Say the words “high-tech startup” and chances are you picture a world that’s mostly white, male and set in Silicon Valley. Now, a group in Nairobi, Kenya, is working to get more female entrepreneurs into the male-dominated world of tech.
When a collective of female computer programmers in Kenya needed a name for their ladies-only club, they took their inspiration from the Japanese cult film Akira.
“So akira is a Japanese word. It means energy and intelligence. And we are energetic and intelligent chicks,” says Judith Owigar, the president of Akirachix.
A group like Akirachix would have been unthinkable even five years ago. But Kenya is making a big push toward IT — part of a plan to create a middle-class country by the year 2030.
But the techies you meet here aren’t trying to come up with the next Facebook or another app to share your photos. They’re solving local problems.
There’s one app that brings math and reading help by cellphone to village schools.
There’s an app that lets Kenyans who don’t have computers do their online shopping by cellphone.
There’s a micro-insurance product that measures the rainfall at cellphone towers and automatically distributes money to farmers in drought.
These are all applications started by women. Akirachix’s Owigar says they’re sending a message to the next wave of girl geeks. “We need them to see that we are doing it and we enjoy it. You know, you don’t find many African women looking for the spotlight. Most of them tend to hide their awesomeness,” Owigar says.
The best time to carve a spot for women in geek culture, she says, is when there isn’t much geek culture yet.