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Bridging the Gender Gap in ICT Innovation – The first UbuntuNet Alliance Women Hackathon

Group picture of the Women Hackathon at the UbuntuNet Connect conference 2023. cc UbuntuNet Alliance

This article was originally published on the UbuntuNet Alliance’s website.

Author: Harold Bowa, UbuntuNet Alliance

In a groundbreaking moment for the UbuntuNet Alliance region in East and Southern Africa, the first Women Hackathon unfolded from October 23rd to 25th, 2023, as part of the EU co-funded AfricaConnect 3 capacity building initiatives. This historic event marked the first-ever women-exclusive hackathon in the region, cementing its status as a monumental success in the pursuit of gender equality and empowerment.

As a pre-conference activity to the UbuntuNet-Connect 2023 Conference, the hackathon drew its inspiration from the overarching theme of “Innovate for Research and Education,” perfectly aligned with UbuntuNet Alliance’s core objectives.

The hackathon hinged on the exploration of innovative solutions within three key focus areas: Innovations for 21st Century Education, Innovations for Improving Research Uptake, and Innovations for Improved Collaboration. The participants consisted of 15 women who were divided into 5 teams of 3 women each after a competitive selection from a pool of 300 applicants. The christened teams and products: Team Malawi (Research Aggregator), Team Zambia (CollabScholar), Team Kenya (NovaNex), Team Uganda (Digitalizing the Education) and Team Zimbabwe (KUSHA). For the first three days of the conference week, the 5 teams showcased their innovations for research and education, which was the theme of the hackathon by working hard to convert their concepts into usable pieces of software.

The event was facilitated by a team of industry experts, mentors, and technical individuals who guided and mentored the participants throughout the hackathon. Their unwavering support and guidance was instrumental in shaping the success of this event. These facilitators included Dr. Julianne Sansa Otim, Dr. ruth Mbabazi and Dr. Mary Nsabagwa, all from Makerere University assisted by Revelation Nyirongo from UbuntuNet Alliance and Claire Sharitah Nakakeeto from Research and Education Network of Uganda (RENU).

The participants also had an extraordinary opportunity to deliver lightning talks on their innovations during the closing plenary of the UbuntuNet-Connect Conference. The talks allowed them to share their newfound knowledge and the impact the hackathon had on their ICT expertise with a broader audience. Team Zambia, which came out victorious in the hackathon, was later featured in a news segment called Prime news which airs on Prime Television Zambia. This was organized by the Zambia Research and Education Network (ZAMREN) done as part of celebrating and empowering their upcoming female techies.

The success of the Women Hackathon wouldn’t have been possible without the dedicated facilitators and the co-funding provided by the EU through the AfricaConnect project. Their commitment to promoting gender equality in the ICT sector is truly remarkable. The women hackathon stands as a shining example of empowerment, innovation, and gender equality. By fostering a platform for female ICT developers to innovate for research and education, this historic event has left an indelible mark on the UbuntuNet Alliance region, and its impact will undoubtedly resonate for years to come.

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