Oreoluwa Somolu Lesi is the Executive Director of W.TEC -Women’s Technology Empowerment Centre, a non-profit organization in Nigeria set up to encourage girls to use technology to empower themselves socially and economically.
Oreoluwa holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from Essex University, U.K., and a Master’s degree in Analysis, Design and Management of Information Systems from the London School of Economics & Political Science. Oreoluwa shares the vision, challenges, desires of W.TEC and more with Bimbola Segun-Amao .
What were you doing before the birth of W.TEC?
I worked as a training coordinator at Lonadek Oil & Gas Consultancy, where I was responsible for managing training programmes for oil and gas engineers.
I also managed what started out as Lonadek’s CSR initiative – Vision 2020. This initiative was aimed at exposing senior secondary school and higher institution students to career opportunities in the oil and gas sector. The initiative eventually evolved into a registered non-governmental organisation: Youth Empowerment & Restoration Initiative.
Prior to that, I worked in the United States in a nonprofit organisation called Education Development Centre (EDC), where I worked on research projects focused on exploring the gender gap in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) studies and careers.
How did you get started with W.TEC, what did it take for you to get to where you are today as an NGO?
Virtually all of my career has centered in applications of technology, exploring the reasons for the gender gap in science and technology, designing and implementing interventions to address these gaps. In addition to this, I taught at community technology centers and in the computer centers of women’s shelters while I was living in the United States.
A year after I moved back to Nigeria in 2005, I set-up a mentoring programme for teenage girls, where I taught them to create and manage blogs. I saw the girls’ confidence with using computers grow during this programme and I thought about how to extend the impact.
A few months after the programme had ended, I came across a call for proposals for projects using technology to create and strengthen networks. I decided to apply for it and sometimes later, I received an email that I had been shortlisted for the grant and as a shortlisted applicant, I was invited to a workshop in Uganda. There I met people working in nonprofit organisations all doing incredible work. It was there that I really started to think that I could actually start and run an organisation focused on helping girls and women build their technology skills.
A few months after I returned to Nigeria, I got the good news that I was selected to receive a grant. It was a small grant, but nonetheless, it bolstered my confidence and not too long after that, I started the process of registering a nonprofit organisation. W.TEC started operations in January 2008.
Women’s Technology Empowerment Centre – W.TEC is an organization that seeks to build the capacities of Nigerian girls and women, to increase their economic power and ability to speak about issues affecting their lives, through information and communication technology (ICT) – based training, mentoring, career counseling and research. W.TEC trains women and girls to use ICT for learning, professional development and civic engagement. Through the use of social media, W.TEC supports women in their use of technology to uplift women’s rights and establish a network of technology-fluent women.
Running an NGO is not an easy task. It requires a lot of hard work, faith and determination. You need to have faith in your cause and seek out collaborators who can help push the vision forward.
In all, we have reached out to over 12,000 women and girls through our programmes since inception.
How easy or challenging has it been achieving W.TEC stated Goals of Providing technology education for Nigerian women and girls?
It has been hard work. We started with an ambitious plan for providing technology, but we quickly realised that our programmes had to meet the needs of the beneficiaries and not the other way around. So, we started many of our programmes with introduction to computers and information technology modules. Then, we moved on to the use of Microsoft applications and the use of the Internet and E-mail.
Running technology-focused programmes is not inexpensive as you need to have access to the hardware and software for training. This meant identifying equipped labs where we could hold our trainings, as we could not afford our own training facilities at the start.
However, all these challenges have led us to identify partners with whom we share similar visions and with whom we can implement programmes together.
I have noticed more girl-related programmes than women, are the adults not responding to this call for technology empowerment?
For W.TEC, the very first programme we organised was for women, however closing the gender digital divide is a major focus of our work. And we quickly realised that one of the most effective ways to do this is to nurture the future generations of women studying and working in technology. And to do that, we need to start working with girls today.
So we have our annual Girls Technology Camp and W.TEC Academy. The Girls Technology Camp is a 2-week residential camp introduces Nigerian female secondary school students (13 – 17 years) to ICTs; as well as highlight the relevance of ICTs to academic and professional pursuits, and give them fundamental knowledge of technology-related careers.
The W.TEC Academy comprises of year-long weekly clubs targeted at girls aged 11 – 17 years (secondary school students to build-up their ICT skills in a fun and engaging way. However, we have programmes targeted at women, which include: Entrepreneurship & Technology Programmes: These are workshops designed to equip current & aspiring female entrepreneurs with relevant business & technology skills to build and manage a profitable and sustainable business.
How do you source for facilitators at W.TEC?
The W.TEC staff facilitate a good deal of the workshops. In addition, we look for people interested in building-up the next generation of women techies and technology entrepreneurs. These can be technology professionals, teachers, gender specialists, or entrepreneurs. Many people reach out to us to let us know that they are interested in facilitating. There are some others who we approach. Interested people can apply on our website.
What should a girl aspiring to attend any of W.TEC’s workshops and camps expect to learn? Tell me about your upcoming events.
At the upcoming camp, girls can expect to learn:
- Basic Computer Appreciation – Ms Office Suite and Internet
- Animation Programming using SCRATCH with Raspberry Pi
- Designing Mobile Applications MIT AppInventor2
- Graphics Designing using CorelDraw
- 3D Designing using Sketch-Up
- Digital Video Production
- Robotics Programming at a Technology Company
The full list of upcoming programmes for the rest of 2015 is available at http://www.w-teconline.org/2015/07/w-tec-upcoming-events/
Tell me about the Alumni Network of W.TEC
Past trainees and participants of W.TEC training programmes graduate into the W.TEC Alumna Programme. Alumna activities include annual gatherings and membership to the alumni network and mailing lists, where career and other development information are disseminated.
Alumnae who participate in our programmes are invited for future programmes so that they can continuously build their technology skills. Outstanding alumnae are also selected to facilitate or assist at future programmes. For instance, girls who have attended and excelled at the Girls Technology Camp are invited to work as assistant instructors at future camps.
What would be the most important piece of advice you could give to a young woman starting out in this digital age?
To be open-minded about learning all she can. She should be aware of the incredible potential in the technology industry, if she decides to pursue a technology career. And even if she does not, she should be aware that technology is a great tool in whatever career she does pursue.
I would say to be fearless in your pursuit of learning and opportunities.
According to a report, nearly 43% percent fewer women than men are online in Africa, how can this gap be bridged?
Women’s lack of participation in information technology starts from their school years when they choose not to study science and technology courses. Research shows that to get more women in technology, it is important to demonstrate how interesting and varied technology careers are.
Ways to increase the numbers of women working and using technology include organising fun and engaging technology training, providing information about technology careers and practical applications of technology, presenting female technical role models and providing access to mentorship.
In conclusion, what is your utmost desire for W.TEC?
I look forward to W.TEC growing in our reach and impact. The first set of girls we trained at our camp in 2008 are now in university and some have graduated and we are seeing them pursue technology degrees and careers.