Women behind Kenya's homegrown tech solutions


Women continue to take up space in the technology industry every other day, slowly closing the gender gap that has long existed. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

Women continue to take up space in the technology industry every other day, slowly closing the gender gap that has long existed.

A few examples stand out as the wind behind the sails of the change is slowing blowing across the industry.


Dr Kagonya Awori, Senior Applied Scientist at the Microsoft Africa Research Institute. PHOTO | POOL

Kagonya Awori, a senior applied scientist with Microsoft Africa Research Institute is among them.

She was always troubled by the fact that little of the technological solutions on the continent were by foreigners.

"There is very little research done about Africa and even then the ones who have done the research are people who have only visited Africa for a short while. I wanted to create the knowledge for Africa."

Her desire for home-grown solutions has over time pushed her to become the renown leader in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI).

“I love HCI because it gives me an opportunity to create solutions. I am passionate about Africans creating solutions for Africa, ” says the Computer Engineering PhD holder.

Building technology is one of the ways of bringing these solutions.

“HCI brings together computer science, design and social sciences. Social sciences focus on understanding the behaviour of people and the problems they are facing. After understanding the problems they have you design the solution then build the solutions.”

Her proudest moment was conducting a study on the issues affecting businesses in Kenya which resulted in the creation of a prototype built strictly for Africans. “Seeing something start from an investigation to possible solutions brings me so much joy.”

In her experience as a woman in tech, she says, "I don't wake up in the morning and view myself as a woman. I wake up and view myself as a creator of solutions.”

She says fewer women are getting into tech because they do not realise how diverse the sector is.

"Tech appears like this obtuse field that is only related to programming but it is not," she says.


Shikoh Gitau, the founder of Qhala, a technology development firm in Nairobi, Kenya. PHOTO | POOL

Shikoh Gitau too believes that women can play a bigger role in the industry. Earlier in her career, she was burning with the desire to bring impactful solutions.

But she was soon faced with the challenges most women across the industry know only too well.

“I remember I attended a meeting while working for the African Development Bank and the older people there could not understand what I was doing there because I was a young girl," she recalls.

Dr Gitau adds: "I had to decide that I would not be swallowed and stand up for my space."

Today, she is the co-founder and the chief executive of Qhala, an innovation company that helps organisations including governments to digitise their processes in the race to meet people’s needs.

“What we do differently at Qhala is take our clients on the digital transformation journey step-by-step. We tailor our solutions based on extensive research and data which makes our solutions effective,” Dr Gitau told the Business Daily recently.

Besides Kenya, the firm delivering tailor-made solutions in Ghana, Rwanda, Uganda, South Africa, and Nigeria.

Dr Gitau bears the firm belief that women can be mothers and still thrive in their careers. A mother to a six- year-old son herself, she says that her child keeps her grounded but that has not interfered with her pursuit of a career in tech.

"Women have been made to choose between being a mother and a career woman but they need to understand that they can have both.”

She believes that the best way to open up the space to women is by addressing systemic, and cultural issues that promote discrimination.

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