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Clarisse IribagizaClarisse Iribagiza is a household name amongst ICT aficionados and geeks on the African Continent and beyond; because in the month of June 2015, Forbes Magazine named her as one of Africa’s 30 most promising young entrepreneurs.

Clarisse Iribagiza is the CEO and Co-founder of HeHe Labs; an award winning mobile technologies research and innovation lab. HeHe Labs builds mobile technology solutions for the government and private companies.

After the Transform African Summit in Kigali, I met with some members of the HeHe Labs team and sat with Clarisse Iribagiza for an interesting interview. Listening to Clarisse talk, I could see the passion for ICT oozing out. Do read the excerpts and watch/listen to the interview .

  1. Good day Clarisse Iribagiza. How has ICT empowered women in Rwanda?

First of all, I would say that there is a lot of work been done around women empowerment in general. And given that ICT is a focal point when it comes to economic development in Rwanda. Obviously whatever goes hand-in-hand with women empowerment; ICT is not excluded from that. Whether it is using it in businesses; educating young girls; creating schools that have focused on science and technology; so that girls can have the technology and skills needed in ICT and that is been done here in Rwanda.

For example, just to highlight some the things we at HeHe Labs have come across and what we do. Firstly, we run a high school programme where we train high school students in ICT skills and critical thinking and just having them build solutions for their communities. And we work with a lot of girls’ schools and our programmes have up to 43 percent participation. And I would tell you for sure; they are our top students in the entire programme.

  1. How long have you been operating HeHe Labs and any tangible results with your programmes amongst the students?

HeHe Labs has been in operation for 5 years and our programmes have been yielding dividends. Actually, a few of the girls were part of Transform Africa Summit 2015 showing the work they have done. Also, we do have a number of them that are part of our incubation programme; incubating their ideas and right now running their own businesses (and they participated in Transform Africa as well). So, we have seen these results; we have seen young people coming with brilliant ideas and we try our best to see how we can support them even further beyond just high school programmes (when  they graduate; do we give them job opportunities; do we help them grow their businesses. These are the things we do). We have done a lot of this and we have seen great results (I wish you could talk with them personally; for I can’t speak for them).

  1. I come here regularly, and I have realised that there is something about Rwandan women in ICT which I tend not to see elsewhere. From your perspective as an educated Rwandan lady; why the vigour? You ladies are pushing the boundaries. Why so?

Honestly, I would say when the environment around you supports what you’re doing; that is when you get all the confidence that you need to boldly step out and push those boundaries like you just said. It is pretty much that; whether it is government putting aside resources just to support girls in ICT as an organisation or group as we have seen for the last 4 years. Whether it is being a part of decision-making in the sector; women are a part of it. As well as just setting aside special opportunities just for girls and women in ICT. So, the environment is very supportive of what we do.

  1. What is your perspective or take on Rwandan women’s role in ICT in the next 5 to 10years?

It is only going to get better because a lot of the work being done is really fundamental (equipping girls with the skills; building up the confidence for us to stand up and boldly express ourselves and our ideas) that is what we see right now going on. And it only gets better because, with this foundation; you are able to take even greater risks and see a lot more girls pursue careers in science and technology. I am pretty sure we would be seeing innovations with patents coming out of this continent and Rwanda. We would be seeing women that are part of policy making on the continent in the tech space and this would happen. The question is when and how soon that happens than it is going to happen.

Dolapo Aina,

Kigali, Rwanda

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