Hi everyone! I’m Spiffy, your interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs making a difference on climate change. Today I’m interviewing Anie Akpe, founder of African Women In Technology.
Spiffy: Hi Anie, I’m quite excited to hear about your work! Can you tell me what challenges you have uncovered and how you’re trying to address them?
Anie: Thanks so much for having me, Spiffy! Did you know that women play a major role in growing Africa’s economy through entrepreneurship?
Anie: Yes! Women’s contribution to business in the areas of craft, agriculture, personal services and retail is enormous. However, the businesses they operate are predominantly small scale and not fully integrated into the mainstream commercial sector of the economy. Women also face technological and systematic barriers in accessing financing and other needed resources, and are often ill equipped to sustain their businesses. Interestingly, the early stages of their career choices tend to drift towards softer professions, and not towards business, science or technology. These choices affect their confidence and performance levels when starting their own enterprises. African Women In Technology (AWIT) is helping to address the inequality in the technology sector In Africa.
Spiffy: Wow! You definitely see the potential in this. Can you tell me more about what motivated you to start AWIT and what drives you now?
Anie: Sure, Spiffy. African Women in Tech was born out of a desire to connect, educate and empower African women who are determined to advance their tech careers, alongside those who have the need to utilize technological tools for the advancement of their businesses. It was born out of a need to close the gender disparity and skill gap of African women in tech spaces. In 2009, when I hosted tech events in Lagos, Nigeria, I saw the wide gap in technological advancement and engagement of African women in tech fields. I researched women's involvement in other African countries and realized that this was a continental problem. I knew that someone had to step up to bridge this gap and empower more women in technology, and that someone had to be me. I am passionate about human capacity development. I am passionate about technology and I am very passionate about bridging the gender gap in this field. Empowering women, especially in Africa, is a tool for reducing marginalization and creating equal opportunities. If I could get my African parents – who grew up in a generation that was not very technologically advanced – to appreciate the value of technology in this era, I realized that I had the ability to get other women to key into it. With specific focus on technology and business development, I am creating a space through our social enterprise where women will excel and become much more productive, not just for themselves, but also for the society at large.
Spiffy: It sounds like you are putting your passion to good use, Anie! How do you envision AWIT making the world more equitable?
Anie: Since 2016, AWIT has conducted a series of mentorship and networking programs in Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and Mozambique to create platforms for young women and girls by connecting them to valuable resources for career and business growth. Our goal is to unlock hidden potentials, build up skills and confidence, and accelerate the process of training and development for young women and girls.
Spiffy: Unlock and accelerate! That is bound to make an impact! Can you tell me about how you’ve seen that in action?
Anie: I’d love to! AWIT has hosted workshops and empowered an average of 500 young girls and women annually. Through our coaching and networking platforms, we have been able to reach and impact 2500 African women directly over the last five years. AWIT's events are a classic example of the huge impact our team is making through mobilizing human and financial resources to bring together business people and industry leaders based in Africa.
Participants gather for a photo at the conclusion of the African Women In Technology 2019 Kenya Conference. (Photo courtesy of Anie Akpe)
Spiffy: Mobilizing takes a lot of coordination! How have you managed to mobilize over the last 10 months, with so many things being upended? You haven’t experienced any failures, have you?
Anie: It’s been challenging, Spiffy! Most organizations in Africa engage in hands-on work, and the pandemic has greatly impacted the work that has been completed so far. COVID-19 forced the world to enter the digital space, without consideration of who had access to technology. AWITs in-person event was moved online, and while this was a good move for some, others didn't fare so well. Most people in African countries pay for data usage and, unless you receive sponsorship to cover that cost, you will miss the opportunity to reach the women in rural areas. While we know that this impact is not long term, we are striving to put solutions in place for these types of situations.
Spiffy: It sounds like there is always a new piece of the puzzle to fit in. I like to ask about new insights, and I’m wondering if there are any personal lessons you’ve learned lately?
Anie: Funny enough, I recently learned about options trading from my neighbor during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Spiffy: I’d like to trade some options! Is there anything else you’d like to share before we sign off?
Anie: There is one more thing, Spiffy. I believe it is good to give back to the community that you come from. Sometimes we use money as a hindrance to help others. I also believe that the best educational assets we have are the life skills gleaned from our many experiences. I strongly encourage the audience reading this to consider using the skills they have to help develop others.
Spiffy: I think that we are all inspired to pay it forward, Anie. I can’t wait to see how your work continues to impact women in Africa, business and the tech industry. It’s been an honor speaking with you!
Anie Akpe is a trailblazer in the mortgage and banking industry and the founder of African Women In Tech (AWIT), an Africa-based organization helping girls and women with education and mentorship within technology. Anie works to promote diversity in business, and advocate for entrepreneurship and tech innovation, through her role on several boards of directors. (Nominated by ImpactHub NY)