Friday, October 4, 2013

“Think Big. Drive Forward” – Plenary session featuring all the “ABI” Award Winners

This is a plenary session with all the ABI award winners. To learn more about the these award winner, check out http://gracehopper.org/2013/awards/2013-award-winners/. All these young women are role models for this year's GHC theme- Think Big, Drive Forward.



1. Tell us a little bit about the opportunities and challenges for women in your community, and how do they overcome it.
Tülin: A lot of women in my community tend to get married at an early age, and also have to work and not go to school at an early age. So, I am spreading awareness about saying "No" to these customs and fighting for our rights on determining the age when we want to get married, or have kids.

Violette: In my community, we realized the secret that there is no success without including women. So, we started empowering women in all walks of life. For my organization, gender equality is given utmost importance. We literally measure that there is a 50-50 balance between men and women, which is quite uncommen in Rwanda. 

Shikoh: For me, my personal philosophy about entrepreneurship is "When you see a challenge, and that is eating you up- Be the change you want to be". So, I started solving the problem that I was really passionate about. I started training women on how to use the internet, and when I started seeing results, I was motivated to keep going. I started focussing on the progress rather than perfection, and over the course of time, this gave me amazing results.

Unoma: It is good to be angry if it moves you to action. The pictures of African women that I saw as beggars and people in desperate poverty angered me. In graduate school, I was the only African women and was often lonely. So, I put up a website in my Sophormore year and offered a 500$ scholarship for African women who were willing to study. I got 2000 applications, and that marked the beginning of my journey.

2. How did you end up on the path you are in?
Margaret: First semester of college was when I took my first programming class, and I had this amazing realization that it was fun! So, I switched my major to Computer Science. I pursued my graduate studies in the field of Computer Science and continued to do a PhD later. I later realized that it was easier to start my career as a Professor…and 19 years later- I am still there!

Christine: During my bachelors, I took my first engineering class, and I really did not like the subject. I also took a Programming class and I absolutely loved it. While everyone advised me to pursue Engineering as it has more future, my instinct asked me to go ahead with Computer Science. So, I followed my gut, and years later- looks like my instinct did tell me the right thing. The biggest realization for me in this journey is that careers are never linear! You kind of experience things along the way.

3. What is the most satisfying, most discouraging, and most surprising thing in your Professional life?
Violette: For me, going back to my country and working for the women is the most satisfying thing. The most discouraging thing is not being able to reach as many as possible. The surprising thing is that the world has not yet realized the power of women!

Alice: The most surprising thing for me in my profession is that my male colleagues are not really against feminism. The most discouraging thing is that "I have a 16 month old baby, and I get really tired at times". For me, there are not just enough time to do everything I want to do.

4. Tell us a lil bit about changing a culture. How does that happen. How do u know when you are there?
Christine: It's easiest to change a culture when it is primed for change. At Harvey Mudd, there was an opportunity for change. For me, the key is to not let others' pull me down. So, I assumed that the culture has already been changed and started behaving accordingly. Slowly, others started acting in response to my behavior. Over the course of time, this did facilitate change. 

Tülin: When I met the farmers the first ever time, I never told them I was going to give them information about technology, and then slowly started giving them education. We then told them they could learn more about the prices, and they started showing interest in using computers to aid them in selling. We then moved to SMS and emails and educated them on how to get more products from their soil, and taught them how to negotiate with buyers and sellers. We moved from village to village, and spread the education to around 12,000 villages in Turkey. The farmers then realized that this was infact very beneficial. So, I now know that this will be maintainable and it will stick for years to come.

5. How does the future look like to you?
Violette: My personal goal is to not rest until I see Africa in a different light. I will not rest till that day when we talk about partnering with Africa rather than talking about the health in Africa. I will work towards that day when African women are able to decide when they get married, how they get married, when they want to have kids, and how they want to live their life.

Shikoh: I want to change the world using technology! Right now, the biggest issue is unemployment for me. If we have some means to get some money in the hands of the poor, then  a lot of issues will get resolved. I want to see the future where we see "Made in Africa", and not "Made for Africa". I want our kids to stay and study in Africa, and not come to the US to feel included in the society and empowered.

6. What are you most proud of:
Christine: Getting my PhD!
Margaret: Seeing graduate students that graduated from my class!
Violette: Being a Rwandan diplomat in the US!
Alice: Getting to meet President Obama last summer with a 10 week old baby!
Violette: In 2010, I wrote a resignation letter in the times of economic depression because I felt that was not the right place for me.
Shikoh: The Little girls in my community did not like math. But, I saw them not give up and continue pursuing it, and seeing that "never say die" attitude in African girls was my proudest moment.
Tülin: I'm 32 years old and I have been doing the same thing for 10 years now. Even though I had to restart 3 times in this journey, I am proud of my patience and attitude of not giving up!

I hope you found this session interesting and inspiring. 

Happy Reading!
-Vidya

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