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Meet 6 Women At The Frontline Of West Africa’s Tech Boom

In the past five years, West Africa’s tech scene has witnessed a boom, with a dramatic increase in innovators and tech entrepreneurs—aka ‘tech-preneurs’—using technology to provide simple and accessible solutions to everyday problems. From payment services to apps helping people grow their savings and making it easier for Africans to partake in the global scramble for cryptocurrency, West Africa’s tech scene is livelier than ever. Across the continent, tech hubs have sprouted in places such as Egypt, Kenya and South Africa, with Nigeria—Africa’s most populous country—leading the pack.

Tech-preneurs in West Africa have been focusing on ensuring that the area’s increase in mobile phone users also translates to a larger number of West Africans having access to easy and inclusive digital-banking solutions. While tech companies are tackling many issues—from making data on Africa accessible and providing health services to revolutionising African fashion—financial technology companies are among the biggest in Nigeria.

Here, we meet six women in Nigeria who are rising to new heights in the global-tech industry and redefining it from the inside out.

1. Odunayo Eweniyi

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Odunayo Eweniyi

“In 2014, I co-founded PushCV to connect verified employers to pre-screened candidates. We spent two years raising venture funding and worked on several other products that failed. In that time, I also worked as editor-in-chief at Techpoint, founding writer at Zikoko!, and then staff writer of Konbini, so my tech journey is very interspersed with journalism and writing.”

On getting more women into tech

“The lack of women in tech [can’t be explained away] with innate biological differences. It’s really down to a combination of systemic bias, men funding men and a working culture that excludes women. When women are given an opportunity they excel.”

On the work she is doing with FirstCheck Africa

“People often say there isn’t a pipeline of women, in particular Black or African women, in tech. My FirstCheck Africa co-founder, Eloho Omame, and I want to build that pipeline; to find women early on before they get discouraged by the fundraising process, and give them money to build a minimum viable product so they can go on to raise seed-stage funding”

2. Yewande Akomolafe-Kalu

Yewande AkomolafeKalu
Yewande Akomolafe-Kalu

With a degree in psychology from Birmingham City University and experience working in the fashion and entertainment industries, today Akomolafe-Kalu is the head of storytelling and branding of Flutterwave, one of Africa’s largest fintech companies.

On the current state of the tech industry in Nigeria

“It’s safe to say that the state of the tech industry in Nigeria is advanced and innovative; we’re going above and beyond to provide solutions for everyday people to use and make their lives easier.”

On her journey in the tech industry

“Two people believed in me when I didn’t have faith in myself: one, a friend who recommended me for a role that she couldn’t take, and two [Olugbenga Agboola] the CEO of Flutterwave whom she introduced me to. Before that, I’d worked in the entertainment space, the fashion industry, for a digital marketing agency and an e-commerce startup.”

On getting more Nigerian women into tech

“One of the main stumbling blocks is that girls don’t realise tech is an option. We need to demystify the tech industry so people know that it’s an entire ecosystem. We need to be intentional in hiring more women and making them more visible; in presenting them with options; to show them that tech jobs are within reach and that they’re achievable.”

3. Damilola Odufuwa

Damilola Odufuwa
Damilola Odufuwa

As co-founder of the Feminist Coalition, Odufuwa champions equality for women in Nigerian society with a focus on education, financial freedom and representation in public office. These values play out in her role as the lead PR at Binance, of one of the world’s largest cryptocurrency companies

On getting into tech

“After completing my masters in international finance and economic development at the University of Kent, I worked in communications and media for years. I interned at Universal Music and MTV Viacom before [graduating] to editor-in-chief of Zikoko! and Konbini, and then took up a position as social producer for CNN Africa. I didn’t plan to work in tech, but as soon as I realised the impact crypto and blockchain technology can have on women’s rights and freedom, I was sold.”

On getting more women into tech

“There’s a lot of misinformation about what types of roles are available in tech—breaking them down will encourage more women to get into the industry. Every day, we interact with technology in a variety of ways and they all present opportunities to make a difference. It doesn’t have to be about coding.”

4. Eloho Omame

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Eloho Omame

The co-founder of FirstCheck Africa, Omame is a graduate of the London School of Economics and has an MBA from London Business School.

On getting into tech

“My first big job was Lagos Innovates, a portfolio of startup support programmes I pitched to the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund, which they then built. After that, I launched an entrepreneur support organisation called Endeavor before launching FirstCheck Africa with Odunayo Eweniyi in January.”

On getting women into tech

“Having more women in leadership roles will attract more women to the top of the funnel—representation matters. On the investing side, I’d like to see more venture capital firms admit they have cultural issues that may be off-putting or difficult for women to navigate. Things such as workplace policies, entertainment policies and gender-bias training should be on the table for re-evaluation.”

On the work FirstCheck Africa is doing

“FirstCheck Africa is built with a mission to advance equity, capital and leadership for a generation of women in Africa through technology and entrepreneurship. We [want to close] the disturbing gender gaps in power, wealth and professional achievement across the continent. In the long-term, we hope FirstCheck Africa will be a platform through which the women in our portfolio pay it forward by helping other women in Africa do the same thing.”

5. Oluwaseun Runsewe

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Oluwaseun Runsewe

On getting into tech

“I worked as an analyst for the Big Four consulting firm KPMG advising financial service players on strategy and business planning. I also coordinated an Africa-wide project to move the needle on banking, payments and financial-risk management. Then, in 2016, I got an email introduction to the CEO of PayStack—a company that helps businesses in Africa get paid by anyone anywhere in the world—and I joined as a business lead as it entered new sectors and pushed the frontiers of Nigeria’s digital economy.”

On the work she is doing now

“Now, I’m working on a digital bank for mothers—I became a single mother a month after I turned 25 with less than $15 to my name, so I’ve had to figure out how to make and manage money for my son’s future while working in fintech over the past five years. My mission is to put the same tools and knowledge that have worked for me in the hands of as many mothers as possible—especially single mothers.”

6. Adia Sowho

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Adia Sowho

On Nigeria’s tech industry

“There are two Nigerias: the Nigeria you hear about [in the news cycle] with its corruption issues, and [the lesser reported] invigorating tech industry with young people coming up with new ways to solve old problems. The two Nigerias bump into each other now and then leading to blowback, I believe the young Nigeria will prevail.”

On getting more women into tech

“[Right now] the structure of the industry is more receptive to masculine energy than female energy; we need to create a more inclusive industry. If a company is looking for a developer, a man can just throw his hat into the ring, whereas a woman has to consider things like the distance of her office from her home and whether she’ll be able to finish work in time to get home before it’s dark.”

Source: vogue


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