March 8th marks International Women’s Day (IWD), whose theme this year is is ‘DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality’.
In observance of IWD, Orange Botswana hosted a panel discussion this Wednesday to celebrate women in tech and the digital space.
The event brought together techpreneurs, innovators, educators and tertiary students from Botho College, BAC and those tuned in virtually via social media – BIUST, Orange Botswana female employees and women media practitioners.
Welcoming attendants to the commemoration, Outsource Coordinator – Onkemetse Sesinyi, announced the official launch of Orange Botswana’s latest programme, the Hello Women.
Director of Mass Market Sales, Buyile Makgekgenene, explained this year’s Orange Botswana IWD celebration theme colours are green and purple.
“Purple symbolises justice and dignity – being loyal as a cause of gender equality. This is key and relevant for us today. The green symbolises hope, newness – hope that gender equality is not just an issue we want to confront today but that it would be more of a reality of what we are proud of; that we would be the women of today who’d see our daughters, our women and children not having to advocate for women equality because we would have done the job,” she said, further highlighting the importance of this year’s theme, which she said is a reminder of the potential that digital technology holds in accelerating gender equality and women empowerment.
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Makgekgenene gave an overview of their Hello Women programme whose focus, she said, is to make certain women and girls have a seat at the table.
“It is really about driving all the women in the community to come and help us at Orange Botswana to drive the technological transformation in Botswana. Who better else to hear from than the youth in the future of technology in this country? We want to ensure that the valuable input from the women in tech in defining our journey going forward, is for us to give a platform to not only those women, but also those who support them; not forgetting our mothers, sisters and aunts. Those are the ladies who sell airtime on the side of the road. That airtime they’re selling today feeds their families and community and indirectly feeds my family and my community,” she said, adding that the discussion today is all about inclusion and women empowerment, before introducing her colleague, up and coming songstress, Basetsana Dikobe – simply known by the stage name, Star – who rightly gave a beautiful interpretation of Alicia Keys’ Superwoman.
Panelists included 27-year-old Software Developer, Refilwe Matlapeng, co-founder of Vimo Technologies – a tech company that houses fintech solutions and software development services locally and across the border in South Africa.
Having won the Best Digital Innovator at the World Summit Award in the Business & Commerce category in 2019, the company was listed in the top at the FinTech Startups at the Fintech Festival by Central Bank of Kenya and the Monetary Bank of Singapore. Matlapeng is also co-founder of a separate tech startup, IPO XCAP in South Africa, focused on investment banking.
The whiz kid spoke about her journey in tech, which began during her formative years when her curiosity for video games, and computers, led to her mother acquiring one for the home.
“My journey with tech is a long one because I started when I was young. It all started with video games. That’s how I got more enthusiastic about computers, and typing on the keyboard. I think I was in preschool then. I got more curious with the mobile phone in junior school, so my mom got a computer for the house,” she said, and added that she already knew how to code prior to enrolling into a BSc in Computer Science course at UB, which she never completed, thus would eventually establish a web development company, and later fintech solutions agency.
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Also in the panel was Melisa Tafila, Co-founder and Managing Director of Conexus, who is passionate about education. Conexus is an information technology company that specializes in technology-driven educational products and services.
In 2016, Conexus was recognised among the Top 40 Innovators – Innovating Education in Africa Expo and won the Orange Botswana Social Venture prize among others.
In 2019, Conexus, in partnership with Orange Botswana, developed a revolutionary mobile education platform, Atlega Mobile Education – to ensure that every school going child has access to education.
“My journey began in high school; this is where we got introduced to computers, in multimedia class. That is where we got the opportunity to work in groups building up content for the school magazine and have it ready for publishing. In addition to that, we also got introduction to animation and graphics, that was really interesting to me; that’s how I developed interest and knew this is what I wanted to do,” she said.
Joining the panel were Orange Money Botswana Digital Marketing and CBM Specialist, Mandisa Diako, as well as Orange Botswana Charging and Billing Systems Engineer, Tuelo Koolese, who work in male-dominated spaces.
The inspirational colleagues shared about their very similar journeys into the tech scene. “I thought I’d go into medicine,” Tuelo said, and went further to explain that after attending a career fair, she ended up studying Software Engineering, which she loved.
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Meanwhile, although she had not encountered women in lofty hi-tech positions to draw inspiration from, while at varsity, Mandisa met a lecturer in the media studies faculty who taught technical courses like content creation and graphic design. “I had a different vision for my career initially, until I got to varsity. I had never met a graphic designer woman; she was such an inspiration. She made it look so easy… and I thought to myself, I think I want to get into a career that allows me to explore digital technology,” she recounted.
The panelists spoke about the challenges they face working in male-dominated environments and how they have conquered them.
The general consensus was that continuous learning is paramount, asserting oneself and a fare amount of emotional intelligence.
“We have to learn to take up our spaces; don’t be afraid to be known for something, as a woman who works in the tech space. Be proud of what you do and your intellectual capacity so that someone who does not have the mentoring or access to services can understand how I got here,” Tuelo advised, while Melissa opined that for women to be competitive and thrive in the tech industry, more training opportunities must be created. “Encourage more women to study ICTs because I believe that when we have more diverse teams, we’d have different perspectives in the way that we build systems, different approaches in how we solve problems and how we build our products.
Orange Botswana Head of HR, Modiri Nlanda gave an overview of the recently launched Hello Women programme, and shared the alarming statistics: “24% of women occupy digital tech jobs globally.
At Orange, 18% tech jobs are occupied by women, due to fewer women studying digital tech-related courses.
36% women employees at Orange, the figure drops in the tech space with 20% women in innovation and tech area.
What do we do?” she asked rhetorically, and added that traditional roles are to blame for the status quo but Orange is intent on improving gender equality with 25% by 2025.
“Orange believes in technologies that transform lives, and is committed to ensuring more women can talk on such platforms as this. We try to nurture these students, retrain women for this fast-growing area. At group level, we recently launched Hello Tech Girls targeting 50 girls in coding from various areas in Mogoditshane. We are trying to shift mindsets and do away with stereotypes,” she concluded.