Akira What? Women & Technology in Kenya

For the last few years I have been hanging out the iHub, Kenya’s first “tech” incubation hub.  Its a great place. You’ll find all sorts of folks milling about from 1st year students studying IT to CEOs of multi-national corporations. All in one place coming together, sharing ideas and often developing new and exciting ventures together.

This is where the Akirachix came together.  The first time I came across them, I remember seeing a table full of young women huddled over a collection of laptops looking extremely absorbed in whatever they were up to.  I asked a someone who they were and was told “those are the Akirachix.”

The Akirachix began as 12 young women meeting on a monthly basis to network and encourage each other in their prospective technology fields.  It has now grown into an official organization with over 200+ members conducting a variety of training programs for women (and even men) of all ages with the vision “to inspire and develop a successful force of women in Technology that will change Africa’s future.”

Recently the Akirachix were featured on NPR’s All Tech Considered so I got in touch with Judith Owigar, the president of Akirachix to find out more about what they do:

Akirachix started in April 2010 to create a network that increases visibility for women in tech.  What have been some of the biggest challenges in creating that network?

Starting and building an organization that champions women in the male dominated field of technology has been challenging. At the onset many men did not understand our mission. Most felt like there were more men in technology because they were better and that if women were good enough then they would be adequately represented in the field.

Consequently, there was resistance from some of the players we interacted with in the industry. We made a point to participate in as many networking activities as we could and sold the idea of Akirachix to any person in attendance. We also continued pursuing our mission; we held networking events, supported other networking events and held trainings. At some point we became the “go-to” organization if you wanted to partner in organizing a technology event because we proved to be focused, organized and committed.

How far has Akirachix come and where do you see it going in the future?

When Akirachix began we were a team of 12 young women in technology holding monthly networking meet ups. We currently have a membership of over 200 members and have expanded our programs to include a training program targeting young women from under privileged homes, we have high school and university out reach and are about to start a program that targets children younger than 13 years old. We have grown so fast in the few years we have been in existence, all I can hope for is that our programs would grow in impact and expand to other countries in Africa.

Akirachix holds a number of training programs to encourage involvement in tech.  How are these courses structured and what do they cover?

Judith Owigar, President, Akirachix

We have a number of programs. The first one is the Akirachix Training Program that targets young women from the slums of Nairobi. This is a free one year advanced course that covers: computer literacy (introduction to both Windows and Ubuntu), website development, graphic design and entrepreneurship. In 2011 eighteen students graduated from this program and we have another twenty students enrolled now.

We also hold training boot camps during school holidays for high school students. This is a two-week program that introduces young girls to the different facets of the technology industry. In December 2012 we organized a design boot camp and plan to carry out programming and robotics boot camps in the future.

We hold 3-4 day mobile boot camps at different universities in Kenya. These boot camps introduce students to different languages used in mobile application development.

We also introduce students to entrepreneurs in the mobile technology space. This program targets both young men and women.

Does Akirachix connect with sources outside of Kenya and the continent to provide support for the training programs? If someone was interested in connecting with you, how do they go about that?

We run all these programs with expertise from Kenya. All the trainers and speakers are based in the country. We are willing to partner with organizations that share our vision. Currently we are partnering with Women in Technology Uganda and Asikana in Zambia, similar organizations in different parts of Africa.

Anyone who would like to contact us can reach us on our email info[at]akirachix[dot]com, our Akirachix Facebook Page, or @akirachix.

The name is Akirachix, and the stated mission is to network women in tech.  But is Akirachix only for the ladies, or you are reaching out to men as well?

The main goal of Akirachix is to reach women through technology. At times we get requests from men to help them in training or to acquire a skill, so where we have additional capacity to assist we do. Our university outreach benefits both men and women but in that program only 10% of our reached target consists of women.

JUDITH OWIGAR

TECH EDUCATOR

When it comes to a phone do you lean towards Apple, Android or … ?

Android. I have access to a wide choice of applications, and I can develop applications for it, should I choose to.

What are the top three albums rotating on your playlist?

Emeli Sande, Casting Crowns and John Legend

What is your preference: Coffee, tea or energy drink?

Tea.

About Rob Rooker

Father, Artist, and a few other things in between