What digital innovations and solutions can we use to help Kenya achieve targets towards the Sustainable Development Goals? This was the challenge posed to a group of young Kenyan girls at a recent two-day hackathon event, and the solutions they came up with left the judges astounded at their ingenuity. One group, leveraging on Kenyans’ love for mobile phones ringback tones, created a message that would remind parents that child marriage is illegal and that it limits a girl’s ability to reach her full potential. Another group designed a drone that would provide surveillance over forests to deter illegal logging and burning of charcoal. A third group, choosing to address the targets towards SDG 5, created a mobile phone application that would provide girls with information on their rights and where to find help if they were threatened with early marriage or other negative cultural practice. Connected to a GPS system, the app would alert the emergency call centre of the girl’s specific location to enable rescue.
Students participate during the two-day hackathon event to generate solutions towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals targets. (Photo by UNICEF Kenya)
These and other interesting solutions were the results of an intense two-day training event where 80 girls spent time learning about the SDGS and how to code, and then applied their new knowledge to suggest and begin designing technological solutions to some of the issues addressed in the SDGs. The event was hosted by IamtheCODE, a movement that seeks to mobilise governments, businesses, and investors to support young women in science and technology through giving them skills on how to code, and to become digital leaders.
In the two days, under the guidance of a team led by the movement founder, Marieme Jamme, and a team of mentors, the girls discussed the different SDGs, giving meaning to the numbers. “I support SDG number 5 because I want all girls to know they are equal to boys and should stop being afraid of doing things that they think only boys can do”, said 11-year-old Keziah Njambi, from Kabuku Primary School in Kiambu County. Immaculate Iminza, 13, from Kibera School for Girls, explained why she supported SDG 2, Zero Hunger: “If families don’t have enough food, there can be no development. Who is going to build the nation if people are hungry?”
They were then introduced to coding, using a special computer developed for the purpose, and then spent time in groups putting together their proposed solutions. With this event, Kenya became the 61st country in the world to join the IamtheCODE movement. The 80 girls participating were drawn from different low-income backgrounds around Kenya. IamtheCODE enables young girls and women to participate in the digital revolution so that they participate in the future of the technology industry. “We give girls skills for employment when we teach them to code”, said Ms Jamme, speaking at the event co-hosted in collaboration with Unilever, Safaricom and UN Women.
A fundamental pillar of iamtheCODE’s work revolves around the empowerment of women across the world, a key area of UN Women’s work around the world. In Kenya, although efforts are being made to close the gender gap in technology through the promotion of science and technology education for girls, and affirmative action by some business leaders, women are still seriously under-represented in the sector, both as technical experts and business leaders. UN Women supports the movement to bridge gender gap in technology by promoting digital literacy in Kenya.