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Meet a Nigerian activist who uses technology as a powerful tool to combat poverty in Africa

Over the past decade, Nigeria has faced a variety of challenges, including several recessions, insecurity and extreme poverty, but the country’s entertainment and tech communities have always been a beacon of hope.

Nigeria’s entertainment industry is expected to nearly double to $14.8 billion by 2025, from $7.7 billion in revenue in 2021, according to consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). The four months of 2022 alone accounted for one-third of all funding raised in Africa during this period, a 137% increase compared to the first four months of 2019.

From Burna Boy and Tems to Netflix shows, and fintech companies Flutterwave and Piggyvest, to the proven global appetite for Nigerian software developers, these two industries are playing a key role in shaping Nigeria’s future. There is sufficient evidence to show that

But all of this is not without its challenges. His access to the internet is a dream come true for millions of Nigerians, as more than half of his 200 million people in Nigeria do not have access to the internet or digital services, despite his active activism in the tech sector in Nigeria. It’s like

The country’s power supply issues, along with high internet costs and slow average internet speeds, further contribute to the widening digital gap. Astronomical unemployment rates (over 33%), rising hunger and cost of living, and rising poverty rates are behind this.

With the world’s largest youth population, Nigeria (and Africa) is well-positioned to develop a strong digital economy that could have a “transformative impact” on the country, the World Bank says.

This is an opportunity for Tech4Dev (Tech4Dev) executive director and co-founder and activist Oladiwura Oladepo to harness technology as a tool to empower millions of young people in Nigeria.

Oladepo is the recipient of the 2022 Waislitz Global Citizens’ Choice Award and will not only receive $50,000 in funding to support her work, but will join her two other awardees to accelerate and expand its impact. receive network support for Presented by the Waislitz Foundation and Global Citizen, the award is supported by her Mesoblast, a leading cell medicine company based in the US and Australia.

We interviewed Oladepo about her work, why it matters, and how technology can serve as a powerful tool to combat extreme poverty.

GC: Where and how did you grow up?

Oradepo: I grew up in Ibadan, the capital and most populous city of Nigeria’s Oyo state, in a modest family of seven. I have 4 other siblings of hers (2 girls and 2 boys). My father is a public health professor and my mother is a registered nurse. They both dedicated their lives to saving lives and helping people with diseases of public health importance. I grew up watching them do this.

Could you elaborate on that?

My parents are very dedicated and hardworking people. I learned to be persistent from them, they brought my brother and I learned that “impossible” is just a word. , raised us to be able to make our own decisions.

Girls were raised like boys, and we all grew up self-sufficient, so that whatever difficulties came our way, my sisters and I were already ready to solve them with little or no help. was

My parents were very careful about my sisters and me, lest we be raised fragile or feel incapable of doing things for our sex or achieving success. We were raised as strong African princesses.

All of these teachings and upbringings have made me who I am today. Day-to-day activities require you to think on your feet and make sporadic decisions at times, but you can easily do this because your parents prepare you for it.

How would you describe what you are doing in writing?

Use technology to advance sustainable human capital development in Africa.

What inspired you to create Tech4Dev in the first place?

In 2014, when the Ebola crisis broke out in Nigeria, my co-founder Joel Ogunsola and I had a roundtable discussion with my father (a professor of public health) to discuss how Nigerians were susceptible to the Ebola virus. I was concerned that I would be able to protect Prevent yourself from contracting or spreading it.

The idea was to provide relevant information about the disease quickly. So I decided to build a website that had over 1 million unique visits at that time. Having solved the problem, the next step was to find out what problem could be solved next.

He founded Technology for Social Change and Development (Tech4Dev) in 2016 with a vision of using technology to solve the world’s biggest problems. We started with three main problem areas: education, civic participation and active citizenship, and public health. In 2019, he focused on one area of ​​focus and this was education.

Our Impact Core has been restructured as a non-profit organization creating access to decent work and entrepreneurship opportunities and platforms for Africans through digital skills empowerment and advocacy.

Image: Tech4Dev

Our globally recognized initiative, Women Techsters, supports our drive to create opportunities to improve the economic livelihoods of young African women, especially in underserved areas, through digital skills. Inspired.

The effort began with the Code for Impact program, in partnership with the Hacey Health Initiative, Access Bank, and the U.S. Consulate in Nigeria to equip 70 girls and women in higher education with coding and analytics skills. . The achievements of this program have enabled her to expand her reach, and Microsoft’s support of Nigerian Female Technicians reaching out to her over 2,400 women in her 12 states in Nigeria.

Based on the success stories of Women Techsters women in Nigeria, we launched Women Techsters in 2021 with the goal of reaching 5 million girls and women across Africa by 2030.

Over the past 6 years, Tech4Dev has directly impacted over 45,000 people and reached 10 million people through programs and social media engagements, with participants in 31 states in Nigeria and 15 countries in Africa. did.

Can you describe a specific event or moment that prompted your activism?

While I was at Yale Business School, I was sharing my ambition to found a tech startup in Nigeria with a Chinese-American friend, and she told me that she’s been coding since she was nine. rice field. It blew my mind because the average African kid can’t afford to have such a dream, which limits the chances of competing on the world stage.

It became clear that there was a problem to solve. If every child in Africa could dream of, or even access, such an opportunity, imagine that we have succeeded in empowering an entire generation.

I knew then as I know it now. First, I needed to demystify the stereotypes that exist in the tech space. Second, there was a need to enable Africans to access decent work and entrepreneurship opportunities through digital skills empowerment and advocacy. Third, by 2030, she needed to continue expanding her reach until she reached her goal of providing digital skills to 5 million women.

What is the biggest challenge you face as an activist in Nigeria?

My main challenge is the deep-seated bias that exists in the technology ecosystem. The mindset of the average girl or woman cannot conceive the idea of ​​acquiring digital skills or starting a career in technology.

Again, this mindset is rooted in a very patriarchal society where men dominate the tech space and feel impenetrable and inaccessible to women. Also, stereotypes that have been marketed primarily by parents, guardians, communities, and the media.

It seemed important to us to break down gender stereotypes and prove to women that they can be who they want to be and that they can support themselves using the skills they have learned. This is why we started the Women Techsters program.

When we launched Women Techsters, the problem we were trying to solve was to bring women closer to the economic opportunities that exist within the tech ecosystem, create gender balance within the ecosystem, and create technology without bias. Improving the outcomes of technology built by

Another challenge specific to the African countries in which we operate is that although our program is inexpensive and tuition-free, some of these beneficiaries are It means that they cannot afford to buy the basic equipment needed for learning, such as a top.

This is the sad reality we face. In countries like Nigeria, our beneficiaries also suffer from irregular power supplies and little to no access to fast, reliable and affordable data. We need to devise different means of partnering with like-minded organizations to help these women.

Why is your mission important to you personally, and how can it help end poverty?

I grew up in what you would call a humble home, but my family was considered one of the privileged ones in the neighborhood. Growing up, many families could not afford to send their children to school — some girls were only privileged to primary education. Their parents believed that girls were not worth such an investment.

So many of them had to become teenage parents and work menial jobs to earn a living.The same was the fate of their mothers.

This experience I had as a child was that if these girls had access to opportunities for a decent life and financial freedom, or if their parents were empowered enough to have a decent job, It made me realize how different things had become.

Image: Tech4Dev

This is what the Women Techsters Program is trying to solve. We provide girls and women, especially in underserved communities, with in-demand digital skills that enable decent access to work and improved economic livelihoods for her. This has improved the beneficiary’s job prospects by more than 50% for her.

We believe that training women is training a nation. Because women have the ability to multiply their investments, they can easily create ripple effects, especially in immediate families and communities.

On paper, one woman’s livelihood is improving, which we see as empowering families and reducing poverty in Africa.

What do you want people to know about your work?

Starting a career path in technology is not as difficult as it sounds. There are many career paths in technology, some not related to writing lines of code that many people consider difficult. Examples include product design, product management, and data analysis. All it takes is your determination and strong belief in yourself.

What is your message to global citizens inspired by your work?

For me, global citizenship goes beyond local impact. That includes acknowledging that there are problems to be solved and immediately mobilizing resources to solve them. We are taking action to sustainably overcome all the world’s challenges. Most importantly, there is strength in numbers, and together we can make a difference and ensure lasting change in our mission to reduce poverty.

My message to the Global Citizens out there is to support women in whatever capacity they can. Sponsor them, mentor them, and push them toward opportunities that empower them, just as we do at Tech4Dev.

Do whatever you can to avoid being part of the problem, but consciously solve it. Women deserve equal opportunities in technology. We are far from closing the gap, but it is a matter of time and effort.