Girls In Tech are helping women in developing nations use technology to create social change and improve their communities.
Adriana Gascoigne started the non-for-profit organization Girls In Tech in 2007 as a reaction to her experiences in the tech world. Previously she had worked for a startup that employed almost 50 people where she was the only woman. She envisioned Girls In Tech as a way to support women passionate about technology, and address the gender imbalance she had experienced. In the past eight years the group has taken the best initiatives from Silicon Valley, focused them on women, and installed chapters across the world. It's now a global network of women helping each other excel in tech sectors and start-ups, and is set to launch a 53rd chapter in Melbourne early next year.
Through this work, Adriana also became increasingly interested in the way women in developing countries engage with technology. She recognized that tech start-ups and application innovations were finding innovative ways to create employment, develop communication, and affect social change.
Ahead of her appearance at Pause Fest next year VICE caught up with Adriana to talk about how technology is allowing women around the world to design their own futures.
VICE: Hi, Adriana. Girls In Tech is a pretty diverse project, but the social development through technology aspect stood out to me. Can you tell me a bit about that?
Adriana Gascoigne: There's some great medical software, educational software, and also social change applications. One is an app to alert a truck of leftover food at an event. The truck has an idea of who in the area—shelters, orphanages—need food, and they connect the dots. I also see a lot of alert apps for women, like if they are in danger when they're going to fetch water in the evening. I think there's huge opportunities for that.
A big part the program are the global chapters. How is that an advantage for women involved?
Many of the countries that we have chapters in—mainly in the Middle East and Africa where women are more oppressed—use the Girls In Tech channels like Facebook and Twitter to communicate what's going on. But also to create a response mechanism for the world to understand what they're going through, and how to better support them.
Are there challenges in trying to engage women in developing countries with technology when there is still a huge gender gap at the heart of the industry?
Yes. We're seeing a huge drop-off in computer science and software development degrees amongst women. You'd think it would be the opposite because technology has grown so much, but it's not.
There is so much talk about that breakdown, but why is it so hard for women to succeed in the startup culture?
The biggest bottleneck for women starting companies is the lack of angel investment, or seed funding. We want to eventually create a platform where we can get them (developers) noticed and match-make them with early stage investors that don't mind if a startup is in Nigeria. If they really like the product and the entrepreneur, they think it'll be lucrative and it's viable, then why not invest in them?
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I suppose no matter how revolutionary your idea is, if your environment isn't investor-rich you're pretty stuck.
It's obviously harder in regions where there are political issues and unrest, but I don't think it's impossible. Where there's political unrest, there's usually inspiration to create new innovations. I think it's our responsibility in the "first world" to help bridge that divide and provide resources. We need a more equal playing field all the way around, not just with gender, not just with races, but also in different geographies.
You mentioned that in places of unrest there's space for people who want to invest in change. Is tech entrepreneurship widely embraced in these areas?
As you go from country to country and observe tech ecosystems and cultures, there's often a clash. In traditional societies, investors have always focused on very tangible things like oil or shipping versus internet or software products. So it's not only about creating a tech ecosystem but also teaching the teachers and the parents and those that are influential in these people's lives that it's okay to take these risks.
But I think it's changing, and government organizations are really stepping forward to ignite this innovation and entrepreneurship movement.
Are tech startups realistically an opportunity for people in developing countries to support themselves?
There are talented engineers and designers all over the world. What we're trying to do is create these ecosystems where they can have seed funding and have opportunities to build startups and revenue, hire people, and make an impact within their community. There is a huge opportunity. From a socio-economic perspective it makes a huge difference, because it is going to start creating jobs and enable countries to retain talent that's fresh out of the university.
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