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Google, Microsoft invest millions to empower African women

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Microsoft SA MD Lillian Barnard.
Microsoft SA MD Lillian Barnard.

Tech giants Microsoft and Google have invested millions of rand to establish initiatives to help create pathways to prosperity for women and girls across Africa.

In light of International Women’s Day today, Google has opened applications for its newly launched global grant funding initiative, the Impact Challenge (GIC) for Women and Girls, which will provide $25 million in cash grants to women-focused non-profits and social enterprises on the continent. 

Microsoft, meanwhile, has partnered with non-profit social enterprise organisation Tech4Dev  to launch the Techsters Women Programme to provide science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills to five million girls and women across Africa.

The programme, which was spearheaded in Nigeria, is now expanding to four additional countries on the continent – Egypt, Kenya, Ghana and SA.

Launched during a Microsoft virtual event held today, the one-year Techsters Women Programme aims to empower women through providing coding and deep tech skills training in the form of boot camps and virtual classes.

Tech4Dev is a non-profit social enterprise that creates access to work opportunities and entrepreneurship opportunities for Africans through digital skills training and advocacy.

The organisation has trained 2 400 women and girls across various communities in Nigeria, with plans to train hundreds of South African women this year.

Speaking in a panel discussion during the event, Lillian Barnard, MD of Microsoft SA, explained there are many challenges and barriers that hinder women on the continent from breaking into careers in the ICT industries.

“The overall objective of Women Techsters is to grow and support a community of tech-empowered girls and women across the continent, who will have equal access to decent job opportunities as well as to build and scale their ideas into tech-enabled businesses and deep tech start-ups, ultimately aiding overall economic growth.

“This platform also seeks to create role models from women in STEM. Statistics show that we have very low numbers of women in ICT in Africa – 15% in Kenya and only 18% in SA – so the numbers remain very low. We need to continue creating opportunities through programmes such as this, which give women access to the right training and the supported development to make sure we open up a world of work for them, even if they ultimately endeavour into entrepreneurship,” explained Barnard.

According to research from the World Economic Forum (WEF), it will take 100 years before there is parity between men and women working in senior STEM roles.

Even though WEF data shows SA has made strides towards gender parity, the same can’t be said about the local ICT sector – statistics show South African women only make up about 23% of the ICT sector's workforce.

Google says it aims to do its part in helping to bridge this gender gap, through the GIC for Women and Girls programme. The search engine says it will select charitable women-focused initiatives that will receive between $300 000 and $2 million, as well as opportunities for mentorship and additional support from Google.

To qualify for the grant, the NGOs should be supporting women and/or girls to turn their economic potential into power: from programmes addressing systemic barriers to economic equality, to those cultivating entrepreneurship, developing financial independence, and more.

Google South Africa country director Alistair Mokoena says empowering women and girls in Africa to reach their full economic potential is more critical now than ever before as they bear the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The coronavirus has exacerbated already-existing gender inequalities, laying bare serious fault lines in safety, physical and mental health, education, domestic responsibilities and employment opportunities.

”Despite decades of work aimed at achieving gender equality, the Foresight Africa report 2021 shows that disparity between men and women not only remains, it is growing alarmingly, largely thanks to the global pandemic,” notes Mokoena.

The GIC for Women and Girls is focused on changing the status quo in SA and the rest of the continent, with Mokoena stressing that job cuts, income losses and lack of education aren’t simply side-effects of the pandemic, but “will negatively impact the economic strides made by women and girls for many years to come”.

Organisations have until Friday, 2 April at 11:59pm GMT to submit their applications to Google.

An all-female panel of expert Google executives and world/business leaders will preside over the application review and selection process once applications close. They include Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women; Victoria Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire, senior special assistant to the president of Nigeria on SDGs; Graça Machel, founder, Graça Machel Trust; and Juliana Rotich, Kenyan information technology entrepreneur.

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