Fanelwa Ngece-Ajayi, Senior Lecturer and Researcher at the University of Western Cape gives insight to the educational five-week tour of US in which she is taking part as one of South Africa’s emerging leaders in STEM
FIVE of South Africa’s emerging leaders (ELs) in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are currently receiving mentorship at various STEM companies across Silicon Valley and San Francisco through the TechWomen Program which commenced on 18th September 2017.
They are among 100 chosen women in STEM from almost 4000 applicants from 22 countries in Africa, Central and South Asia, and the Middle East. Apart from South Africa, other African countries participating in the program include Algeria, Morocco, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Cameroon and Egypt.
The mission of TechWomen is to empower, support and connect the next generation of women leaders in STEM by providing them with access and opportunities to advance their careers, pursue their dreams, and become role models for women and girls in their communities.
The program is an initiative of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) whose objective is to increase mutual understanding between people of various countries and the U.S. through cultural and educational exchanges.
Consensus within the South African team is that the program is very intense but highly educational filled with great lessons from female leaders in STEM who lead various institutions in San Francisco and Silicon Valley.
Prior to arriving in the U.S. each EL was paired with a professional mentor to collaborate on a project based on the EL’s professional goals. The projects vary depending on the needs of the host company as well as the EL’s areas of expertise and interests.
Danai Nhando a lawyer and entrepreneur is hosted at Adobe, Ridhwana Khan an entrepreneur and software developer is hosted at LinkedIn, Fanelwa Ajayi a scientist and social entrepreneur is hosted at Mozilla.
Emily Pather a computer scientist and entrepreneur is hosted at Veritas, while Lindiwe Matlali a social entrepreneur and computer scientist is hosted at Google. Chiedza Mnguni a civil engineer and entrepreneur is hosted at Pacific Gas & Electric Company.
Along with fellow emerging leaders the South African contingent have visited companies such as Synopsis, Google, Autodesk and Salesforce where they have received mentorship in critical and innovative thinking and how to fully utilise technology to constantly evolve ideas.
The program has been designed to fully equip the ELs with enough skills and knowledge to uplift their careers through networks and opportunities provided to them through the program.
Apart from this aspect of the program, the ELs have also been encouraged to use their time to attend cultural and volunteer events prior arranged by TechWomen. The team spent Saturday 7th October at the Dr George W. Davis Seniors Centre in Bayview, one of San Francisco’s low income communities assisting senior citizens to acquire digital skills.
Three weeks into the program the ELs have fostered a strong bond among themselves and other African ELs. This has particularly been strengthened by the impact project they are currently working on to address an issue they are all passionate about in South Africa which has a prospect of winning a seed fund.
These women are all passionate about encouraging young people to pursue STEM studies by motivating them to study Mathematics and providing them with resources to excel in Mathematics and if successful; they will invest these funds to initiate this idea.