Empowering opportunity for Caribbean girls in ICT-from innovation to impact

Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) drive growth and innovation worldwide, infiltrating all aspects of our lives.

    These ongoing advances in ICTs effectively make digital literacy a prerequisite for employment and entrepreneurship opportunities and are leading to a projected shortage of at least 2 million ICT employees worldwide by 2020. Studies show that not enough young people are choosing careers in ICT - especially not enough young women. Expanding the global technology talent pool to include more women with ICT skills can help fill this gap. This means investing in girls and young women today.

International Girls in ICT Day, is an initiative led by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Switzerland, aims to create a global environment that encourages, educates and empowers girls and young women to pursue studies and careers in the growing ICT sector, enabling both girls and technology companies to benefit. Celebrated on the 4th Thursday in April every year, to date, over 240,000 girls and young women have taken part across 160 countries.

In the Caribbean, we are seeing a growing number of companies investing in the ICT sector. Businesses such as the Microsoft Innovation Centre provide technical services empowering people to become entrepreneurs. Global companies like Vistaprint (based in Jamaica) and several local and global BPO companies, provide jobs to support the growing global tech markets.

 

Importantly, women are pioneering new innovations in the region. This was most recently evidenced in the mobile app development competition at PitchIt Caribbean, where all top spots were swept by women mobile tech entrepreneurs. In 2016, a Jamaican woman owned, digital media company Listen MI Caribbean, won the global startup award, securing investment at the US led Global Entrepreneurship Summit. Vendedy, a unique platform created by a Haitian woman, allows informal artisan producers to sell to expanded markets, and was recognized by Forbes with numerous awards.

Yet, GSMA analysis confirms that although ICTs offer many opportunities for women's empowerment and gender equality, gender gaps in digital inclusion persist in LAC countries, which remain constrained in the application of ICTs; as women who do enter tech sectors, cannot easily embrace the innovation and knowledge developed, because of the preference shown to men.

Supporting the global Girls in ICT movement empowers girls and young women, giving them the confidence to pursue ICT studies and careers, making girls and young women aware of the vast possibilities ICTs offer, quelling misconceptions about the sector and inviting them to envision their future not just as ICT users, but creators.

Encouraging women and girls to pursue ICT careers, fosters a more dynamic technology sector, providing extensive benefits for companies.  A more gender-balanced workforce reflects the customer base more accurately, enhances productivity and innovation and leads to better financial results.

Initiatives under the Girls in ICT Day, contribute to achieving country and corporate targets of the UN Sustainable Development Goal 5 on Gender equality and empowerment for women and girls. The SDGs recognize that sustainable development requires close collaboration amongst government, business communities and civil society organizations. ICT can play an enabling role in the implementation of the SDGs, creating possibilities and fueling innovative actions to achieve impact in today’s digital world. The ICT Playbook states that ‘For every 10% increase in internet access, low and middle income countries see a 1.38% increase in GDP’. By creating new businesses in the ICT sector, young women can bypass limitations of national labour market boundaries and access the global market in a sector, that often offer higher salaries and lower gender-based pay gaps, than in other fields.

 

STAKEHOLDERS

 

The success of this initiative requires a shared commitment and partnership of key stakeholders including:

 

  • Private sector companies to drive innovation and direct needs across multiple industries - Telecomms, Financial services, Creative Industry, Energy sector, Agro-processing etc.
  • High Schools to invest in youth through innovative education approaches with an increased emphasis on STEM
  • Universities and Colleges to increase the number of girls equipped to work in technology and science related fields, using higher tech skills and knowledge to attract higher value added jobs
  • Government support, facilitating and providing funding to promote ICT usage and learning in schools, which can be instrumental in increasing the tech skills of girls who are outside the digital landscape, promoting local tech innovations and start-ups and encouraging the creation of local content.

 

HOW IT WORKS?

The Girls in ICT Day Caribbean activity, is designed as a REGIONAL 1-DAY HACKATHON to take place across multiple countries. Hackathons are an excellent way to give girls a taste of what can be done with technology. To engage girls’ interest, it is crucial that they not only hear about technology, but also use it. Girls will see for themselves that you don’t need to be a math wizard to code, or a science expert to programme a robot. In a hackathon team, girls will discover that technology is all about creativity, collaboration and, most importantly, a lot of fun!

  1. Hackathon Activities

The intent is to create a dynamic environment where girls can engage in direct hands-on activities, using ICT to create, innovate and generate a solution, supported by various technology tools. One activity will be selected by a team of girls, to find a solution to a challenge from their corporate sponsors, with technical on-site support, from designated mentors. A panel of judges from the local tech industry will select the winning team at the end of the day.

Activities include: 

üMobile app building

üCoding

üAnimation & Games

üProgramming robots

üDigital video production & digital art works

  • Targeted Call will be sent out to High Schools and Universities in Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago. Each team will be sponsored by a Corporate entity.
  • Team Mentor Partners - Each team will be assigned a coach/mentor who will act as a Team leader and help to provide technical guidance to the team during the event.

B. Raising Awareness/Participation

  • Social media
  • Virtual talks by role models local and international
  • Video messages from the ITU Secretary General and Director of the Telecommunication Development Bureau / Government Ministers/Corporate sponsors
  • Web conferencing /Videoconferencing
  • Feedback and testimonials from participants
  • Resources and promotional materials, such as flyers, logos and banners.

C. Partners & Sponsors

 

We will reach out to local stakeholders such as Government authorities, regional entities, ICT companies and other private sector companies for financial and in-kind support.

  • Corporate sponsors will host their team event at their Corporate offices, giving them significant visibility and publicity. This will bring the girls into a working environment with the target that each team completes a new technology solution for a stated challenge issued by the corporate sponsor. 
  • Public sector sponsorship is key so that the initiative is captured within the framework and mandate of relevant government and regional entities, focused on education, gender empowerment, R&D, entrepreneurship and trade.  This will ensure that the overall program of activities, are interconnected to local and regional objectives, particularly responding to the Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Participating countries will include Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados, with opportunities to expand to other countries in the future               

D. BUDGET

Funding requirements available pending further discussion.

 

What Next?

Not everything can be achieved during one day. It is therefore essential that we explore possibilities for more continuous yearlong activities.

Some ideas to explore:

  • Launch after school clubs for girls focusing on ICT skills development, e.g. coding clubs
  • Caribbean ICT Mentoring and entrepreneurship initiative for girls & women
  • Include computer science classes in school curriculum and encourage their selection as electives, e.g. by recognizing computer science as a science requirement
  • Create an inclusive learning environment for introductory classes in computer science and select curriculum that that will engage students who are new to computing
  • Organize joint events, such as hackathons and tech camps, together with schools, universities, ICT companies and institutions
  • Create associations and networks for girls and young women interested in ICT and connect them to existing networks, regional and international – GirlsinTech, Coding Bootcamps, etc.
  • Launch mentoring initiatives connecting girls and young women to local role models
  • Identify gaps in girls participating in STEM and ICT training and target sponsorships for specific STEM scholarships for young women to increase learning opportunities at high school and university, thus improving the regional quality of ICT resources available for the industry
  • Launch ICT internship programs targeted for young women which will enable them to be recruited as the next generation of programmers and tech workers
  • Incubate young women entrepreneurs to spur job creation and leverage existing platforms like Startup Hubs, Microsoft Innovation Centre, etc.

 

These activities will contribute to long term goals to strengthen women working in the sector by:

- improving skills for accessing opportunities in the virtual global economy to foster employability and entrepreneurship

- building a favourable ecosystem for the emergence and growth of youth-led start-up enterprises with a focus on the digital ecosystem to generate new jobs region wide. 

 

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