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There’s need for policies to help women, girls excel in technology –Amanda Obidike

Amanda Obidike is a definition of beauty with brains. As the founder of STEMi Makers of Africa and the General Manager of the Sir Emeka Okwuosa Foundation, she has come a long way. Through her works, which revolves around technology, specifically, training and mentoring young girls on technology with the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) project, she has been able to pull many out of poverty in underserved communities and other community-based humanitarian services. She recently won the Outstanding Woman in Technovation Award from the United Nations Association of Nigeria (UNAN). In this interview with IFEOMA ONONYE, she speaks about her journey, her childhood, digital equality and equity, young women and girls empowerment, among others

You were recently awarded the Outstanding Woman in Technovation Award by the United Nations Association of Nigeria (UNAN) in commemoration with the 2023 International Womens’ Day (IWD). How were you nominated for the award?

The Outstanding Woman in Technovation Award by the United Nations Association of Nigeria came as a surprise on the first week of March, 2023. I got the congratulatory message from the award team, announcing my nomination and selection as a finalist in the category. It was a very outstanding and exciting news for me. Afterwards, I got another email of a voting process because it was very competitive and they wanted the winner to emerge based on the highest votes gathered. Friends and family were very interested and began to spread the word. I feel thankful about the award. I do not take it for granted. We have done a lot of amazing work that is clear for all to see. The award committee did some due diligence in terms of selecting the most outstanding winner. I am also inspired to begin documenting my journey and wins because you never know who would be listening or taking keen interest in the work you do for support, collaboration and building a mutual work relationship.

How do you feel the award would impact your work?

The award resonates and boosts the enthusiasm to keep improving and taking my work to deeper territories for more social impact around STEM education in Africa. Often times, these opportunities and recognition propel us to do more. When you do more, you grow more. We are very intentional in our programmes for educators in the classroom, women and girls in STEM training, as we scale projects and programmes to improve job preparedness, confidence and creativity in the work environment. These programmes have been mapped out and we are speaking with state governments and organisations around the North Central, South-Eastern, and South-South region of Nigeria.

The other awardees of the UNAN awards were: Rachel Adeshina, Chief Information Officer, First Bank; Izekeo Adegoke, Head of Digital Ventures, Union Bank; Dr Aderonke Adelekan, founder of Tech Savvy Nigeria. How does it feel sharing the award with these notable women?

I am honoured to have received this award alongside women in leadership across financial institutions like Union Bank, First Bank, and other esteemed organisations. I believe the award will inspire the younger generation of women and girls that impossibility is nothing and one day, they can emerge winners in these kinds of recognitions. I would never have thought to be on this table, and having this award alongside these women speaks about grace. Grace found me and I hope it really inspires other young women to persevere. I see collaboration and synergy amongst ourselves as winners. I am looking forward to working closely with the Head of Digital Ventures of Union Bank or the Chief Information Officer of First Bank in executing community projects that are aligned to empowering women and girls to excel in technology. I see a lot of promises and bright pathways with them.

As a technology person, what is your opinion about this year’s International Women’s Day theme ‘DigitALL’ Innovation and technology for gender equality?

I want young women and girls to know that they can excel and succeed in STEM. I want them to start looking at how to set very realistic goals and probably a vision board. Let us hold ourselves accountable and it should be an exercise that young women and girls can imbibe. Intellect is not enough. We must be artists to carve and tell our stories or it will be erased. It is time where we begin to position ourselves through acts of volunteering, responsibility, professionalism, policy making, and so on. Women should constantly ask themselves these ques- tions: What are the new skills you want to be proficient in two months, in five months, in a year? How much time are you willing to give for social good? How and where can I draw inspiration from? Who can I identify as a mentor or coach? If you do not explore ways to stand out or continuously develop yourself in a competitive society, the world will leave you behind. Be intentionally active in creating a winning niche and succeeding in STEM careers.

Do you think the government and corporate sector are doing enough to ensure equity for women in the tech and Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) sector?

The government and corporate sector are making solid impacts in addressing the gender imbalance, especially in the workplace, given the infrastructure and policies that address the nations gender digital divide. It is important to transform mindsets as we discuss these issues and the economic implications of gender equality with key actors, allies and institutions. Like they say, when you empower a woman, you empower a community. As we transform as a society, women and girls should not be left behind. I think it is also necessary to design gender-responsive policies that can serve as programme framework, integrating inclusion scorecards and parameters to determine how we can retain and increase women in senior management levels and leadership positions. This can be effective through private-public partnerships or private-NGO collaborations. It is also about bringing available resources within our scope to achieve this. Countries like the USA, Singapore, UK and so on carry out 3-5 year review on equity roadmaps to understanding where they are going and what to do better. There should be an enabling environment where these kinds of conversations should happen across the institutional levels and integrate equity practices if we want a healthy society where people can be free to thrive, irrespective of their gender, class or background.

Is STEMi doing anything as regards International Women’s Day and where do you see yourself in the next five years?

I have keen interest in artificial intelligence and public policy for equity. Public policy is a very integral part in what we do because the lack of it steers societies into the brink. Our programmes provide recommendations for sustainability, especially, if it is a public NGO collaboration. We want to ensure that key actors like the government can take these findings and set economic targets around Tech/STEM programmes. I look forward to steering policy dialogues to create a more inclusive environment for educators in classrooms, strengthening digital imprints of young women and girls in technology.

Are you married or single? What kind of man attracts your attention?

No, I am not married yet. I value godlyoriented and visionaries. This covers for both men and women.

Studying technology related courses means studying with mostly men. Were you bullied in class by boys back then?

No, I did not study a technology related course. It was a discovery I developed myself post-graduation. In terms of support and reaction from my male counterparts, I can say that men around me have been good allies. They have shown support, encouragement and availing resources to see me grow. Some even serve as mentors and technical advisors in the work we do.

Tell us some funny things about you growing up. Were you a bookworm and what were your hobbies?

On the contrary, I loved playing. I was pretty distracted growing up. As I began aligning my priorities, I began to identify and streamline values. I now love to read and teach.

What your view about how women fared in this year’s election?

I have so much desire to see women in leadership. Leadership in the community. Leadership at the workplace. Leadership even in politics. We have quite a lot to do and achieve as a nation as regards to political inclusion. Women in Nigeria find it difficult to break into political positions because they are generally disadvantaged by gender ideology, cultural patterns, and predetermined social roles assigned to women like childcare, i n a d e q u a t e h e a l t h c a r e , poverty, etc. I look forward to women having an enabling environment to not only participate during elections, but to champion leadership role at the local, state and national level.

Women and girls are usually scared of technology and mathematics. How do you make them love the subjects and then the career?

We need to showcase women role models in mathematics and technology for the younger generation to be inspired and emulate. It’s a way of “See it, Believe it” approach where they believe that if a woman excelled in this field, then I can achieve and excel also in that field. Like I earlier shared, we also need to design more gender-responsive policies that can encourage women and girls in the classroom and right from the foundation. We need an enabling environment and infrastructure that promotes inclusion and STEM education literacy.

How do you manage the stress from your studies, tech business, and humanitarian engagements?

Nigeria is stressful! I mean, there is always one week, one issue in Nigeria. It is also a very delicate time due to elections. I am not typically a social person. I do not go out but stay indoors reading, sleeping or watching a movie. Recently, I have been journaling. Journalling helps me prioritise and allocate reasonable time amongst my engagements (work, studies, initiative). It is soothing because I am young and no family commitments at the moment. So, it is best to utilize my youth with self-development and education exercise.

What is your advice for women and young girls aspiring to be like you?

To young women and girls, I say be free to dream and to excel. Connect with women who inspire you and who you can be accessible to you. Be fearless. We live in a very complex society where you need to put in so much effort to be seen or to be heard. Set goals and priorities. Envision yourself in two years. Where do you see yourself in five years? Be measurable. For every loss, win, learn from the process and reiterate to do better. Like I earlier shared, be an artist and carve your own story. It sounds heart-warming always when girls say I am their role model but you have to be your own role model. You just could also shape the younger generation of girls somewhere too.

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