Njideka Harry has setup a campaign to help equip people in some of the world's poorest countries to develop digital skills.

This entrepreneur is empowering disadvantaged girls with vital digital skills – here’s how

Charlotte Edmond, Senior Writer, Forum Agenda

  • Njideka Harry set up the Youth for Technology Foundation (YTF) to help girls in some of the world’s poorest settings develop vital digital skills.
  • One of the areas YTF works is southeastern Nigeria, where it intervenes to prevent young girls from becoming victims of trafficking.
  • The majority of the girls YTF helps go on to study at university, including a high percentage pursuing STEM subjects.

“Many of the girls that we work with have no basic even digital literacy skills. And not only do we introduce them to digital literacy, we also introduce them to some of the more advanced technologies such as 3D printing,” Harry says.

About 60% of the girls that YTF helps go on to pursue science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) studies at university.

Harry is one of the social entrepreneurs contributing to the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, a sister organization to the World Economic Forum, which was set up to accelerate outstanding examples of social innovation.

The proficiency with 3D modelling software she mentions, for example, not only gives young women relevant skills, but has also been used to create products which have been used to solve real-life problems within their own communities. In some instances, these skills have also created a source of income – one girl has printed her own jewellery which she sells locally.

Building STEM expertise

A large part of the drive to create YTF comes from Harry’s desire to address the fact there remains a shortage of women and girls in STEM studies and careers.

“I have three daughters, and they ask me challenging questions – ‘How can we pursue science? Can we pursue technology?’ Because the classrooms are very biased towards boys in science and often girls get made fun of if they like maths or like science and physics,” she says.

Of the students YTF helps, 80% go on to tertiary education, and the significant majority of those study STEM courses.

The frontier between humans and machines is shifting. Image: World Economic Forum

The next generation of changemakers

Many of the YTF students that don’t go to university take an entrepreneurial track, potentially working in their family business or starting their own ventures.

“There is something about starting an entrepreneur journey at a very young age that leads a young person to become a changemaker for life,” Harry believes.

“It’s about that one person whose life you are able to change. We all know that talent is universal, but opportunity is not. And so these communities that we work with, they are [full of] young people that are extremely talented. They just have to have the right opportunity to be able to unlock their fullest potential.”

Digital skills are increasingly in demand in the workplace. Image: World Economic Forum

Building skills for the future

Through education and digital skills development, Harry wants to empower young people to realize that they have the potential to be changemakers. Part of this is about putting them “in the driver’s seat for their own development”. They need to be included in conversations about their communities, career paths and the future of work, she believes. This also means ensuring they are involved in creating and shaping the technology which will drive the future.

“We don’t really know exactly what the future of work will look like. But we do know that these transformative technologies, these industry 4.0 technologies, will have a place in the future of work,” she says.

It’s a sentiment echoed by the Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2023, which found that “artificial intelligence, a key driver of potential algorithmic displacement, is expected to be adopted by nearly 75% of surveyed companies and is expected to lead to high churn – with 50% of organizations expecting it to create job growth”.

“So whether it’s 3D printing, or it’s the Internet of Things, or it’s artificial intelligence,” says Harry, “it is imperative that young people growing up in developing and developed countries alike understand these technologies and know how to use them for good.”

This article contains edited quotes from an interview with Njideka Harry. You can listen to the conversation in full here: LINK

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