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Guiding women towards tech is not giving preference, I call it fair competition

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Khadijat Abdulkadir, founder Digital African Woman

Khadijat Abdulkadir is the founder of Digital African Woman (DAW), a social enterprise that develops and supports female-led tech start-ups across Africa and the diaspora.

A social entrepreneur and passionate about technology and access for developing markets, especially for women in Africa, Khadijat holds a double Masters in Business Engineering and Management Science from the USA and University of Brussels.

A certified SAP Software Analyst, she has worked with major corporations such as Aramark, Accenture, and Microsoft, holding several positions including Environmental Sustainability Program Analyst, IT Program Manager, Software Business Analyst and Integration Test Engineer.

A strong advocate of diversity and inclusion in business and government, she says growing up in both Nigeria and the United States helps her better understand the differences between African countries and the rest of the world and was a motivating factor for starting DAW.

Khadijat has trained over 600 budding entrepreneurs across Africa and Europe, equipping them with technical and business development skills to build and scale sustainable businesses.

She is most passionate about empowering young women with the technology skills and tools necessary to be fully active innovators and entrepreneurs in the 21st century.

In this interview, she talks about women’s under-representation in tech, factors that affect female owned startups, taking a seat at the table, and the DAW Awards and Ball taking place today in Kaduna.

Tell is in detail what the Digital African Woman does?

The Digital African Woman (DAW) is a social enterprise based in Brussels, Belgium.

Our representative three pillars are to Engage, Support and Empower. 

Our mission is focused on developing and supporting women across Africa and the Diaspora into more technology driven businesses.

We provide training for female-led enterprises through active digital skill development and education.

DAW provides our best Master trainers to help these entrepreneurs develop their product and identify investors.

We also provide the opportunities for women to move from pitching their ideas to actually pitching a product.

To realize part of our mission, DAW supports several programs yearly including our #DAW Entrepreneurship Program.

This program, which we have designed to run yearly in different countries, provides intensive six weeks training to specific women led enterprises to help develop their ideas with sound business models and technology.

These ideas, which we encourage at early stages, are provided with not just the best technical skills and resources but also the right investors willing to help move them forward.

The three pillars of DAW were actually chosen to support the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s); the third one especially.

SDG 8 which we represent by our ability to engage the ecosystems in good work through entrepreneurship, SDG 9 that we represent by our ability to support the ecosystem to build tech based solutions to solve our local problems and finally SDG 10, which we represent by our ability to empower the community at large.

At DAW, we strongly believe that it is the civic responsibility of each individual to make the SDG’s a personal or professional challenge, as these goals represent a future with much potential. 

The #SheisDAW 2018/2019 would be announced and awarded at the conference annual ball taking place today (28th of July).

This year, DAW has decided to launch the #SheIsDAW Community Award in order to recognize women who are making noteworthy positive contributions to their local communities.

Also, three winners will be selected from the 10 finalists to advance to the final round, which takes place in Brussels, Belgium at the DAW Global Conference later in the year.

Why did you choose to focus on women in particular?

In recent times, we have as a global community, collectively come to the realization that women have limited access to the resources required to become generally as competitive as men.

This has nothing to do with the capability of our women obviously, but the historical lack of support for a woman’s role in the industry.

DAW’S responsibility is to ensure that women have the opportunity to access the right tools, and skills to enable them equally compete.

We of course cannot provide women this competitive advantage without ensuring adequate support for their businesses and ideas.

How many women have benefited from this program and how many do more do you hope to reach?

So far we have trained up to 300 women since the inception of DAW fully in 2016.

Our realistic target is that we are able to help train and successfully set up 100 women led functioning and sustainable business yearly across Africa and diaspora.

Why do you think women are under-represented in tech and entrepreneurship?

I think women have been actually quite well represented in the entrepreneurship scene historically.

We have all grown up seeing most of our mothers and friends doing one small business or another.

According to some stats I looked into last year, 74 percent of the revenue in the retail industry in Nigeria is from women-owned businesses.

This is really great until you take a closer look into the dominant fields of technology driven business.

It’s no surprise then that the number of women playing big drastically reduces to less than two percent of female CEO’s in the tech business.

This also goes back to the reason women are historically practicing STEM less than men.

Women need more encouragement and support to go deeper into more intense use of technology driven models in their businesses, this is of course skill based and we all need to invest the time and resources required for them to achieve it.

Many times, men would want to challenge the idea that a woman should be guided to the technical fields, or even guided to the industry at all.

Some people call it giving preference, and yes, I agree it is. It is creating room for fair competition.

My usual response to them and to any one reading this who is curious regarding this now is, you have to remember that each time women were told their place is home with the children, or that it’s the man’s job to provide, or that certain technical or engineering requirements were a “Man’s job” you got a head start.

All we want is to catch up, so you may still run faster and harder and better if you can, but let’s be fair by allowing the girls to meet up too.

This does not even require those in the race to stop completely. It may just mean others on the bleachers cheering and not booing for the girls.

You work with start-ups. What are some of the key issues they face?

From one country to the next and even in different continents, I would say startups generally face different challenges depending on the ecosystem.

As you can imagine, our EU entrepreneurs have different problems than the ones in Africa.

But I have to say that the most amazing and consistent challenge I see for all of them whether EU or Africa based is that of staffing or hiring problem.

Startups have a hard time staffing with the right talents on their team, I mean, this is a general problem for even established giants, so you can imagine how worse it would be for startups.

The second one is the skills problem.

Generally you find a lot of passionate entrepreneurs who have good ideas but lack the right competencies in either identifying the right technology or the business strategy that is required to launch and sustain a successful business.

The skill problem goes for men as well, but exceptionally more for women who face the additional challenge of getting the right team in place to provide balance.

I know most people are waiting to hear me say access to investments and capital, but I don’t think that is actually a real problem they face.

A skilled entrepreneur hardly says that when you ask because they understand the value of cash flow.

And need for heavy capital is often technology dependent.

What are you doing to solve these problems for the startups you work with?

I train them, provide them with accesses to the right networks and support ecosystem to maximize opportunities presented to them.. 

To be honest, I think sometimes, more than training, startups need to be mentored as much as possible.

Few women go into solo entrepreneurship and even fewer have access to funds and grants. Why does this issue persist and what would you tell women regarding this?
Honestly, women are not very good at taking what is not offered to them. Of course we all know this is an area where the men excel.

DAW is a good example of what is not actually being offered to men. Yet, 30 percent of our class representation are men.

Men have been raised to chase anything that will bring them professional success and glory, they have also nurtured their ability to identify value, chase it and try to own it.

I would tell the women that we have to take back power. Why take back?

Well we used to be warriors in some far away land ages ago I think, but on a more serious note, accessing funds is also largely about confidence and less about skills or capability sometimes.

Therefore, be convinced of your actual idea and be willing to back it up with as much bravado as is required to get what you need.

Searching for opportunities endlessly, staying the course and ensuring your strategy is in place and ready with the necessary pivots is the first and most important step in your journey.

Do you think today’s woman has managed to break the ‘glass ceiling’ and what would you tell a woman that wants a seat at the table?
What glass ceiling?

I am not sure who came up with that term honestly but my thoughts on that is for another day.

However, let me reiterate that women are not good at taking a seat they are not invited to.

So the women with the best view on the tables are of course those who ask no permission and make no apologies for pulling up an empty chair.

They are lots of empty chairs on the table believe me, go and grab one and sit on it, don’t wait for anyone to invite you because that invitation might never come. 

What inspires you and keeps you going?

What inspires me is DAW and it definitely keeps me going.

In fact, before I started DAW, I was motivated purely by my own selfish desire for a seat at the men’s table (white men, to be more precise).

I just never liked being told where to seat especially when the best view is reserved for white men.

I saw no reason we could not all share. And today, I have met exceptionally talented and wonderful women who benefit from my seat at the table and this gives me reason to keep going.

I am inspired very much by women actually. Especially the ones we work with, those whom you don’t often hear of in the news.

They are the ones who continually amaze and remind me why my work is worth doing daily.

What should we expect from DAW in say, five years time?

In five years, you should expect many things from DAW and myself. But here is the biggest spoiler.

Expect actual tech start-ups to start launch and sustain businesses in Africa with investments, training support and the kind of network only DAW brings.

At DAW, we are looking at tapping into the entire vale chain of what the Africa economy is and we want to take advantage of that potential with serious women who have the right idea.

So, our vision is more focused on the optimization of the industries like agriculture, think processing and logistics, fashion tech and most importantly, health tech sectors.

We want to bring to light how much better Africa can be with women as the drivers of change for a change and we are working towards this goal everyday.


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