Words: Harold Bowa, UbuntuNet Alliance
In a groundbreaking prelude to the UbuntuNet-Connect 2023 Conference from October 23 to 25, 2023, the UbuntuNet Alliance, in collaboration with the European Union under the AfricaConnect3 project, orchestrated a historic event – the first-ever UbuntuNet Alliance Women Hackathon. This initiative, an integral part of the AfricaConnect3 deliverables, was designed to champion gender equality in STEM fields. The hackathon, successfully facilitated by experts from Makerere University, led by Dr. Julianne Sansa Otim, witnessed exceptional talent rising from the competition, particularly a remarkable team from Zambia.
Meet the Victorious Team: Chansa Kashell Mwenya, Foster Mulenga, and Faith Chulu
This triumphant trio, all third-year students pursuing degrees in computer science at DMI St. Eugine University in Zambia, crafted an innovative solution that not only secured their victory but also left an enduring imprint on the landscape of women in ICT on the African continent.
Celebrating Success: A Conversation with the Winning Team
Congratulations on your remarkable victory in the Women Hackathon! How does it feel to have won such a prestigious competition focused on promoting women in ICT?
We are truly honoured and thrilled to have won the Women Hackathon. It’s an incredible feeling to be recognized for our innovative efforts in promoting women in ICT. This victory not only celebrates our hard work but also underscores the importance of gender diversity in the tech industry. We’re inspired to continue breaking barriers and opening doors for more women in STEM.
Could you briefly describe the innovative solution that helped your team secure the top spot in the hackathon?
Our winning solution, CollabScholar, is a groundbreaking platform that integrates modern learning tools, facilitates research uptake, and promotes collaborative research. It offers a holistic approach to education and research, enabling users to access diverse learning resources, share research findings, and collaborate seamlessly across disciplines. CollabScholar sets the stage for a more connected and innovative academic landscape.
Participating in the hackathon was an intensive and challenging experience. How did the guidance and mentorship from Dr. Julianne Sansa Otim, Dr. Mary Nsabagwa, and Dr. Ruth Mbabazi influence your team’s success?
The guidance and mentorship from Dr. Julianne Sansa Otim, Dr. Mary Nsabagwa, and Dr. Ruth Mbabazi were instrumental in our success. Their expertise and encouragement helped us refine our project and stay focused during the hackathon. Their unwavering support ensured we had the resources and knowledge needed to excel, making this victory possible.
The AfricaConnect3 project aims to lower gender inequality in STEM fields. In what ways do you believe your participation in the hackathon and subsequent victory contribute to achieving this objective?
Our victory in the hackathon sends a powerful message that women can excel in STEM fields. It serves as a motivating example for young women aspiring to pursue tech careers. By providing a platform like CollabScholar that promotes collaboration and innovation, we contribute to lowering gender inequality by making STEM fields more accessible and inclusive.
Can you share some insights into how the hackathon has impacted your personal and professional growth? How has life changed for you and your team after this experience?
The hackathon has been a transformative journey for us. It boosted our confidence and reinforced our passion for technology. Professionally, it opened doors to new opportunities, including potential internships, networking, and recognition. Life post-hackathon is filled with exciting prospects, and we’re eager to make the most of them.
Your team hails from Zambia, representing ZAMREN, a member of the UbuntuNet Alliance. How important is it for you to be part of a network that supports initiatives like the Women Hackathon, and what does it mean for women in STEM in your region?
Being part of ZAMREN and the UbuntuNet Alliance has been crucial. These networks offer vital support and resources for initiatives like the Women Hackathon. They empower women in STEM in our region, providing them with opportunities to showcase their talent and collaborate with peers. It signifies a positive shift towards greater gender inclusivity in STEM.
The UbuntuNet-Connect 2023 Conference provided you with the opportunity to deliver a lightning talk. Could you tell us about your talk and the impact it had on the audience in terms of promoting women’s participation in ICT?
Our lightning talk at the UbuntuNet-Connect 2023 Conference was entirely dedicated to CollabScholar. We discussed the journey of creating this innovative solution, emphasizing the importance of women in ICT and the transformative role of initiatives like the Women Hackathon. By showcasing CollabScholar and sharing our experiences as a team of young women in the tech industry, we provided a tangible example of how women can excel in ICT. Our presence on that stage was a motivating factor itself, demonstrating that when given opportunities, women can drive meaningful change and innovation in the field. We believe our talk inspired many in the audience to actively support women in ICT and explore similar initiatives to foster gender inclusivity and diversity in the tech sector.
How would you encourage other women to participate in similar hackathons or pursue careers in STEM fields, given your own inspiring journey?
We’d encourage every woman with an interest in STEM to seize opportunities like hackathons. These events are transformative, fostering growth and opening doors to exciting prospects. Our journey is proof that women can excel in STEM activities, and we’re here to support and inspire others to embark on similar journeys.
Winning the hackathon comes with prestige and recognition. What are your future plans for the innovative solution your team developed during the competition?
We have ambitious plans for CollabScholar. Our goal is to further develop and refine the platform, making it more accessible and user-friendly. We’re actively seeking partnerships and funding to bring CollabScholar to a wider audience. Our vision is to see it transform the landscape of education and research, and we’re determined to make that a reality.
Lastly, what message would you like to convey to the UbuntuNet Alliance, the European Union, and all the supporters of the Women Hackathon, acknowledging their role in your success?
We extend our heartfelt gratitude to the UbuntuNet Alliance, the European Union, and all the supporters of the Women Hackathon. Your belief in us and your commitment to promoting women in ICT have made our success possible. You’re driving change and empowering women in STEM, and we’re deeply appreciative of your invaluable support.
In conclusion, the victory of Chansa, Foster, and Faith stands not only as a personal achievement but also as a testament to the transformative power of opportunities that promote gender equality in STEM. Their journey, from the Women Hackathon to its triumph, resonates with the broader objectives of the AfricaConnect3 project, showcasing its efficacy in empowering women in ICT and research across the African continent.