At the Transform Africa Summit in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda; in the month of October, Zain Verjee (twitter handle @Zain_Verjee). Former CNN anchor and now CEO and co-founder of Akoma (www.akomanet.com) was a moderator of one of the sessions. She moderated the session on Digital Enterprise which had Heads of State and African Ministers of Information and Communication Technology as panellists.
Zain Verjee spent 14 years at CNN as an anchor and correspondent, living in Atlanta, Washington DC and London. Prior to leaving CNN in April 2014, Verjee was the anchor of CNN International's European daytime program "World One". She worked as a newsreader for The Situation Room, as a State Department correspondent, and as a co-anchor of CNN International's Your World Today with Jim Clancy.
Let’s get to know who you’re; what you do and your thoughts on African women and Information Communication and Technology in general?
My name is Zain Verjee. The Co-Founder and CEO of aKoma Media. It is a digital story-telling platform for Africans. What do I think about women in ICT? I think women in ICT are the future of the Continent. I think that empowering women to learn coding; to learn how to build user experiences, designs, to understand technology (the back end and the front end) is going to be transformational. Women know where the problems are because they are running their families; they are dealing with all sorts of different challenges. Not only are they earning money but taking care of things at home. So, women by their very nature are problem solvers. So, you take a problem solver and you empower her with the kind of technical knowledge that is in the direction in which the entire country is moving, you can transform lives.
I think that what is critical is the training for women. Women are talented; women are willing to learn. Young women are passionate about technology. They have mobile phones (they’re communicating either on feature phones or would communicate with on smart phones). They are going to consume content and create content. They are going to generate data and would want to understand what it means. So, I think that our governments, the private sector and our society should support young women who are talented but don’t always have the access and ability to learn non-typical fields of information such as the technology sector.
From your experience having lived in the United States, what is your perspective of the digital sector/environment in the United States and on the African Continent?
I think in the United States of America; there is still a challenge for women in technology. I think that a lot of the debate centres around why we don’t have enough women in technology; why women in technology need to prove more or be like men; to have the same salaries or promotion. So women in the USA’s technology sector have their issues which are different. The issues are not access to learning; they have access to learning (if they want it).
So, what is the issue?
The issues tend to be equal pay or promotion or wanting to innovate and generate new ideas. Then they come across different challenges, wanting mentors in a little environment, where women at the top are very rare in the technology sector still. They are not that many. Whereas, women in Africa have different challenges but there is still a problem. And the different challenges, access to learning, cultural aspects where women may not want to learn about technology if there is a room full of boys for example.
They may feel like maybe culturally, we should defer to the boys. I think that is changing. I think also, that women in urban areas have more access to learning that women in rural areas but that doesn’t mean that there is not a lot of female talent that exist out there. We are an agricultural Continent. Women gather fuel (firewood) and food which are in the environment all the time. So, why not empower a young girl who is savvy and wanting to learn; who has a phone to understand her environment (agriculture for example) and partner that with technology and give her the ability to solve problems in that sector and she could innovate the next big thing that could be transformational for the biggest sector on the Continent. So, I think access to learning and skill is the issue.
From what you have said and what you have seen; the future is bright for African women on the Continent?
I think the future is bright for African women. i think it is the decade of the African women. (Frankly in all sectors; not just technology), African women are coming off as leaders, innovators; breaking stereotypes, breaking glass ceilings, designing missiles, tech valleys, changing and transforming the landscape of social media and still many different sectors. So, I think that; given the talents that exist, if women are given the opportunities, the future would be a phenomenon.
Photo Credit: Zain Verjee Media Group.