“You represent some of the brightest minds that are aiming at the brightest stars in the sky. Success in the current world economy will depend on ingenuity, creativity and hard work. I know you’re all capable of all of those things.”
“Be the next women to take the reins and succeed!”
With those words from Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs Evan Ryan and the motivation of women from Washington, D.C. to Kigali to Silicon Valley, Rwandan girls have started their path of strengthening their own economy and holding open doors to the STEM fields for other girls and women around the world.
Assistant Secretary Ryan joined more than 130 Rwandan girls at the U.S. Embassy’s inaugural Girls Tech Fair held at the U.S. Embassy in Kigali on February 5. Empowering women and girls, especially to enter the science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, fields, is a top priority for the U.S. government.
And those priorities can often be better addressed when government officials tap the vast resources of the private sector through public-private partnerships. Assistant Secretary Ryan joined a delegation of 40 women technology mentors from the U.S. Department of State’s TechWomen exchange program, which brings women in the technology and STEM fields from Africa and the Middle East to the United States and pairs them with mentors from some of Silicon Valley’s top technology firms.
So, how do you inspire scores of young Rwandan girls to jump into the fastest growing and most dynamic economic field in the world? You put them face-to-face with women who’ve succeeded in this important field and you get their hands on technology. Through the inaugural Girls’ Tech Fair, girls from 30 Rwandan secondary schools received valuable, inspirational one-on-one time with some of Silicon Valley’s top women business people. Women representatives from companies like Twitter, Juniper Networks, Ericsson, Symantec Corporation and others -- most of whom paid their own way to Kigali -- shared their experiences, advice, and motivations for becoming some of the top movers in the STEM and Information and Communications Technology, or ICT, fields.
The Public Affairs Section at Embassy Kigali set up technology and experiment stations for the Rwandan girls to test their theories. Girls used "Stomp Rockets" with improvised range finders to experiment with angles and trigonometry. Snap Circuits educational toys showed the girls how trial and error can make electrons flow, and iPads loaded with the latest apps let girls use their imaginations to determine which new programs they could write in the coming years.
The program, and the TechWomen group’s weeklong visit to Rwanda, reflects the emphasis shared by both the U.S. government and the Rwandan government on ICT development and the development of girls and women.
Girls in attendance learned how important it is as well. Rwandan TechWomen Emerging Leader alumna Emma Marie Ndoringoma with the Promolec company noted the girls in attendance received advice and perspective to help them become leaders in their emerging economies.
“These Rwandan girls got to learn the lessons and inspiration these successful American TechWomen wish they had learned early in their careers,” she said.
About the Author: Benjamin Roode serves as the Acting Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Kigali, Rwanda.