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We’re empowering girls for IT devt – Oreoluwa Somolu

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By Josephine Igbinovia

With technology pervading every facet of human life, there’s the urgent need for women and girls, who’ve been handicapped in this area, to acquire much knowledge. According to statistics, they comprise a larger percentage of Nigeria’s population, so, Nigeria’s move to becoming an IT-compliant nation may be frustrated unless these groups are catered for.

Oreoluwa Somolu, the Executive Director, Women’s Technology Empowerment Centre (W.TEC), however seems to be on a rescue mission. The University of London-trained IT expert is passionately empowering women and girls in information technology. Here, she speaks about her life, love for information technology and W.TEC’s activities .  Enjoy!!
I had my secondary school education at Queens College, Yaba, Lagos. From there, I went to the University of Essex where I studied Economics and graduated in 1998. I went on to do a Masters in Information System at the University of London, and then a one-year certificate programme in applied sciences in the US. There in the US, I worked for an NGO, Education Development Centre, for about four years before returning to Nigeria.

Somolu with some of the girls

Returning to Nigeria
After returning to Nigeria, I did my NYSC and then worked with an oil and gas firm for about two years before going to establish W.TEC. Actually, I had to take that step because it was something I had always wanted to do right from when I left secondary school. Ever since I attended a computer training school while waiting to proceed to tertiary institution, I’ve always enjoyed the fact that I could apply the skill to different areas. Even when I was in the UK studying Economics, I kept up my interest by trying to learn new things; I got involved in the business of typing and printing essays for students.

I therefore realised that technology could be very valuable and empowering. The quest to explore more was what made me study Information System. One of the courses I took while studying for my masters was IT for Policy and Development. Through research also, I learnt that there were very few women, especially in Africa, using IT. I actually did my thesis on Gender and Technology for Development.

Working with the NGO in the US enhanced my interest because my job was as a project assistant, researching on how men and women use technology and also how to encourage women and girls into the area of science and technology. My career gradually moved into that line, and empowering women with information technology has become dear to me.

We decided to empower Nigerian women and girls through active engagement with ICT. We teach them to use different tools in respect to learning, networking, leadership and activism, career advancement, to mention but a few. We actually have different programmes targeted at different groups of women and girls.

Introducing young girls to ICT
We have a regular camp targeted at secondary school girls. The camp is aimed at awakening early interest in information technology in the girls. It’s good to catch them early because at this stage, they’re still very curious and open to learning new things. For the duration of the residential camp, they learn how to use the computer, learn different applications, work on projects together, undergo career talks sessions, etc.

We usually invite professional women and men who use technology in their work to come talk to them about how they apply technology to their work. We actually just had one recently. It’s basically a way of introducing the girls to the different careers they could take up, or the different things they could use the computer to achieve in their work. Also, we do try to encourage them to consider technology-related careers.

We also have a structured programme called the Young Women ICT Empowerment Programme, targeted at women between the ages of 18-30; including graduates and undergraduates.  More importantly, we encourage women to think about starting their own businesses and also teach them how they could use ICT to facilitate the business. We also have other specialised programmes, work with civil societies like Baobab and also engage in research.

Funding is actually a major issue for a lot of NGOs, and W.Tech is no exception. Each of our girls’ camp caters for about 150 girls and we had to put a cost to the camp after doing several for free, due to the rising cost. We have girls from across Nigeria who come to attend our camp. But for very indigent girls who cannot afford the cost, we support them in possible ways.

We therefore had to open up to sponsorships so as to enable us carry-on with our work. We are however presently working on partnering with the Lagos State government. Already, the government has endorsed our programme. What we await now is the Ministry of Education’s approval of our going to work with girls in selected schools.

Technology is particularly important for girls because they are going to grow up to be mothers and their children would have to learn from them in different ways. Also, we want to have more women contribute to the development of technology in Nigeria because this is relevant to all aspects of life. More importantly, it’s good for women to develop skills that they can use for their day to day lives, for the general growth of our nation because nations, including Nigeria, are already computerizing a lot of things.

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