Visiting refugee “camps” is always a life changing experience. In September my work with NetHope took me to the Dadaab refugee camp in northeast Kenya. Over 200,000 refugees (mostly from Somalia) have lived in Dadaab camp since the early 1990’s. In the last year, the camp size has grown to almost 500,000 refugees as the flight of Somalis to neighboring Kenya has accelerated due to the life threatening food crisis in the Horn of Africa. It is hard to think of these as “camps” because they are the middle of the desert, with no electricity and very limited clean water supply. There is almost nothing there that we would associate with a “camp.”
In the United States, the percentage of women in IT roles is less than 17%, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Apply that to the developing world, and the numbers become staggering – in the wrong direction.
Several factors contribute to this imbalance. Access to practical technical training is limited for young women and girls; when a family can only spend so much on education, culture may push parents to support sons first. Cultural dynamics that influence family decisions may also be present in the workplace, favoring men over women for technical jobs. If local IT departments have never hired a woman before, they may be reticent to do so now. So with a lack of in-country female IT professionals, there are limited recruits and few role models to inspire young women to pursue a career in technology. The small percentage of women who’ve managed to enter the field find themselves isolated, struggling to balance work with life and seeking a sense of community among like-minded professionals.
At NetHope, we cannot change cultural norms hindering women from entering and succeeding in IT in the developing world. Nor would we want to. But we can change the level of gender-based training, access to opportunity and professional support these women have – locally and globally.
As NetHope continues to grow, I commend the organization for the incredible impact it has made in humanitarian relief and development. Through its vision, strong leadership and unwavering commitment to developing strong partnerships, NetHope has inspired a whole new approach — to effect change through the impact of technology.
As part of our global commitment to corporate citizenship, Microsoft has been a long-time contributor to NGOs throughout the world. We strive to improve humanitarian and international development efforts through technology, the volunteer efforts of our employees and financial donations.
As recent events in the Middle East have foretold – large scale democratic and social change can harness technology as a tool to give youth a voice and active role in their communities. This phenomenon of wide scale change championed by youth will not just be a marker of the Arab Spring but one that will continue to have a wide effect on the future trajectory of the emerging and developing economies.
The NetHope Academy was created to give computer science students technical and on-the-job training in preparation for an ICT career. Last September, NetHope ushered in its first class of Haitian interns—a class of 39 that would be taught in the newly reconstructed La Ecole Supérieure d’Infotronique d’Haìti. NetHope’s primary goal is to equip interns in six months with the skills and experience necessary to secure full-time employment.