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New UNESCO YouthMobile “Searching for Martha” Project launched in Kigali to empower young, African, women mobile apps entrepreneurs

Within the framework of the 2015 Transform Africa Summit, UNESCO organized a workshop dedicated to the development of the YouthMobile Initiative project “Searching for Martha”, on 21-22 October 2015.

The “Searching for Martha” Project aims to empower young African women entrepreneurs to successfully offer high-quality training to young African girl to confidently develop, sell and widely promote mobile apps especially targeting the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and to create employment opportunities.

Specifically, the project aims to: 

  1. Identify 1,000 accomplished, young African women entrepreneurs in mobile apps training for young people
  2. Provide them with high-level entrepreneurial training and access to capital
  3. Charge them to train at least 1,000 young women on advanced mobile apps development

The slogan is: 1 million m-powered young African women by 2017.

Working with the Her2Voice NGO (Rwanda), Rwanda Development Board, Rwanda ICT Chamber, Africa Development Bank (ADB), and ITU, UNESCO brought a group of 20 accomplished, young African women entrepreneurs and partners to share ideas and brainstorm the design for a pan-Africa project to be implemented in 2016-2017. 

“UNESCO strongly believes that the Searching for Martha Project can contribute to solving the significant gender imbalance in ICT which is why the UNESCO YouthMobile Initiative pays particular attention to women” said Ms. Lydia Gachungi, Communication and information specialist in UNESCO Juba office and co-facilitator of the 2 day workshop.

The idea for the Searching for Martha Project was mooted during informal discussions between UNESCO and the Africa Development Bank (AfDB) at the 2015 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. “Searching For Martha is an idea born on a piece of paper in Barcelona and will change the face of Africa” said Dr. Shikoh Gitau, Head of ICT, African Development Bank  and the creator of Ummeli – a Mobile Phone Application that helps people match their skills with available opportunities.

She challenged the participants to empower women with technology that gives them a sense of purpose.

The Rwanda ICT Chamber hosted the Exploratory Workshop within the framework of the 2015 Transform Africa Summit. Opening the Workshop, Mr. Alex Ntale, Executive Director of the Rwanda ICT Chamber said “The ICT Chamber believes that the Searching for Martha initiative in an opportunity to contribute to Rwanda Private Sector Development Policy that aims at creating 100 ICT companies in Rwanda”.

The Workshop was co-facilitated by the Her2Voice NGO (Rwanda) and attended by 20 experienced women mobile entrepreneurs and programming experts from: Benin, Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, South Sudan, and Zimbabwe.

Several of the expert women delegates were Ambassadors for the Technovation Challenge, a global initiative for training young girls in mobile apps development in partnership with UNESCO.

The intensive two day workshop which included a live video from ‘Martha’ culminated with a well laid out roadmap.

Participants agreed on having two layers of project management with a Project Steering Committee coordinated by UNESCO and AfDB in close partnership with the ITU and other interested development partners, and National Steering Committees bringing together all stakeholders at national levels.

It was also unanimously agreed that all 54 African countries should be on board and expected to identify at least 20 Marthas each in a pilot phase which will launch by early 2016.

Mr Getachew Engida, Deputy Director General of UNESCO complimented the energy and Next Steps Plan “The UNESCO Communication and Information Sector is working to empower girls to become equal and productive citizens. This initiative is one amongst many that shows the real impact of our work to daily lives of young girls and women.”

In fact, the workshop is a result of a large collaborative effort between the UNESCO’s Field Offices in South Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia and the Kigali Antenna Office.

“It was refreshing to see capable African women in ICT who were so eager to help others and make a difference on the Continent”, said Ms Ida Jallows, ITU Programme Officer. “This UNESCO Initiative Searching for Martha will not only go a long way to impact lives but will also contribute to bridging the gender digital divide we were informed about in Africa during the Digital Inclusion and Women Empowerment session of the Transform Africa Summit: a session ably led by the First lady of  Rwanda.  As ITU we are proud to be partners of this laudable venture”.

About UNESCO YouthMobile

The YouthMobile Initiative aims to directly engage young people, with particular attention to young women, to acquire the high-level skills and confidence to develop, promote, and sell locally relevant mobile apps that solve local issues of sustainable development and open viable employment opportunities in the mobile/ICT industry.

About Martha

Ms Martha Chumo is a very gifted, young woman self-taught programmer from Kenya. She founded the first Kenyan hacker school at 19 years old which has now trained over a thousand young people in programming particularly mobile apps development, organized tech meet ups in Nairobi, a gamification hackathon in Addis Ababa, and workshops in Juba, South Sudan. Currently 21 years old, Martha has been a speaker at several global conferences and is passionate about the role of technology in creating opportunities for young Africans.

About Transform Africa Summit

Transform Africa Summit (TAS) is a platform that brings the continent’s top political and business leaders together to shape Africa’s digital transformation agenda. The summit fosters dialogue on critical issues affecting growth of the industry and catalyze business to government networking and deal making.