Women entrepreneurs transforming face of technology in Nigeria

RAHEEMAH AROGUNDADE examines the participation of Nigerian women in the male-dominated technology sector and highlights some entrepreneurs who are solving problems through technology.

Globally, the gender gap that exists in the areas of science and technology is huge. In most societies in the world, the technology sector is male-dominated and there is an under-representation of women.

According to UNESCO Institute for Statistics, women in technology-related disciplines across the world constitute only 28 percent and about 30 percent in sub-Saharan Africa.

With growing concerns about the future and the need for more women in technology, efforts are being made by various organisations to bridge the gap, reduce gender segregation and empower more women to go into science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

Women participation in technology has not fared better in Nigeria. The National Bureau of Statistics revealed that an average of 22 percent of women make up the total number of engineering and information technology graduates universities produce each year.

According to the NBS, women make up roughly one-fifth of the total number of the workforce in Information and Communication Technology sector.

In Nigeria, there are no fewer than 39 initiatives aimed at accelerating female participation and empowerment in the field of technology, according to a research conducted by TechCabal.

In the last few years, the country has witnessed an increase in the involvement of women in innovation and technology. The innovative technology-based businesses established by some Nigerian women have broken barriers and produced creative solutions that meet the needs of many Nigerians.

One of such women is Odunayo Eweniyi, a co-founder of Piggy Bank.

In an interview with AWP Network, she described Piggy Bank as an automated savings platform that helps savers manage their finances by encouraging them to deposit small amounts of money on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, depending on their savings target.

Eweniyi and her colleagues wanted to help Nigerians inculcate a savings habit, and this they have been able to do through the establishment of Piggy Bank.

She noted that one of the major challenges they faced as a start-up fintech company was gaining the trust of their prospective customers.

Since the business has to do with money, it was difficult convincing Nigerians to give PiggyBank a trial. But they were able to get 53 customers who were willing to share their banking experiences with others, and this helped them attract more customers.

She said, “It is an exciting time to be a woman entrepreneur, especially in tech. There are not so many women in leadership roles within the Nigerian tech ecosystem, but this is slowly changing and there is a growing number of investors who value what female leaders are contributing to the economy and the society at large. I want to encourage women entrepreneurs to build their network and be their loudest cheerleaders – the more you talk to people about who you are and the problem you are solving, eventually the right investor will hear about you.

“Piggybank.ng is built on tech. We have taken a well-known traditional concept and have automated it, using tech. We are using tech to cultivate a savings culture in Nigeria, and we are harnessing the power of Africa’s most popular tool, the mobile phone, to give access to financial empowerment. We can support and improve innovation in Africa by embracing tech. Africa has a young demographic who are tech-savvy; we have only just scratched the surface when it comes to how we are using tech to innovate.”

Threading the same line of creativity and innovation is Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola, the Chief Executive Officer of Wecyclers, a social enterprise working towards revitalising waste products and helping communities realise the value of recycling wastes.

Bilikiss developed the idea for WeCyclers when she was conducting a research as a student at the MIT Sloan School of Management. The research centered around helping people at the bottom of the pyramid – people living on less than $2 a day. To achieve this, she decided to focus on waste and its uses, collection and processing. After completing the project, she saw the potential in waste recycling and decided to localise the idea.

“After the project was completed, I did some research and saw the huge potential in the waste recycling sector in Nigeria, especially among the manufacturing plants that are hungry for a cheaper and easily available source of raw materials due to local and foreign demand for end products. I then decided to move the idea forward and Wecyclers was born,” she said in an interview with Girls in Tech, Nigeria.

Bilikiss mentioned that the two main challenges she faced were funding and the wrong perception of people towards waste management.

She said, “In terms of trying to change the perception of the people, we have been able to educate people about recycling. We have had outreaches, educational lectures, and other awareness programmes about proper waste management, disposal and the financial and environmental benefits of recycling.

Africana Entrepreneur - Women entrepreneurs transforming face of technology in Nigeria
Photo Credit: African Women in Technology (AWIT)

“Being a woman is actually an advantage. I realised this very early in life. There are very few women in the technology field. I’ve benefitted from the fact that I’m usually the only woman in a sea of men. People want to hear more stories of women in tech and they have always encouraged me. I also think by nature, women are very good leaders. We are good multi-taskers; we are detail-oriented and we rarely give up. I’m happy to be a woman and I would love to see more women step up and seize the many opportunities available.”

Bilikiss advised younger social entrepreneurs to discover their passion and match it to an existing need in the society.

She stressed the importance of being selfless, insightful, bold and tenacious.

Temie Giwa-Tubosun is another woman making impact through technology. She founded Life Bank, a health tech company utilising digital channels such as web and mobile to make essential medical products available to people and institutions in Africa.

“Becoming an entrepreneur was never something I aspired to. In fact, I didn’t have any particular interest in technology either. I started LifeBank out of sheer necessity because the problem of people dying from lack of access to blood in Nigeria was worsening every day and no one was focusing on solving it,” she said in an interview with Eunice Baguma Ball.

Temie had a good job in health management and in spite of making attempts to try to solve this existing challenge of lack of medical supplies increasing the mortality rate, she realised eventually that she had to give up her job if she really wanted to effect change and this, she did.

At some point, Temie realised she needed to quit her job and focus on solving the problem she had identified.
“The catalyst was when someone very close to me lost their dad who bled to death in a small town in eastern Nigeria. When she told me her story, I knew I just couldn’t look away any longer. I believed the most sustainable way to solve this problem would be to set up a venture rather than a non-profit. And I also knew that I would need technology to overcome many of the inefficiencies relating to cost and infrastructure. That’s how I ended up setting up a health-tech company. It wasn’t something I had initially planned in terms of my career path” she explained.

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