Ethiopian Women Leading the Transformation

There is a wave of change sweeping through Ethiopia with news of peace initiatives or new reforms being introduced by the new young and pragmatic prime minister Abiy Ahmed. Some of the significant changes introduced by prime minister Abiy are the appointment of women to half of the ministerial posts including defence and intelligence portfolio, appointment of new female president of the country, and appointment of first female chief of supreme court just to name a few. One of the key driver for these changes is to fight corruption and restore credibility in government institutions. The recognition of women as key enablers of change especially in developing countries is nothing new, but it’s rare if not unique to witness such a decisive and meaningful action by an African leader.

An organisation that supports the development of the next generation of Ethiopian women is Open Hearts Big dreams (OHBD), a US not for profit organization founded by Ellenore Angelidis, a former Amazon Director of Kindle Content Risk Management. Over the summer, I had the privilege to visit one of the programs supported by OHBD in Ethiopia, the Girls Coding program. The program is run in partnership with Lebawi academy (www.ilacademy.org), another non-profit organization with unique mission to develop the next generation of Ethiopian leaders. The Girls Coding Program has rigorous selection criteria to identify the girls that will most benefit from the intensive training and hands-on experience in software application development.

The students learn the basic of computer programming using Minecraft, Kodu, Scratch, App Inventor, etc and are given access to smartphones, laptops and other devices to develop software. The program has a good mix of software programming, idea brainstorming, business process mapping and project management. It was very encouraging to see that the girls have chosen to tackle real world challenges in their communities, like software solutions for the government public health care. The Ethiopian Girls Coding Program is succeeding where others have failed, mainly because the program doesn’t just provide access to computer hardware and software, but the program gives the girls a chance to apply what they have learnt to solve real problems in an environment that promotes collaboration and creativity.

The program can be expanded, and easily replicated across the country to build awareness of computer programming and build the critical mass of young generation of Ethiopians exposed to the basic skills of software development.  Ethiopia is at a cross road to be transformed as a nation where the government works for the people and is accountable for its actions.  The deployment of information technology in Ethiopian government ministries and state-owned enterprises can ensure they operate with integrity, transparency and accountability.

However, the biggest challenge for the government and the private sector is finding the skilled software developers that will help develop and customise software for the specific business needs. The Girls Coding Program has a potential to contribute to the development of the next generation of young Ethiopian women that will serve and transform the nation through smart technologies and software solutions.