By Marissa Lang
San Francisco Chronicle
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) After watching one too many beauty pageants, a group of fed up women in Rwanda devised their own contest — a pitch competition for female entrepreneurs they called Ms. Geek Rwanda. It was streamed on YouTube, and they began to build a following.
Enough was enough.
After years of watching the Miss Rwanda beauty pageant overtake the nation, a group of young women decided they were sick of it.
With the pageant playing on a TV nearby, they looked around the room at each other. All of them were successful and smart. Most worked in tech, some had started companies.
Why are we still praising people just because they’re beautiful, the women asked each other.
Frustrated, they began to brainstorm alternatives.
“We should have someone called Miss Geek instead,” one said. “We should value them because
of their brain.”
Soon, they devised their own contest — a pitch competition for female entrepreneurs they called Ms. Geek Rwanda. It was streamed on YouTube, and they began to build a following.
The idea was to make the notion of a technology career “real” to young women, said Esther Kunda, 27, the programs and operations coordinator at the Next Einstein Forum and one of the founding members of Girls in ICT, the group responsible for the Ms. Geek competition.
Over the past two decades, Rwandan women have risen from the ashes of a nation decimated by genocide to assume positions of leadership in government, industry and education. And though there are no national statistics on women in the country’s blossoming tech sector, many leading tech companies report high female representation, with some clocking in at more than 50 percent.
Unlike at firms in the U.S. and other developed nations, being inclusive of women is more than a goal at Rwandan companies — it is a requirement. For years, the country has used quotas, mentorship programs, internships and national campaigns as part of the singular mission of getting more women into the tech industry.
And it’s working.