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Being an entrepreneur anywhere in the world is daunting but the technology sector in Africa presents its own distinct challenges. Yet, despite the limited reliability of the network or the lack of available funding and training, men and women across the continent are risking their own money to grow Africa’s economies.
I have worked in eight countries across Africa, and everywhere I go, I meet young people, like myself, posing difficult questions and working on innovative solutions.
However, I also encountered another, less heartening, constant. In every office I worked in, I was one of just a handful of women.
This imbalance can be decidedly unhelpful when it comes to building the confidence and decisiveness that are key to entrepreneurship.
In a recent US report by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, women were shown to have less self-belief than men. Without the confidence to turn their dreams into reality women are much less likely to start their own businesses.
It can be intimidating to speak up in the still male-dominated world of business and technology. It requires voicing your opinion, getting over the fear of failure, and being prepared to fall flat.
Creating a non-judgemental, safe environment in which boldness is encouraged, talent is recognised and all voices are heard is hugely important. But I would argue that more female role-models are vitally needed to show that it is possible to be successful, particularly in the male dominated tech-world.
I recently took part in the Techwomen programme in California, founded by Hilary Clinton and run by the US State Department alongside the Institute of International Education, which brings together talented and ambitious young women, working in technology, from across Africa and the Middle East.
I learnt a huge amount in Silicon Valley, but the most important thing I came away with was the support and encouragement of hugely inspirational women. My mentor Anar Simpson, the founder of Parallel Earth, helped open my eyes to my own potential, and through the stories and advice of LinkedIn’s Erica Lockheimer and Prachi Gupta I gained the confidence to start turning my dreams into reality.
I also discovered that in some ways we are better off back home. The ratio of women to men working in the tech industry in Rwanda is not much different to that in the US; tech-entrepreneurs enjoy huge support from the Rwandan government, where the Ministry of Youth and ICT is encouraging a nation that is more self-reliant; and President Kagame has been dubbed the “digital President” by the World Bank, WIRED and others for his commitment to implementing technology initiatives.
Rwanda is also the only country in the world where the majority of parliamentarians are women. The fresh perspective that women have brought to government has also led to positive economic reforms, a clampdown on corruption and a focus on encouraging women-led enterprise.
Just as in the world of politics, women do not have to model themselves on men in order to be successful. Women bring as much to the table as men, but we can also harness our emotional intelligence to talk to people about their needs, understand the problems they face and come up with practical solutions to real issues.
The number of women starting their own businesses is growing fast. Our entrepreneurial spirit will help to grow economies across Africa, but here are a few tips, inspired by my time at Techwomen, that might help us to realise our potential that little bit quicker:
Network: In order to meet your mentor, discover your role-models and support your peers I encourage you to get out there and network. The events don’t have to be exclusively technology focused. Inspiring women and valuable insights can come from anywhere.
Learn from your role-models: Take a look at their careers, study their businesses and learn from how they present themselves. If you’re ever lucky enough to be in the same room as your role model don’t be afraid to tell her that she is an inspiration, and don’t forget to ask for her contact details.
Have confidence but embrace criticism: Have the self-belief to share your dream with others, but expose it to criticism so that you can continue to refine your plan before you start to realise it.