Fourth Industrial Revolution

The African initiative teaching Chinese women to code

Bright future: Digital skills are essential for women and girls Image: REUTERS/Thomas Peter

Lady Mariéme Jamme
Founder and Chief Executive Officer, iamtheCODE
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The evidence that China is Africa’s friend and largest trading partner is well documented and solidly argued by economists like Dambisa Moyo.

China has invested almost $1 trillion in thousands of different projects in nearly every country in Africa. Investment is flowing at all levels. One need only visit countries like Zambia, Ethiopia, South Africa, Mozambique, Rwanda, Zimbabwe or my own country Senegal to see the effect of Chinese engagement and commitment.

This investment narrative has also created controversy, rejection and discomfort among old colonial masters, some African intellectuals and Western media. But my continent has been left with few options for expediting its growth and reducing its poverty.

In this relationship of convenience between China and Africa, women and girls are already completely forgotten. We intend to tackle this by giving them the skills needed to deal with the digital world. In a world where the centre of gravity is moving from America to China, we must insist that women and girls are included.

Data from the National Bureau of Statistics suggests the number of female technical professionals in China is increasing. In 2013, China had more than 70 million science and technology professionals and 39% were female. At the mid to senior level, there are 9% more female tech professionals than in 2000.

According to the International Federation of Robotics, since 2013 China has become the biggest buyer of robots, easily surpassing Japan and the US. In Africa the middle class makes up 34% of the population and consumer spending is expected to reach $2.1 trillion by 2025.

We must prepare women and girls for the possibility that “made in China” will become “made in Africa”. Launching this month in China, iamtheCODE will equip both nations’ women and girls so that they can play a role in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Although African women are breaking more barriers in tech than Chinese women, by 2030, we need to give them the skills to work in the top industries related to the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This includes science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects, which Africa will desperately need and which will help the continent respond to Chinese demand for African talent while providing women and girls with tremendous opportunities.

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Acknowledging the importance of Africa and China’s relationship and in response to the unparalleled demand that will arise by 2030, iamtheCODE is an African-led global movement aimed at mobilizing the government, the private sector and investors to advance science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics entrepreneurship and design education (STEAMED). It’s the first time that an African organization has done this in China. We will partner with UNDP China to raise awareness of the importance of having more women and girls in STEM.

A World Economic Forum Young Global Leaders Initiative, iamtheCODE aims to teach one million women and girls worldwide to code by 2030.

Its launch in China will take the form of a hackathon and bring together geeks, do-gooders and innovators with different skill sets, ranging from coding, app building and data analysis, to designing solutions in line with the sustainable development goals (SDGs). The aim is for the event’s attendees to be 60% female. The best ideas will be developed and supported through local incubation programmes, mentoring, local funding and more collaborative work on solutions. The hackathon will also launch a Kickstarter campaign to build further investment in the initiative.

iamtheCODE is a form of direct action to implement the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and improve the economic and technological opportunities for women and girls. A lack of data on gender issues and the inclusion of women, however, is a huge challenge to initiatives that look to promote gender equality and improve women’s livelihoods.

As such, we hope that engaging and empowering women and girls to decode the SDGs through technology and innovation will also create a platform for data sharing and foster a better understanding of the role women and girls play in the data revolution. We need to know this, because, as they say in China, “women and girls hold up half of the sky”.

Innovative women and girls are urgently needed to be bold, creative and ambitious to turn the Sustainable Development Goals into actions by including their voices and allowing them to have a digital footprint.

Follow the event on twitter @i_amthecode #iamtheCODE

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Related topics:
Fourth Industrial RevolutionEquity, Diversity and InclusionEducation and SkillsGeographies in DepthSustainable Development
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