Rwanda: Faces of Female African Techpreneurs

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Advancement in technology is taking a new dimension in Africa. A lot of female techpreneurs are springing up from different countries on the continent. It is no longer the usual male dominant profession as it had been in the time of old.

Rwanda is one such African country that has grown in population in terms of female involvement in technology. Technology now cuts across and influences multiple sectors like education, finance, agriculture energy, and healthcare. The tech industry is currently the fastest growing industry in the African continent. It is focused on innovation, advancement, and growth.

According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics data, less than 30% of the world’s researchers are women.

Women are most times discouraged from getting into tech careers as it is out of the norm. But it is not so for this east African country because Rwanda is one African country that is speedily meeting the gender gap. That is why most women in Rwanda find it easier to venture into male-dominated professions, like the tech world. The Rwandan government has been a strong champion of women in ICT and the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), by driving initiatives like the establishment of the Carnegie Mellon University-Africa campus.

As the tech industry in Rwanda is progressing, it needs more human resources because vacancies are increasing daily. To fill these vacancies, women are taking up more initiatives that have transformed lives and society at large. This write-up takes a look at some female techpreneurs in Rwanda that have made some visible impact.

Akala Keza Gara

Have you heard of the 38-year-old Rwandan lady called Akaliza Keza Gara?

Akala Keza Gara is a Rwandan IT activist and entrepreneur. She is active in promoting the tech field to girls and has been recognised for her activism by awards from the Rwandan government and the International Telecommunication Union.

Gara has founded a technology consultancy and website design company and an animation studio. She has been described as “one of the few young Rwandan women who have made significant strides in changing the face of technology in the country” and is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers Community.

She is only 38 but before she became 27, she had already achieved much for women in Rwanda’s technology sector in a short space of time.

Gara is the founder and Managing Director of Shaking Sun. Shaking Sun is a multimedia business that specialised in website development, graphic design and computer animation.

She has a list of accolades to her name, including being one of four Rwandan women entrepreneurs recognised in 2012 for their exceptional efforts in Information Communication Technology (ICT) by the International Telecommunication Union, and being appointed as a member of the 4Afrika advisory council for Microsoft in 2014.

Gara considers her main achievement as being part of a team of animators who worked on African Tales, the first ever cartoon series produced in Rwanda.

As a university graduate in multimedia technology, Gara is convinced that since women are consumers of ICT, it is important that they are also a part of the developers of technology so they can ensure that there are more diverse products available that appeal to both genders.

Gara is among a group of young women entrepreneurs in Rwanda who is promoting an initiative called “Girls In ICT Rwanda”, which was launched in 2013 to encourage more girls and women to embrace the field.

The project provides grants to young women to implement and market their ICT projects. Money is allocated based on the innovation aspect of each project.
Meanwhile, Gara has created an animation studio that creates cartoons and films that targets African children.

Jeanne Yamfashije

Another female techpreneur in Rwanda is Jeanne Yamfashije, who is specialised in leading Girls Into ICT and Technology.

From wanting to be a Doctor and making her parents proud, Jeanne Yamfashije became an Information Technology specialist.

The 21-year-old IT specialist did not become a doctor but she has certainly fulfilled her other wishes.

Yamfashije has been working on a project that promotes science, technology, engineering and mathematis (STEM) among girls in Rwanda for the past 9 years.

The group, called Girls in ICT Rwanda, offers mentorships, boot camps and, a competition to encourage innovation among students. The organization reaches 500 girls each year.
Yamfashije said she was serving her people by making sure that women reach where they want to be, especially in the area of IT.

Yamfashije is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University in Rwanda, a local branch of the technology-focused American institution. Since her graduation, she had focused on helping girls achieve their dreams in the tech world.

The university, which is being co-funded by the African Development Bank and the Rwandan government, aims to create Africa’s next generation of technology leaders and encourages them to apply their highly sought-after skills where they are most needed: at home.

Sylvia Makarios

Sylvia Makarios found her way to Carnegie Mellon after hearing about the school while she was completing the prestigious Mandela Washington Fellowship in the United States.
She is a geospatial engineer and space technologist, and has worked for and with various other organizations.

Her key focus and contribution have been the use of space technology for socio-economic development.

She co-founded a start-up company in 2013. The company is a technology company that is focused on utilizing geospatial technologies for social good.

Sylvia is also a co-founder of Hepta Analytics, a Machine Learning company working with organizations in Africa, to make quality decisions faster.

Sylvia and the Hepta Analytics team have worked with the Samburu Girls Foundation to prevent female genital mutilation throughout Kenya using technology to connect individuals with social workers through mobile while mapping calls.

Along with providing gender-based solutions through mapping and data, Sylvia promotes women’s inclusion within the machine learning and geospatial fields. An Industry Innovation Lab Fellow at Carnegie Mellon University-Africa, she mentors at Google’s Launchpad Africa Accelerator, a global shaper with the World Economic Forum’s Kigali, Rwanda Hub.

Sylvia is the local lead for NASA’s International Space Apps Challenge in Kigali and is a Mandela Washington Fellow for Young African Leaders alumna.

She occasionally writes for blogs and news websites on space technology, advocating for investments in Africa as a possible and viable driver for change in all sectors.

Sylvia is a former Mastercard Foundation Alumni committee member where she volunteered her time in strengthening the alumni network, employing monitoring and evaluation expertise to determine efficient processes that work in retaining and sustaining an alumni network.

As a WEF Global Shaper Member at the Kigali Hub, she offers her time and expertise in developing societies in Rwanda and beyond.

Clarisse Iribagiza

Clarisse Iribagiza is a computer scientist in Rwanda. She is the CEO and co-founder of the mobile technology company HeHe Limited which she founded 10 years ago. She is one of UNCTAD’s seven “eTrade for Women Advocates from the developing world”.

Her vision is to enable Africans to live a life of abundance by optimizing supply chains to match demand and supply.

It is now the largest e-commerce business in Rwanda, digitizing over 200 businesses, and serving 2 million consumers.

Since 2016, Clarisse has also served as a member of the African Development Bank’s Presidential Youth Advisory Group which provides an important platform for the Bank to hear directly from young change makers on ways to harness the skills, talents, and ideas of Africa’s youth.

She advises on issues relating to the Future of Work, in line with the Bank’s vision to build inclusive and transformative African economies where young people across different countries, socio-economic strata, rural-urban divides, gender, and age groups have access to productive, sustainable opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship.

In 2019, Clarisse was appointed to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) as an eTrade for Women Advocate, an initiative aimed at harnessing the positive impact of digital technology, combined with the transformative power of female entrepreneurship to help accelerate wealth creation and poverty reduction in developing countries.

Clarisse was also recently appointed to the Africa Climate Foundation’s Advisory Council alongside four of Africa’s leading thinkers in the field of energy, development economics, industrial policy and trade, agriculture, gender, social inclusion, and the role of technology.
For her work, Clarisse has won several accolades including Forbes 30 under 30 for 2015 and 2016.

In 2013, the First Lady of Rwanda recognized her as one of the Imbuto Foundation’s “Celebrating Young Rwandan Achievers”.

n 2017, she was named one of OkayAfrica’s 100 Women. She was previously the winner of the East African entrepreneur reality TV show Inspire Africa Season1.

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