Interview Paula Ingabire, « Women are a critical pillar of society and key contributors to economies”
Rwanda, a world champion country in terms of parity on the political scene, has positioned ICTs at the heart of its development model. And women play a key role in this strategy. Explanations with Paula Ingabire, Minister of Information and Communications Technology and Innovation, a woman at the forefront of Rwanda’s digital ambitions.
Madam Minister, before we begin, could you tell us about yourself, your background?
My name is Paula Ingabire, I am a tech-enthusiast, a wife and mother of three. I was appointed Minister of ICT and Innovation in October 2018, after I graduated from MIT’s school of engineering.
Prior to that, I served as the Head of the ICT Business Development Department at the Rwanda Development Board where I led the implementation of National ICT programs and I coordinated the Kigali Innovation City Project, a flagship program of the Government designed to nurture and strengthen a Pan-African Innovation eco-system in Rwanda.
You are at the head of a strategic ministry for Rwanda, a country that has put ICTs at the heart of its economic development model. With what impact?
Rwanda’s ICT development and investments have had a huge impact on the socio-economic development of the country, with today a contribution of up to 5% to Rwanda’s GDP.
The use of technology, its tools and applications have helped propel the growth of multiple key sectors such as, first, the service delivery sector. Services digitization has highly improved the service delivery sector by increasing transparency, efficiency and productivity but also convenience by saving citizens time and money.Then, the Health sector. The use of drones for medical products delivery in underserved areas has greatly lowered the rates of infant and mortality rates. Education sector with programs such as One Laptop per Child (OLPC), launched in 2008, and the Smart Classrooms initiative have sought to boost access to devices in rural schools. In 2017, 44% of primary schools, and 60.2 % of secondary schools had access to ICT for teaching and learning quality content.
Finance sector also. In Africa, it is easier to access a mobile phone than it is to open a bank account. Mobile money is driving financial inclusion in developing countries, by offering users access to financial services at the tip of their fingers and financial stability consequently contributing to the economic growth of the continent in general. (Mobile penetration in Rwanda stands at 79.8%). Last but not least, Data Driven Decision Making. The collection and analysis of data through technologies (such as IoT) is offering new perceptives and more accurate information to tackle communities challenges and hence inform policy and decision making for good governance. Only to name a few.
A country at the heart of innovation in this pandemic context: robots in airports and hospitals, electronic bracelets to ensure the self-containment of visitors…
Indeed, the new pandemic of the covid-19 has influenced new technological innovations and new ways to explore the already available tech resources in order to respond to the pressing needs of the communities. The use of technology and innovation are one of the main reasons behind our low rates in contamination of the covid-19 virus and its death rate (1.4% today). With quarantine and social distancing measures being the most effective prevention measures, we all had to turn to technology for personal and professional business continuity. A few examples, two different types of robots deployed at high risk locations such as the airport and treatment centers are protecting frontliners from contamination by limiting their contact with patients and potential carriers of the virus, and by disinfecting high risk areas. Drones supported the dissemination of messages on preventive measures to the communities. FabLab Rwanda, initially a digital fabrication innovation that produced hardware solutions to solve community challenges, prototyped what was the first face shield to be made locally and today produces personal protective equipment (PPE).
A world champion country in terms of parity where women are also at the forefront of this technological revolution made in Rwanda …That said, challenges remain in terms of capacity building, access to financing… How do you support digital women in Rwanda?
The GoR has set national targets for women in ICT through the development of a national gender policy and the ICT Sector Gender Profile to provide a gender snapshot of the ICT sector responsiveness of national ICT policies and Rwanda’s implementation of relevant national, regional and international gender commitments in the sector as well as inform future policy formulation and program development.
Additionally, other mechanisms to support women in ICT and STEM more broadly have been put in place such as a 50% admission quota in certain STEM programs like for the Rwanda Coding Academy, a model school designed to be the center of excellence in coding training in Rwanda with the aim of producing local expertise in software development, cyber security, and embedded systems.
Annually, we host a Women in ICT awareness campaign, where we engage women in rural areas to understand their different contexts and actual needs, and propose ways to solve them through the use of technology. Some of the activities involve training of women and sensitization to attend more digital training centers around them in order to increase their digital skills and adopt usage of ICT devices like smart phones in their daily activities and business.
I would like to also mention the Girls in ICT initiative which I am part of, a group of women, young and old – professionals and students, who are passionate about STEM and have come together to inspire more girls to join these exciting fields. It was founded in December 2011 when Rwanda decided to join the rest of the world in celebrating the international ITU Girls in ICT day which happens every last week of April. This same initiative initiated the MsGeek Africa an annual continental entrepreneurship competition designed to inspire female students in STEM to think critically and design solutions to issues faced by their communities.
We work closely with development partners and stakeholders in order to put in place the right platforms to encourage women already in STEM or interested in joining. We have the Tech Kobwa Boot Camp, a one-week boot camp gathering high school girls especially from remote high schools where access to technology and computer is very limited. In that week, the girls have the chance to learn basic programming, internet and other computer skills. Innovate4Women competition, an open competition to both men and women aiming at development of solutions tackling issues faced by women specifically.The Girls Tech Talk, a monthly virtual gathering for women in ICT to engage with young girls and other professional women to encourage them to embrace STEM fields and join ICT careers.
To conclude, why is it so important to support digital women in Rwanda, in Africa more broadly?
Women account for the majority of the population, in Rwanda (51.8%) and in Africa in general (51.1%). Women are a critical pillar of society and key contributors to economies as producers of food, managers of natural resources, entrepreneurs, employees and in the particular African context (as it is in many developing countries) they play the largest role in decision-making for their family’s wellbeing.
To achieve gender equality, sustainable development and the SDGs, women’s empowerment is critical and access to technology is providing a unique tool for women to access and share information like never before, to easily access educational and health services, and to generate income.