Women in ICT in Rwanda are still not as accepted and low in numbers compared to their male counterparts. In order to overcome the lack of access to quality training, gender bias from employers and the low representation of women in the tech sector, Moringa, GIZ and the Rwandan government have brought the initiative WeCode into life. In this blog article we want to tell the story of Delphine and Anna and many other women that received ICT trainings during the WeCode initiative giving them the chance to pursue their career in the tech sector.
Finding a longterm solution to the Gender-Digital Divide in the Tech Sector in Rwanda
Let’s look at the stories of two women, Delphine and Anna, whose experiences as they venture into the tech sector start to bring us answers to the root cause of the gender digital divide in technology.
In early 2019, Delphine was 29 years old and very passionate about becoming a software engineer. She had unfortunately never been able to find stable employment, despite having graduated in 2017 with a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Sciences from a reputable university in East Africa. Two years after graduating she had only been able to get two internships that only lasted two months each. Similarly to Delphine, Anna had graduated from a local university with a Bachelor’s degree but did not see a job opportunity that would allow her to support herself and her child. They both felt desperate and had started to give up on their dream of launching a career in tech: they were repeatedly told they did not have the required skills for an entry-level job as software engineers or computer scientists and struggled to find relevant opportunities for upskilling mainly due to the high cost of these types of training.
The issue of gender bias cannot be discounted as one of the causes of Delphine and Anna’s experiences. As this 2019 Forbes article shows, men are usually perceived as more capable in the STEM fields and more worthy of an investment as employees as starting a family is less likely to affect their availability. In addition to the lack of access to quality training, and facing gender bias when entering the job market, there is a bigger issue of lack of access to training in ICT-related courses for women in Rwanda. According to a 2017 Gender Monitoring Office study, in 2016 women like Delphine and Anna made up only 32.3% of students taking IT-related courses in higher education versus 67.7% for men.
As a response to this gender-digital divide in the tech sector and its causes, a group of government, non-government and private sector partners came together to implement a solution in the form of a scholarship programme geared towards women only. In 2018, the WeCode programme was launched by the ICT Chamber, the Private Sector Federation (PSF), GIZ, the Ministry of ICT and two program implementation partners (Moringa School and Muraho Tech) to directly address the issues underlying the gender digital divide: lack of access to quality training, gender bias from employers and the low representation of women in the tech sector. The program wanted to measure its success not only against graduation rate of the trainees, but also the job placement rate six months after graduation.
The first phase of the WeCode programme: 2018-2019
Moringa School, one of the implementation partners of the programme, came in to deliver its six months software development blended learning course, provide professional development and soft skills training to the trainees, and place at least 60% of the graduates six months after graduation. Delphine and Anna were amongst the 76 women who graduated from the first phase of the WeCode programme from 2018 to 2019. Their training focused on providing them with market-aligned skills, where they put their learning into practice on a weekly basis and at the end of their training were all expected to create a software whether an app or a web-based solution, that would solve an issue they have identified in their communities.
As of the writing of this blogpost, 53 (70%) of these women have been placed in gainful employment in Rwandan companies such as MobiCash, Irembo, and GT Bank. This was achieved through frequent engagement with employers from Moringa School which provided an opportunity from the employers to engage with the students often, witness their strong technical capabilities and understand the value they would create as employees for their companies. Delphine was able to join a company she had always dreamt of working for as she admired their work in software development. Unlike Delphine, Anna decided to turn her final Moringa training project into a venture. She has now had her business for over 1 year now, traveled outside of Rwanda to pitch to investors, and provided employment to her peers.
While the first phase of the WeCode programme was an overall success and achieved all the targets set by the programme’s partners (graduation and job placement rate), there were many lessons drawn, especially when it comes to the necessity to provide holistic support throughout and after the training to the trainees. Providing only access to quality education without taking into account the socio-economic issues each trainee is faced with does not suffice to truly address the issue underlying the gender digital divide. A student who struggles to afford transport, sustenance, or who will no longer have access to a laptop and internet connection after graduating is less likely to successfully complete the training or find a job, regardless of how dedicated she is.
The second phase of the WeCode programme: 2020-2021
Armed with lessons from the first phase, the WeCode partners decided to train 55 women from August 2020 to February of 2021, with the aim of having an 80% graduation rate and 80% job placement rate. The second phase of the WeCode programme will focus on maintaining successes from the first phase, with an emphasis on psychosocial support for the students. This includes providing laptops to students for a period of 1 year, providing internet stipends to students while studying remotely, providing transportation stipends when students are required to be at campus and access to catering on campus. Most importantly, students will have access to an experienced professional counselor who will provide group and in-person sessions for support to any students facing hardships in their personal lives.
The second phase of the WeCode programme will be officially launched on August 10, 2020.
About the author
Raissa Kamariza is the Head of Rwanda Operations at the Moringa School and our guest author for this blogpost. Moringa aims to develop the next generation of tech leaders through market-driven education through software development programmes.