The Storytellers:
Experiences around the globe

22 young women around the globe share with us their stories of how they made their way into a career in the ICT and technology sector. These women work in different roles in ICT and come from different developing as well as emerging countries from all continents. Acting as role models for many girls, they speak about their dreams, main obstacles they encountered and the central role of supporters they had or they were missing. Their main message is: “Never give up, catch your dream and go ahead, and don’t listen to society!”

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Start-Up
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Afua Osei, Co-Founder, Ghana

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Afua Osei, Co-Founder, Ghana

Afua explored many fields of interest in the search for finding out what she actually wanted to do: public relations, communications, law, and business. The common theme among these professional areas was to be active in her community and to help other people. Afua was drawn to technology because its potential to create content that transcends national borders and give people the ability to feel like part of a more global community, even if they are physically separated. Her first job in technology came about unexpectedly: She combined her university studies in political science, business, and communications to earn a position with a mobile advertising firm doing business strategy. Afua started She Leads Africa inspired by her own experiences and recognising that despite not predicting the path she would take to where she is today, she was blessed to have people around her who guided her in the right direction. She laments that this is not the case for many girls.

“I wanted to create something that would help young women like myself – and I knew how hard it is to figure out what you wanted to do, because I had no clue. I’ve met so many other young women who don’t really have anyone who is pointing them anywhere and they really feel lost.”

Afua believes that for making the technology sector more relevant for young female learners it is important to create spaces for girls and women that are safe and inviting, to urge companies to try harder when attempting to attract women in technology, and to encourage other successful women in ICT to tell their stories and provide examples for others about how they can cultivate a career in the sector. Afua’s message to young girls and women who want to pursue a career in technology is: 

“Learn and soak it up as much as you can!”

Afua taught herself how to code. She knows how overwhelming it can be. And she is convinced that technology can have a huge impact on society and communities as motivators for getting involved with social development.

Andrea Jiménez Cisneros, PHD Candidate, Peru

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Andrea Jiménez Cisneros, PHD Candidate, Peru

Parting from her childhood dreams of becoming an actress or a dancer, Andrea’s desire to help people led her to social work and ultimately to a career in Information and Communications Technology for Development (ICT4D). She was driven by her family’s support but did not study STEM subjects at school. Nonetheless, she used her artistic talents, communication skills, and development background to obtain an internship with a Peruvian NGO, which teaches young people living in the jungle how to use technology. Andrea feels that for many women, the key challenge when pursuing education and a career in ICT is the lack of financial resources. Families often prioritise the education and career of the male offspring, meaning there is little, if any, financial investment in the girls.

 “I come from one of those families in Peru where most of the efforts are drawn to the boys in the family. It was never really in the cards for me to go to university.”

 Andrea believes that investing in girls along with mentors, role models, and networks of women who can encourage more young women to enter technology is key. She sends a positive message to young girls to have faith in themselves, keep working towards their goals, and believe that they deserve to be where they are.

Gayatri Buragohain, Executive Director, India

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Gayatri Buragohain, Executive Director, India

Growing up in a peri-urban area of India pervaded by regional conflict, Gayatri Buragohain did not find it easy to encounter technology of any sort. Observing her father as he tinkered with and repaired the different devices in her home was what inspired Gayatri’s interest in technology. This also led her to pursue a course in engineering rather than become a doctor. Given her relatively poor socio-economic background, she could not afford to attend a high-quality college. During her electronics telecommunications engineering studies, she found it difficult to learn because her college did not have a computer lab or other vital equipment to develop her e-skills.

“An engineer is supposed to learn by doing. We didn’t have teachers who could teach us hands-on work. We basically attended lectures, read our textbooks, and wrote exams. That’s it.”

The gendered barriers that Gayatri encountered exacerbated the infrastructure issues. These challenges included mobility constraints, which prevented her from traveling outside of school hours to attend practical computer tutoring. She had to face sexist attitudes from her teachers, harassment from male peers, and safety concerns about being a girl outside after dark. Gayatri recommends using a feminist framework to introduce technology to women and girls as well as advocates for strong outreach to girls located in more rural areas and those who are underprivileged. Her advice for policymakers in India, and the G20 more broadly, is to do more work to create gender-sensitive STEM curricula and to integrate vocational and technical training opportunities in the regular school system. This includes aligning more closely with the private sector to ensure training meets ICT labour market needs. She urges the private sector to launch girls-in-ICT efforts that encourage people from diverse backgrounds to enter the sector. Finally, for young girls, she offers this advice:

“The base of structured learning happens at school. But, whatever you need to succeed in an ICT industry, the knowledge has to be self-taught. Use the Internet, use every form of learning that you can. Do not just limit your learning to schools and textbooks.”

Hong Phuc Dang, Founder, Vietnam

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Hong Phuc Dang, Founder, Vietnam

Hong Phuc admits she was lucky her entire life not to have pressure or expectations placed on her by her parents. She says it is very important that girls and women have support from their families and the freedom to choose for themselves what they want in life. Whilst as a child, she dreamt of becoming a flight attendant to fly around the world. Later, she obtained a business degree specialising in e-marketing. She based her decision on the industry demand and outlook of the job market. At her first job as a freelance translator at a FOSS-Bridge in Hanoi, Hong Phuc learned about open source. She eventually started to teach herself how to code with the help of her software engineer friends.

“I guess one of the hurdles is our voice is not heard. Society doesn’t give us the credit that we deserve.”

Hong Phuc says that the two key hurdles girls and women face are social perception and inequality. For example, people think that women are not as good as men when it comes to technical topics. Additionally, Hong Phuc says that women unfairly get paid less than men for the same job. She believes that in order to promote more girls and women in ICT, governments and policymakers need to: support women who wish to pursue a degree in technology, provide resources to help grow the local female tech community, and create a chance for female role models to share their success stories.

Htaike Htaike Aung, Executive Director, Myanmar

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Htaike Htaike Aung, Executive Director, Myanmar

Born and raised in Myanmar, Htaike Htaike was always amazed by technology. At the time, she felt lucky that her parents allowed her to attend computer classes in high school. On the other hand, actually owning a device was a barrier and thus it was difficult to keep up.

“Ownership is one of the biggest barriers, especially for women, to becoming digitally literate.”

Now working in the technology field, she says it is quite challenging being a female in a male-dominated industry. Htaike Htaike says the challenges exist because although women are able to study ICT subjects, when it comes to entering the workforce, they are discriminated against. Society does not perceive technology to be a good career for women as it is “too hard for them”. She says many of the jobs are not female-friendly, as, for example, coders and technicians have the perception that they need to work overtime, which “is not very friendly for women”. Even if women do complete their degree, they do not enter the workforce. Htaike Htaike says it was only her passion for technology that drove her to pursue a career in tech despite the challenges but she felt that she missed having a role model and stressed how important it was to have one.

“Accessibility is extremely important. I think this is the main stepping-stone that could get women and girls into technology. Without it, how can you get women interested or passionate about it?”

From a policy point of view, the government needs to look at the issues with a gender lens and ask: What are the needs, where are we now and why? They need to promote safe online spaces, rights, privacy, and accessibility.

Irène Inyange, Business Analyst, Rwanda

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Irène Inyange, Business Analyst, Rwanda

“The boys now see that we also need each other. If they can help us and teach us technology, we can support each other.”

Irène was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo but returned to Rwanda in 1999 before beginning studies there in 2000. She pursued a bachelor’s degree in educational technology because she wanted to make a change in her country. In her experience, she sees that girls often do not understand how the ICT sector can be a good one for them to join. As a result, some girls do not believe in themselves and their ability to do well in technology. Irène believes that the importance of girls’ confidence should not be underestimated when trying to increase their representation in the ICT sector.

“Girls really need people to push them. Sometimes they don’t believe in themselves. Push them, help them, be there for them.”

Irène felt that her university studies were difficult because there was an emphasis on theory without much opportunity for practice. For this reason, she thought it was hard to transition from studying ICT to employment in ICT. She gathered her courage to make the leap to kLab, a technology and innovation hub based in Kigali. While often dominated by males, the men and boys at kLab contributed to achieving equality. Nevertheless, Irène’s dream to further enhance her ICT skills may be blocked because English is the predominant language in the field. She thinks that if women share their technology experiences with girls, then girls, too, can learn to excel with technology. She suggests that governments fund places for young girls to gain first-hand knowledge and begin familiarising themselves with technology. The government might also consider creating forums for girls in ICT or asking women with relevant experience to visit places outside of Kigali to teach. Asked to give some advice to girls who want to establish a career in ICT, Irène said:
“When we hear something that we previously did not know about, we try to learn more. We can do it with technology. We are able to achieve, we just have to try.”

Isis Nyong'o Madison, Founder and CEO, Kenya

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Isis Nyong'o Madison, Founder and CEO, Kenya

Like many of her female peers, Isis first dreamt of a more traditional career path as a doctor. Instead, she pursued a career in ICT after being exposed to the first modern technology boom in Silicon Valley while she was a student in California. She worked hard at school and was an all-round good student, but she excelled most in history classes. Isis defies the popular assumption that girls need a more tech-related education to follow a career path in ICT. Despite this, she feels that there should be greater efforts focused on encouraging girls to study STEM subjects and to provide the opportunities as well as develop their abilities so that they may independently explore their interests in this field. Isis believes that hurdles for women arise from the fact that the ICT industry is still relatively nascent in Africa.

“There isn’t a lot of exposure, direct exposure, to what the industry is and what it entails and what the opportunities are within there.”

To inspire young women, she says that the visibility of women in technology needs to be raised for it to encourage others who may wish to work in this area.

Jovia Margaret Nanyonjo, Electrical engineering student and vice president of the engineering society, Uganda

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Jovia Margaret Nanyonjo, Electrical engineering student and vice president of the engineering society, Uganda

“There is a lack of female role models in ICT in our country. Most female students who wish to take a technology course at university would want to look up to someone. They would say ‘Okay, there’s this lady, and she has gone this far. I can also be like her.’”

Jovia Margaret Nanyonjo first became interested in an electrical engineering career when she was young and helped her mother fix toys and gadgets at her workplace. Jovia credits her sister with her digital literacy development because she allowed her to borrow her personal computer and mobile phone once at university so that she could learn to use the devices to help complete her course work. This led Jovia to take an Android development class, where she was one of only three girls enrolled. While it was difficult to make her talents known in a class full of young men, she worked hard to keep up with her peers. She believes that having access to technology can help young women be more creative, eventually transform their access to solve community problems, and tap into employment opportunities. Two steps she thinks the private sector can take to promote more females in ICT are lowering or eliminating the cost of ICT access for young girls and to make the hiring processes gender-blind in order to minimize discrimination against women. Jovia also believes that governments can help girls by providing scholarships to study ICT and by ensuring more ICT trainersare female.

 “If you provide a good environment for the girls, I’m sure they can be encouraged to attend ICT trainings.”

Iffat Rose Gill, Founder, Pakistan

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Iffat Rose Gill, Founder, Pakistan

Iffat’s family is from Pakistan but she spent much of her early youth growing up in Libya. Exposed to technology and encouraged by her father who had recognised the potential of technology before it became mainstream, she taught herself different programmes on their home PC. Iffat says that, somehow, we have started believing that computers are for boys only and recalls her experience of being the only girl in her school’s computer class. While she did not find this intimidating, she did often feel awkward and it was not an environment she could thrive in. Iffat believes that teachers are not as encouraging as they should be for girls who want to go into technology. Frequently, families also reinforce certain stereotypes.

 “It comes from teachers, the parents and of course the peers who also grew up in that same toxic environment where you must stick to the rules and you must go study this if you’re a female, and boys must go and study that.”

 Iffat quickly realised the importance of having computer skills. These accelerated her efforts to create a community technology centre in rural Pakistan – the first of its kind. She started teaching office skills and how to use computers in everyday life. Iffat says that “digital literacy is going to become the new literacy” and will widen the gap between the developed and developing worlds. She believes that governments should include coding as a subject in their national curricula and that it should globally become the second language in every school. Iffat recognises that there is a huge pool of talented women where the skills gap needs to be addressed.

 “Women would have more economic independence if they had the tools to build solutions or to access the existing jobs.”

She says that some of the remaining key challenges in Pakistan are the lack of safe spaces and trusted teachers adding that they “still desperately need more role models and more success stories.”

Suada Hadžović, Expert Advisor for licensing, Bosnia and Herzegovina

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Suada Hadžović, Expert Advisor for licensing, Bosnia and Herzegovina

As a child, Suada dreamt of being a writer but felt that a career in ICT was a better investment in her future. She believed that studying technology and pursuing it as a career was crucial for financial stability, especially given the high unemployment faced in her home country Bosnia and Herzegovina. Her family was supportive of the path she chose and assisted her financially as she completed her studies. Suada was grateful for her family’s practical advice to study engineering given the high number of positions available in the ICT sector. Unlike other women we spoke

to, she does not believe she encountered gendered stereotypes while studying tech-based subjects. Suada advises young girls who are interested in a career in technology to “never give up”, saying they will be rewarded if they just keep pushing towards their goals.

Mariana Costa Checa, Co-Founder and CEO, Peru

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Mariana Costa Checa, Co-Founder and CEO, Peru

“There is a lot that you learn in the field by practising. I realised that you can actually learn (technology-related) things by yourself, and then implement them to see how they work.”

 From a relatively young age, Mariana Costa Checa was aware of the rampant inequality in her home country of Peru. Because of this, she wanted to work to support people who did not have the opportunities that she had growing up. Although she did not study an ICT-related subject at university, when she started a software company with her husband, she realised that many of the developers who applied to work for her company were self-taught. Inspired by this, she decided to create a training centre where low-income women could participate in skills development activities to help them launch a career in the ICT sector within six months. Through her experiences, she came to believe that lifelong learning is the key to success for women who seek to work in technology, whether as an entrepreneur like herself or in a more technical area like the developers her centre trains.

Tinyiko Simbine, Co-Founder and Treasurer, South Africa

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Tinyiko Simbine, Co-Founder and Treasurer, South Africa

“If your dreams don’t scare you then they are not big enough.”

Tinyiko sees the tech industry in South Africa as currently skewed towards men:

“We don’t often see many women – in particular, black women – in senior positions within the tech industry. And without female roles models in these positions, young girls have no one to look up to and realise that they can also pursue careers related to tech.”

Along with Zandile Keebine, she attended a number of hackathons and found they were largely attended by men. They founded GirlCode ZA to provide a more inclusive platform but also as a space where women had a chance to flex their “tech muscles”. She believes that more young women should take advantage of opportunities in the tech sector and grasp the opportunities that are beginning to open up.

Mary Mwangi, CEO, Kenya

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Mary Mwangi, CEO, Kenya

As a child, Mary wanted to be a teacher, believing that the only career options available to women were teaching, nursing, and secretarial work. She was first attracted to a career in technology when she did a course where they were learning shorthand with a typewriter and she realised that a PC was more interesting and you could do more with it. Mary’s first exposure to technology in the workplace was helping a tech team move their accounting from one legacy system to a new one – with her business accounting skills, she assisted them with the transfer of data. Mary says:

“The main hurdles that women come across when they are starting a career in technology is a lack of mentors. A lack of people to look up to and say ‘I want to do what that person is doing’. In Africa, a woman needs to balance her career wiht being a nurturing mother, as is expected in Africa.”

Mary feels strongly that women need mentors and tells young girls that with the support of one and if they work hard, “it’s no different, you can be just as successful as anyone else out there”. Mary’s message to the G20 is that they should provide mentoring programmes for young girls as well as the equipment they need to build their skills.

Tania Mukwamu, Co-Founder, Dr Congo

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Tania Mukwamu, Co-Founder, Dr Congo

When she was young, Tania did not have a set career goal. However, she always knew she wanted to work in business. Understanding the infrastructural challenges in Africa, she was attracted to technology use as a potential mechanism to overcome these. Her family was very career-driven, but it took Tania’s persistence for her parents to accept her chosen career path. Her first opportunity to work in technology came with Nokia, where she spent eight years before moving to Microsoft. She sees the main enablers for women in ICT as receiving equal treatment and being given opportunities to demonstrate that women can perform as well as their male colleagues in the sector. Tania advises young women today to “just go for it”.

“You cannot control people’s expectations of you, so the focus needs to be on excellence and delivery to push through the stereotypes and false perceptions.”

From a policy perspective, Tania says that more support should be given to schools to implement initiatives aimed to promote girls. She says that to encourage more women to consider ICT careers, they need to be exposed to diverse people in tech and to the opportunities that exist in the industry at an early age. Tania says it is not just about the boys or pleasing parents or partners. She encourages young women to ignore what is popular or what is accepted to ensure they follow the thing that they are actually yearning to do.

Zandile Keebine, Chairwomen, South Africa

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Zandile Keebine, Chairwomen, South Africa

Encouraged by one of her professors and supported by a very entrepreneurial family, Zandile was inspired to follow her own path instead of everyone else’s. With qualifications in applied mathematics, she accepted an internship to become a developer and soon realised that technology is a field that appeals to her. After researching software engineering companies, Zandile soon acquired her first role at a start-up software development company. She believes that the main hurdles for women entering technology are the fact that jobs in this sector are dominated by men and, because of this, some colleagues frequently assume women are not as capable as their male counterparts.

“Your colleagues kind of expect you not to be as good as they are. So you are looked down upon and you’re left out of projects because the males tend to take over and run with it. So I think a lot of females get disheartened by that and decide not to stay in the industry.”

Zandile offers positive advice to young girls, saying that this male dominance should not be a deterrent: To be fearless and to dare to believe that you can create things and, importantly, know that you are as capable as the men in the industry. She suggests that by having initiatives and forums for women to come together and discuss the challenges as well as the opportunities, they will be better prepared to join the industry. Mentoring can help bring young women into the sector by showing them how to perform different jobs, telling them that the industry is exciting, and overall simply encouraging them. Zandile believes that women bring a new perspective to technology and can have different yet strategic viewpoints when developing solutions to problems they are presented. By leaving them out, half of the population is not represented.

Amina Abou Khalil, Chef de division, Guinea

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Amina Abou Khalil, Chef de division, Guinea

Amina had her first contact with technology when she was studying abroad. She got her first mobile phone when she was introduced to GSM technology by her father who worked in the telecommunications sector. But she knows that this is not the same story for all girls in her native Guinea. Girls often stop attending school because they need to help their mother at home, and they are also scared of the conditions that exist there. Amina says that most girls do not even dream about having a phone and that teachers need to be able to pay attention to nurturing girls towards ICT. Beyond that, once girls have access to digital skills, there need to be universities and schools in all areas of Guinea that are accessible for girls.

“A woman, her place is at home. We still have this culture that holds us back. We have to break this image.”

Amina wants to break through the stereotypes that exist for women. She says that women need equal pay and equal opportunities; and that governments could enforce policies that ensure equality and diversity through setting quotas in the workplace.

“In Guinea, like in other countries in Africa, women have an economic power which is not valued enough nor recognized. We need to give them the credit and encourage them by offering them the possibility of making their dreams come true.”

Amina sees the importance of mentors and role models and believes that by valuing the women who have already succeeded, it will encourage all other girls and women to move forward.

Rokhaya Solange, Responsabilité sociale d'enterprise, Senegal

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Rokhaya Solange, Responsabilité sociale d'enterprise, Senegal

Born in Senegal, Rokhaya says she never had the feeling that she was just a girl while growing up, only a child. Her father was a great influence on her interest in technology, as he loved gadgets and ICT. Rokhaya started using mobile phones and the Internet around 1997 and was self-taught, making new discoveries day after day. She recalls her first interaction with Google and her reaction being:

“Wow! The world is now a village.”

In her role in communications at Orange, she uses Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media every day. While her own journey – undertaking studies in marketing and communications – is quite common for Senegalese women, Rokhaya says that girls must be encouraged to take alternative pathways. She says that girls and women need to have mentors and be exposed to other women who are already in the ICT sector, so they have examples of what they can do and opportunities available to them. Rokhaya believes that women in Senegal are very entrepreneurial and if they can be empowered with ICT, it will help women promote their inclusion in income generating activities. She says that programmes targeting girls and women in ICT should run throughout the year, not just once-off or annually. This can be done through increasing the number of incubators in all regions of the country. She says that already women in Africa are becoming more powerful in politics and in the economy. Now the goal must be to make women more powerful in ICT.

Sajeda Sawalha, Technology undergraduate student, Palestinian Territories

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Sajeda Sawalha, Technology undergraduate student, Palestinian Territories

“I’m 19 and I work in a company. Do you know how weird that is? Jobs are really rare here. It is even harder for women to get jobs here.”

Sajeda Sawalha grew up in a small village in Palestine, surrounded by her parents, two brothers, and four sisters. Because of the unresolved conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, she says that she has been limited in life opportunities and especially in education. Despite this, she scored a notable 97 % on her high school exit exam, and others encouraged her to study medicine or engineering. However, she chose to study computers instead because her father enabled her to use computers when she was young and gave Sajeda her own laptop after receiving high academic marks in the 9th grade. She enjoyed trying to figure out how computers work and to get the machines to do what she needed. Sajeda eventually gained admission to a competitive dual-studies university programme in Information Technology, which combined theory and practice so that students could work and study at the same time. But she faces problems finding a place to live that is near her university and place of work. Sajeda now lives far away from her family, frequently moving between Ramallah and Hebron. Nevertheless, she thinks the diversity of the career paths one can take in the ICT sector is exciting. She suggests that governments provide more scholarships and employment opportunities for young women to help them become interested in technology. The private sector could also contribute to this goal by ending discriminatory hiring practices that favour men.

Ana Karen Ramirez, Founder, Mexico

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Ana Karen Ramirez, Founder, Mexico

Ana is a founder of Epic Queen, a nonprofit that inspires and educate girls and women as creators of technology.

Ruth Kaveke, ‎Director, Kenya

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Ruth Kaveke, ‎Director, Kenya

Ruth Kaveke is the executive director of Pwani Technogalz, a community based organization in Mombasa, Kenya, registered by the Ministry of Culture and Social Services in 2015.

Anantya van Bronckhorst, Co-Founder, Indonesia

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Anantya van Bronckhorst, Co-Founder, Indonesia

Anantya van Bronckhorst is the co-managing director of Girls in Tech Indonesia. Girls in Tech is a worldwide community enterprise that seeks to empower women in the technology sector.

Passant Sobhi, Research Associate, Egypt

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Passant Sobhi, Research Associate, Egypt

Passant was born in Egypt and spent much of her life growing up in Oman. After obtaining her degree in accounting, she wanted to work in the oil sector. Despite excellent grades, the field was not easy to break into and Passant pursued a different path. The first role she had in the ICT sector was with the Ministry of Education supporting the Egyptian government in reforming the TVET system through preparation of a TVET teacher national training policy. It was here that she realised the power of technology and, in particular, worked to promote the integration of e-learning. She mixed learning solutions, thus innovating to overcome budget limitations for expensive software.

 “I think governments should include ICT programmes in their formal education system. And I don’t just mean PC lessons. We need to have good conceptualised programmes using ICT.”

Passant says that change needs to come from two sides: at the policy and social levels. Governments should plan and create new programmes for women that are recognised in their current education system. As some women are mothers, she says that there needs to be support for women at home with children, for example via e-learning programmes. Beyond training for employment or entrepreneurship, Passant says that for many women, a connection to the Internet is their only way of communicating. She says that the private sector has a role to play and could invest in the development of curricula to ensure that graduates entering the labour market have the right qualifications for the jobs that exist. Her message to the G20 is to provide support to all developing countries on how to integrate ICT programmes and how to make them sustainable. To aspiring youths she says,

“Catch your dream and go ahead, and don’t listen to society.”