana toward women entrepreneurs is changing, but there’s still a long way to go. She sees women’s lack of access to capital as one of the biggest barriers, as well as the fact that girls simply aren’t taught that they can be leaders and entrepreneurs. “Entrepreneurship,” she says, “is a rollercoaster ride. The ups and downs serve to strengthen you and help you challenge yourself.”
At just 34 years old, Regina has already received a plethora of awards and accolades. She was awarded Young Entrepreneur of the year by the GPA (Global Professional Achievers) awards from Africa 2.0. She’s been featured numerous times on CNN and was named by the network as one of 12 Inspirational Women Who Rock STEM (science, tech, engineering and math). She was unveiled as the 2016 Vlisco Brand Ambassador and won Startup Entrepreneur of the year and Soronko Solutions won Social Start-up of the year for 2016 at the Ghana Startup Awards. Most recently, she received the Buffett award, which recognizes outstanding leadership in a person early in their career working in areas of global significance, and won the Coca-Cola Big Six Award for an outstanding performance in technology.
And it’s clear that Regina Honu is just getting started. Of all her many accomplishments, Regina is perhaps most proud of her work teaching and encouraging girls. “I am proud of the impact we have had on training the next generation of female technology creators and coders. We have contributed to system change by teaching coding skills to children, especially girls, in our country. We believe the next Mark Zuckerberg can be a 12-year-old Ghanaian girl.”
Build a strong network
You get what you negotiate
for, which is not always what you deserve.
Keep proper books and document all the money that comes in and goes out.
Find the right team,
listen to your customers, and always think outside the box