The New Times (Kigali)

8 March 2014

Rwanda: Science Is a Girl's Thing Too

Silvia Umutesi is one of the owners of Mahwii Ltd, an ICT company that has developed several applications in the country and in the region. The ICT wizard has also received many awards in her area of expertise.

Umutesi did Maths and Physics as majors though she loved science in general. She graduated from high school in 2007 and joined College of Science and Technology, University of Rwanda, formerly known as Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST).

"I always loved sciences and had the entrepreneurship drive with friends of mine who were in my group. Luckily we were privileged to have training from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). They asked us to make groups of five so we added two more to our group and became five," she recalls.

During the training, she gained skills in entrepreneurship which she used to compete and win. She also won the People's Choice Award hub in 2011and represented Rwanda in Geneva.

"After seeing how much we could do, we decided to set up a company and take this career to the next level and make it serious. All of us had jobs and had saved money for up keep but we made the hard decision to drop our jobs and focus on working for the company since we were still in our third year in university and couldn't balance all three things - work, school and building the company, " Umutesi says.

It was this decision that got Umutesi to where she is today. After school she decided to continue with the company and be a job creator.

"So far, our company has worked on a number of projects like the appointment booking system for the Rwanda Military Hospital called Mahwii and the Agro FIBA platform which avails farmers with rich farming information working in the Ministry of Agriculture among many others," she says.

Much as many ICT companies are still on take-off, Umutesi and her colleagues have been able to rent a spacious office in Kimironko and she is living well from the income from her company.

"All my needs are catered for. We are still in the investment stage but are very optimistic about the future and that is what should matter to an entrepreneur. It is hard to be patient but it's worth the wait," she says.

Umutesi adds that there is no other shortcut to success. You need to work hard and be determined, she says.

"Women shouldn't think of themselves as less privileged than men or fear to take on entrepreneurship because it's fear that causes people to fail. Remember the start of the journey is usually the worst but it gets better. There are hard decisions to make but it's important to take them," she says.

Silvia is also involved in helping farmers, especially women, grow their business with rich information by using her application Mahwii and she trains others on how to use tablets to enhance their farming skills.

With a growing number of women in ICT, Girls in ICT Rwanda was born out of the International Telecommunication Union's Girls in ICT Day which was celebrated for the first time in Rwanda in 2011.

The group's goal is to improve the current statistics regarding the numbers of women in the ICT sector as well as to change the stereotype held by many young girls that ICT is a man's field. Girls in ICT Rwanda consists of women of all ages working in the ICT field, including entrepreneurs, professionals and university students.

The group has visited a number of schools in Rwanda including Lycee de Kigali and Gashora Girls School. During these visits, the group's members speak to teenage girls to encourage them to consider ICT as a career option as well as help them understand and appreciate the importance of developing ICT skills in any career.

The activities also include essay competitions for school girls with a focus on ICT as well as an ICT holiday camp for young girls.

Cathy Bishop, a lecturer of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University Rwands, says that girls are actually very good at ICT and this is portrayed when they get practical.

"Misconceptions about ICT being more about Math and Physics are a limitation and not true. Girls in ICT is trying to help girls to think about it differently and believe that they can take courses in ICT," Bishop reveals.

On March 8, (International Women's Day), Girls in ICT Rwanda is also organising a Ms Geek Rwanda competition meant to encourage women to showcase their knowledge and skills in ICT. It will also be an opportunity for them to network with others in their field.

The competition will be open to female students at institutions of higher education around the country with plans to expand the competition to other groups, such as ICT professionals and entrepreneurs in future years.

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