The social enterprise aims to impact 10 million females across Africa by 2030, through strategic partnerships, training initiatives, and mentorship and networking programmes

GirlCode, a social enterprise that aims to empower young girls and women through technology, launched its 2018 programme and Vision 2030 statement, at a breakfast event in Melrose Arch last week.

Among the initiatives planned for 2018 are the expansion of the annual hackathon and training workshops, as well as the launch of the Digital Academy, the GirlCoder Club, the GirlCode Accelerator Programme and the GirlCode Incubator initiative.

From humble beginnings

GirlCode was founded in 2014 as a female-only hackathon in a male-dominated industry. The first hackathon attracted 20 participants and one sponsor and has since become an annual event, with this year’s hackathon attracting 117 participants and seven sponsors, including Standard Bank, Boxfusion, Entelect and MTN.

The compounding success of each hackathon lead to the growth of GirlCode into a platform that engages women in tech, facilitates their skills development and encourages them to join the tech revolution.

Addressing the gender gap

According to the Intel Women and the Web report, nearly 25% fewer women are online than men. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the gap rises to 43%. And McKinsey reports that women comprise just 16% of all executive-level positions at technology companies in Africa.

Speaking at the event, which was attended by corporate executives and public sector representatives, Zandile Keebine, GirlCode Founder, said: “We have to be intentional in our efforts and committed to bringing opportunities to girls in rural areas and disadvantaged communities. Technology is increasingly becoming part of our lives, making digital literacy fundamental for everyone. With half the population being female, if we don’t start upskilling girls today, it means we’re leaving half of our potential IP out of the solutions we should be creating. It’s not enough for girls to simply play with technology; we have to encourage them and give them the chance to understand, create and work with it.”

GirlCode’s plans for 2018 include:

  • Expansion of the annual hackathon to Cape Town and Durban – in addition to the long-standing Johannesburg event. Next year’s hackathon will be hosted between 3 and 5 August 2018, and girls will be encouraged to solve challenges for SMEs and orphanages. The winning team will be sent to the Women in Tech Conference, in Amsterdam. Corporates will also be able to white-label hackathon events and tap into female tech talent and knowledge to solve business problems.
  • Expansion of the GirlCode workshops, which provides girls with valuable skills training in everything from HTML and Java to presentation skills, design thinking and WordPress, in the run-up to the hackathon.
  • The launch of the Digital Academy, which will provide unemployed women who have had no or little exposure to technology with basic computer skills training, as well as CV and interview guidance, over two weeks. The goal is to broaden their skills so that they can broaden their job opportunities.
  • The launch of the GirlCoder Club, which will teach high schoolgirls how to code in weekend classes facilitated by unemployed Computer Science graduates.
  • The launch of a 10-month GirlCode Accelerator programme, which will give girls the opportunity to gain real-world experience, be bridging the gap between academic learning and work-ready skills. The initial intake will be 30 girls.
  • The launch of the GirlCode Incubator, a 24-month mentorship programme focusing on marketing, operations, innovation, finance and self-mastery, to help girls grow their businesses.
  • Quarterly speed dating sessions between girls and mentors in the industry, in an effort to expand their networks.

Also speaking at the event, GirlCode team mentor and public policy director for Africa at Cisco Systems, Charmaine Houvet, said: “In Africa, just 5% of CEOs in the tech industry are women, which I think is a tragedy. We need to push harder for more female leaders to progress within any environment – it’s not just the right thing to do; it’s also a social and economic imperative. The National Development Plan 2030 states that we need to create 11 million jobs by 2030. These jobs won’t come from corporates but from advocacy groups like GirlCode that are actively doing something about youth unemployment and are driving the entrepreneurial agenda.”

Vision 2030

GirlCode’s vision is to impact 10 million women across Africa in 10 years, starting with getting young girls interested in STEM, and to become the largest female digital academy. It aims to do this through strategic partnerships with the public sector; strengthening collaboration with similar organisations; and leveraging corporate assets in the development of ICT facilities, infrastructure and networks within schools in disadvantaged communities.

“We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the future and how we see GirlCode playing a critical role in making it happen. Our vision is to reach as many girls as possible – regardless of age or location – to create a network of women who can help create a more inclusive industry that solves real-world problems. They say the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago and that the next best time is now. At GirlCode, we believe the best time to start getting girls interested in tech is now,” says Keebine.