Orange-iCampus Tech4Women Hackathon: Tackling Social Challenges in Liberia through Technology

Updated: Jun 28, 2019

Liberian youths are positively impacting the way change happens in Liberia through the application of modern technologies. And because most Liberian universities are now teaching specialized courses in technology, the applicability of technological concepts has particularly become useful and easy. The evolution of tech and innovation institutions like Orange Liberia, iLab Liberia, and iCampus Liberia, has also aided in the process by increasing the value of technology greatly among youths.

And because of a rising interest in technology and social innovation, you will find that young people are more likely to attend events that are technologically-driven over those that are non-tech-related. This is probably a similar passion that made participants attend the Orange-iCampus hackathon massively.

While a typical hackathon will usually offer an opportunity for computer programmers to maneuver and hack computer systems for some dubious reason or gain, the Orange-iCampus hackathon sought to prototype savvy solutions to address cross-cutting issues that might tend to disrupt development processes in Liberia.

As a pilot initiative of a partnership between Orange Liberia and iCampus, the event held on May 30 and May 31, 2019, brought together over sixty expert participants from a diversified professional background, including technologists, development workers, and university students.

Throughout the event, the participants evaluated up to five social problems and co-created a similar number of relative prototypes to specifically offer potential solutions.

The investigated topics were inclusive of the following:

i) What technological approach should be applied to address challenges that are critically affecting the Liberian legal system?

i) How can emerging technologists and professional technicians offer services that best serve corporate agencies and development organizations applying entrepreneurial skills;

iii) What positive tech tools could be employed to address gender imbalance across the Liberian Legislature and other political landscapes;

iv) And lastly, what available tech tools could be applied to help improve the doctor-patient relationship across the healthcare sector in Liberia.

Another significant aspect of the hackathon welcomed an experienced list of facilitators to handle a series of workshop sessions as an additional skill-building for participants.

The workshops topics were inclusive of:

i) The role of technology in empowering women;

ii) The outlook of an elevator pitch and standardized branding for organizations;

iii) And finally, the preview of a typical development hackathon.

At an initial start of the event, the stage was given to Mamadou Coulibaly (Orange Liberia Chief Executive officer-CEO), for a welcoming remark where he formally declared the hackathon officially opened.

Mamadou Coulibaly's speech highlighted a sustainable partnership between Orange Liberia and iCampus!

Mamadou Coulibaly (Orange Liberia CEO)

At the beginning of his speech, the Orange CEO expressed his company's support of the out-gone hackathon and its willingness to sponsor future activities at iCampus. As the country’s primary GSM company, Orange Liberia generally collaborates with institutions that support programs for women and youths across Liberia. Orange's interventional scope offers services in technology and social innovation, as part of its development strategy. In addition to being a proud sponsor of the Liberia Football Association, Orange recently launched a talent hunt competition as part of a broader development program to highlight the skills of Liberian youths. Orange partners with global development organizations operating in Liberia, including UN Women. Orange partnership with UN Women is inclusive of digital banking through “Orange Money” - a digital cash transfer service programmed by Orange Liberia.

In a concluding word, Mr. Coulibaly re-emphasized that the hackathon is particularly important since the event is focused on trending development issues - that is women economic empowerment, technology, and social innovation. He added that "women play a paramount role in the society since they mostly head the home and at the same time are taking up jobs to sustain their families". While technology and social innovation are trending vehicles used to transport change worldwide.

A Snappy Panel Discussion with Moses, Sara, Salamartu, Kate, and Patience on empowering Liberian women through technology and innovation

In a snappy panel discussion, four inspiring Liberian women and a male moderator were brought together to propound the following topic: Empowering Liberian women through technology and innovation.The session was declared opened by Luther Jeke ( iCampus Manager), who also welcomed the panelists and introduced the moderator - Abm. Moses Kollie Garzeawu, Liberia Correspondent at the Voice of America. Amb Garzeawu starting by offering his appreciation to iCampus and Orange Liberia. He thanked them for organizing the event and expressed the hope that the discussion will yield results that further support the objectives of the hackathon.

First, Amb. Garzeawu gave the floor to Sara Buchanan (Orange Liberia Director of Corporate Social Responsibility and Internal Communication).

Sara introduced herself and gave the participants an overview of Orange’s role in promoting women’s full participation in innovation and technology. Orange doesn’t only “cultivate the minds of people, but the company is also looking out for the brightest minds in technology who are female because Orange wants to integrate those women in our network”, Sara said in a comment to participants.

Amb. Garzeawu gave the floor to Salamartu Duncan (Liberia Chamber of Commerce General-Secretary). Salamartu buttressed Sara, and confirmed her affiliation to the aims of the discussion, emphasizing its controversial nature that lies in the focal issues of whether the gender stereotype around male dominance in the industry is one factor that hinders women’s participation in technology.

Both men and women should be given equal access to acquire technological skills and career opportunities. Regardless of one’s gender, everyone should be given an opportunity to have equal access to digital opportunities.

Female technologists who are competing against male counterparts should be acknowledged, as well as, individuals and organizations that empower women in technology should be recognized for pushing gender inclusion across the tech industry.

Salamartu added if women are to competitively get involved, technology must be contextualized and simplified to enhance greater understanding among women. Often times, women understanding of technology is what prevents their involvement. For that reason, “we need to make technology look good” to attract more women in the field.

The moderator announced Kate Hunder (Girls Tech Club Founder and Executive Director); and Patience Koteah (TAG Liberia Founder and Executive Director), as the next speakers. Ms. Hunder highlighted the importance of building women’s knowledge around the concept of technology before encouraging them to get involved. The “extent of female participation is dependent on whether they understand their role or what technology actually entails”, Kate burst out to participants. Patience also followed on in Kate’s previous statement to re-emphasize the need for awareness around technology among career women and female students.

These advocacies should explain to women the positive aspect of technology when applied appropriately. If women are to compete with males, adequately participate and offer their contribution in the tech industry, a positive perspective of technology must be concisely outlined to women.

Amb. Garzeawu again gave each speaker a final chance to highlight how they have promoted women’s participation in tech and innovation from their organizations’ perspective. To prioritize the sole representative of government on the panel team, Amb. Garzeawu first gave the floor to Ms. Duncan for a final remark about the discussed issue.

Ms. Duncan gave a general overview of the Liberia Chamber of Commerce (LCC) by pinpointing LCC as a networking and advocacy agency that was established in 1951.

As networking and advocacy agency, LCC main goal is to build a stronger network and lobby for policies that implement a conducive environment for entrepreneurs and Liberian businesses.

Speaking of women's participation across LCC, Salamartu pointed out that women make up a huge percent of the Liberia Marketing Association, which is the heartbeat of the Liberian economy. But "regardless of that contribution, women are usually left out when a top decision concerning the sector's growth" is being made.

Salamartu has been verbal about gender unfairness across the commercial industry since she joined the LCC two years ago. She has been vocal about women's rights at a policy meeting and consultation sessions with top Liberian leaders and global development actors.

To further disclose the trending situation of gender insensitivity across within the sector, Salamartu joined a team of LCC staffs to conduct one of the very first gender-related surveys that identified women hold only 20% leadership position across the entire commercial industry.

Salamartu added that this kind of result should make women stand up and speak for themselves - "don't sit in the back at those important meetings, come to the front, form a network and raise your voice to draw stakeholders' attention to the plights of women".

The moderator again gave the floor to Sara for one final statement. Sara added that Orange takes a keen interest in ensuring women issues are inclusive in every decision-making at Orange.

Women and youths form a greater part of Orange’s national development plan. Sara noted, “we are often referred to as a digital and caring company because Orange service delivery cuts across gender and age demarcation”.

In her concluding word, Sara added that the establishment of a digital lab for females in a near-distant future is part of Orange’s plan to enhance women interaction with cutting-edge and innovative tools in technology.

Kate and Patience in their parting statements made mention of a few issues in relation to the discussion. Kate began by noting that a comprehensive knowledge of technology can boost the productivity of women at home and increase female employability in the professional workforce. And that is the key purpose of the Girls Tech Club platform recently established by Kate to help female students pursue careers in technology and innovation.

Patience also left a parting comment by adding one reason why women should seek for computer-related skills is that most employers are in search of a female with competent skills in technology to employ. On behalf of her organization, Patience looks out for a collaboration with iCampus and Orange Liberia that will lead to the establishment of a virtual innovation lab for school-going girls and young professional women.

At the end of the panel discussion, Amb. Garzeawu extended his gratitude to the participants of the panel discussion. In his concluding word, Amb. Garzeawu expressed full satisfaction with the results of the discussion, as well as the whole hackathon in general, in particular stressing the participation of Sara Buchanan and Salamartu Duncan and the other two panelists.

Hourly workshops with Luther Carter and William on:

i) The role of technology in empowering women;

ii) The outlook of an elevator pitch and standardized branding for organizations;

iii) And finally, the preview of a typical

development hackathon for “social good”.

These topics were vigorously covered in a series of lively workshops. Each session of these workshops generally supported the overall goal of the hackathon. Luther Jeke ( iCampus Manager), Carter Draper (iLab Liberia Director of Programs), and William Dennis (Business StartUp Center Executive Director), taught the workshops.

Luther Jeke facilitated the first session. Luther’s discussion briefly highlighted the contextual basis of a development hackathon in contrast to security hacking. While the latter focuses on the illegal penetration of computer systems, the development model of hackathon highlights a particular development issue and prototypes a relative solution to solve that issue.

Development hackathons identify and address issues that negatively affect people in the real world. Theses events convene fast-thinking technologists and subject-related specialists in forty-eight to a seventy-two hours work session to hack solutions that address critical development issues. This type of hacking could also be referred to as prototyping for “social good”. Luther clearly told participants in a concluding statement - “we are not here to hack Facebook and bank accounts, we came here to hack ideas and potential solutions for social good”.

Carter Draper taught the second session. He began by highlighting the powerful use of technology in empowering women economically. The first step in harnessing the power of technology for girls and young women is to ensure they have access to the most current digital tools. Liberia is experiencing a boom in the digital age, but access to tech tools is challenging how women empower themselves technologically.

William Dennis taught the third and final workshop. Initially, William briefly explained his organization’s scope of work. He highlighted some the organization’s key achievements Business StartUp Center is a local-based business enterprise that offers coaching and mentorship for small and medium business enterprises and entrepreneurs across the commercial industries in Liberia.

It could be said that the Liberian business community is gradually moving in a booming direction. But even with such rapid growth being experienced across the business sector, some business owners do not seem to make much profit as expected. This is because local entrepreneurs and business owners have insufficient skills and resources needed to market their products and ideas.

To attract investment, business owners must possess good marketing skills and the ability to use marketing tools like “elevator pitching”. The approach is mostly used by companies and business tycoons to advertise their brand and capture clients’ attention.

A snappy awards’ ceremony and Rosetta’s emotional melt-down when judges announced her team as first place winner

The hackathon ended in an awards ceremony. Teams that had prototyped the best ideas received cash and kind prizes from Orange Liberia and iCampus. In the presence of a team of four expert judges, the five working groups presented their ideas to the panel for consideration.

The panel consisted of expert development leaders, including, Lawrence Yealue ( Accountability Lab Liberia Country Director), Sara Buchanan (Orange Liberia Director of Corporate Social Responsibility and Internal Communication), Luther Jeke (iCampus Manager) and Wilson Idahor (PFAN)

Top ideas that met judges criteria reflected gender-related issues, health-related issues, and legal issues across Liberia’s judicial system. Each idea was coded into web-based platforms, apps, and various other digital outlets. After certificating the winners, the judges issued a certificate of participation to everyone who attended the hackathon. Non-certificate awards were mostly inclusive of cash prizes, kind prizes, mentorship opportunities, and a single trip to Abidjan for knowledge exchange at Orange Fab.

As the entire audience leaped for joy and happiness while the winners marched upstage to collect their prizes, one particular girl among the winning team broke out in bitter tears or “tears of joy”! Rosetta Fardolo was so proud of her team that she couldn't hold back from crying.

As an affiliate of the Federation of Liberian Youth. Rosetta was so excited to have form part of an event that promoted equality in access to technology for social change in Liberia.

Rosetta supported her team to develop a web-based application that once implemented will be used to support changes across the Liberian judicial landscapes.

Written by: Janet M. Kamara

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