Step into the Light: Young Women and Tech in Cameroon

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Sophie Monkam Ngassa is a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) educator in Bamenda, in the North West of Cameroon where she has been teaching at a technical college for more than 10 years and is currently doing a post graduate program in Water Resources Management at the University of Dschang (FASA). Sophie is the Technovation Challenge Regional Ambassador for Cameroon and the Women TechMakers Lead of GDG Bamenda. In 2010, she founded a youth vocational technical training and entrepreneurship development center (CYEED) where she works toward her vision of creating sustainable and accessible technology-based solutions for underserved communities. 

Sophie shares her experience working on the Technovation Challenge in Bamenda (every year, Technovation invites teams of girls from all over the world to learn and apply the skills needed to solve real-world problems through technology) and how she believes technology can change the lives of young women in Africa and the future of the continent as a whole.

Being the Technovation Challenge Regional Ambassador for the last two years has been a great learning experience, especially during the first year when I realized girls have the zeal and talent to learn and build on STEM skills but lack information and opportunities. In this part of Cameroon, most schools have no computers labs. Programming is still a new concept and the idea of mentorship is not well known, but I’ve been working diligently in eight secondary and four primary schools to raise awareness and curiosity in this city of half-a-million people.

Given that women are the most influential agents of change in my community, this work has enabled me to uncover a lot of gaps that need to be filled in order for Cameroon, and the African continent at large, to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Students, especially girls, have the capacity and passion to imagine and create solutions for problems facing society, but they lack exposure to training, tools and equipment and, as a result, do not opt for career paths in the STEM field.

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The Technovation Challenge has led me to launch an afterschool and holiday digital literacy program for girls in Bamenda. This center will enable girls and young women to develop a passion for STEM by valorizing their competences, igniting their ideas, and empowering their actions in computer sciences, especially software development. My dream is to create sustainable and accessible technology-based solutions for undeserved communities and overcome gender disparity in education by facilitating and increasing women’s access to information and STEM skills.

Technology drives everything in life … shopping, banking, transportation, time management, health care, communication … it crosses all sectors and enables us to solve problems to improve our lives and the environment in which we live and work. Given that all industries rely on computer and internet technology to some extent, I believe STEM fields open exciting career doors for women and no more so than here in Cameroon, where – like elsewhere in the world – one of the most pressing challenges facing the industry is the gender imbalance in technical roles, particularly at leadership level. Encouraging girls into STEM fields creates a whole new world of employment possibilities for graduates, and the potential benefits are enormous as the tech industry is the fastest growing, most well-paid and has the highest number of job vacancies with good potential for advancement. Tech skills also gives women and girls the opportunity to stand out in a male-dominated field, which gives them credit and recognition and builds self-confidence. From a community perspective, the more women we get into STEM fields, the faster we will solve the world’s problems with technological innovations as we finally begin to take advantage of that untapped potential.

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Having said that, the problem remains that there is a shortage of women with skills to design, manage and secure IT systems, but we are working on that. There are many online communities for women in technology, who lift up women’s voices, celebrate and share success stories (as She Inspires Her does) and showcase women’s innovations while also supporting initiatives to advance gender balance in STEM. In addition to helping young women acquire digital skills that will shape their future and that of their community and the world at large, these forums creates a safe space for women to collaborate on professional issues, build team spirit, and network in a supportive environment to advance their careers. Some of the online communities in which I am an active member include African Women in Computing, Women in Tech Africa, ABIdotLocal, SYSTERS, Lean in Circles, World Pulse, Empower Women, and Global Tech Women.

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I tell my students every day, working with technology is amazing. The industry is so dynamic, there is not a boring moment, each day brings something new and exciting. And there is even more thrill in the expression of creativity and innovation. And as a woman in technology, I relish the look of surprise on people’s faces when I tell them I am an IT specialist. It makes me feel good about myself.

With technology, a global revolution and empowerment of women is possible. So step into the light and let’s fly together.

If you want to reach Sophie, following are her contact details:

sophie

2 thoughts on “Step into the Light: Young Women and Tech in Cameroon

  1. As an editor of works in both STEM and international education/development, and as a woman, I am very interested in the advancement of women in the STEM field. Thanks for the post by this wonderful educator and the Technovation Challenge program.

    1. Thanks Teresa,
      I am inspired by your comment. We need to get more women sited at the Table.
      Thank you too, we can connect and discuss more. Let’s fly together, I look forward to hearing from you. It has been an inspiring and rewarding experience to work with men and women in STEM. Investing in education and technology would empowerment women and improve upon their socio -economic status. Cheers.
      Warm Regards, Sophie.

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