Africa’s most influential women in Science and Tech
The technology sector in Africa is dominated by men, but the women on this list have shown that given the opportunity they can stand toe-to-toe, and in some cases outperform their male counterparts.
Here’s our list in no particular order:
1. Ory Okolloh
Ory Okolloh started out as an impassioned blogger who wanted to democratize information and increase transparency through her site, Mzalendo (Swahili for patriot). When disputed presidential election results led to violent unrest in her native Kenya, Okolloh helped create Ushahidi (Swahili for “Witness”), a tool that collected and mapped eyewitness reports of violence using text messages and Google Maps. A few years on this activist has emerged as one of the most powerful tech figures in Africa, currently serving as Google’s policy manager for the continent. It is a tremendous accomplishment for a woman who started out just blowing off steam.
The technology behind Ushahidi has since been adapted for other purposes (including monitoring elections and tracking pharmaceutical availability) and used in a number of other countries. Okolloh also has a personal blog, Kenyan Pundit, which was featured on Global Voices Online.
2. Professor Tebello Nyokong
Tebello Nyokong won the Africa-Arab State 2009 L’Oréal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science for her pioneering research into photodynamic therapy which looks at harnessing light for cancer therapy and environmental clean-up. Nyokong is the third South African Scientist to receive this award.
Tebello Nyokong was born in Lesotho on 20 October 1951, but spent most of her first eight years outside her country of birth. In primary school she spent alternate days tending sheep. Far from discouraging her, this increased her self-confidence because she concluded that she could do anything a boy could do.
In 1977 she graduated from the National University of Lesotho, having spent her spare time doing research on the role of chemistry in everyday African life, and obtained a Canadian International Development Agency Scholarship to undertake post-graduate studies. Four years later she graduated with an MSc in chemistry, and after further study received a PhD from the University of Western Ontario in 1987. She then applied for and was given a Fulbright fellowship for post-doctoral study at the University of Notre Dame in the United States. At Rhodes, Nyokong trains PhD Chemistry students. In 2010, Prof Nyokong was awarded honorary doctorates from the Walter Sisulu University and the University of South Africa. Prof Nyokong has been inducted into the Lesotho Hall of Fame.
3. Dorothy Gordon
Dorothy K. Gordon is the Director-General of Ghana Advanced Information Technology Institute (AITI-KACE), the Ghana-India Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence in ICT.
Dorothy is a specialist in international development with over 20 years experience working throughout Africa, the US, Europe and Asia in Executive and Consulting positions – principally with the United Nations but also working with private sector and civil society organisations.
Dorothy’s work includes providing support to the drafting of key policy documents and providing systems design and implementation support to the launch of Ghana’s first Community Information Centres.
Dorothy supports training and research initiatives in India and Africa. Ms Gordon, who has degrees from Ghana and the United Kingdom, serves on a number of international and also works with a range of NGOs and community-based organisations to support economic empowerment and good governance.
4. Eve Dmochowksa
Eve Dmochowksa is a Web Strategist that focuses on strategy, advice and education for corporate companies. Eve assists companies to understand the potential of the Internet for business success.
Eve works with the science park, based at the Innovation Hub, Pretoria, South Africa.
Eve runs a personal blog – ‘Of Relevance’ and is a regular contributor to various leading online media platforms in Africa.
Eve’s online projects include New Media Journal, a publication aimed at marketing professionals keen to learn about the power of new media, Twojumpsahead.com, a hub of new media writing and analysis and click.co.za – a rating and review site based on user comments about South Africa’s e-commerce market.
Eve manages the Internet Guide, an online magazine aimed at keeping readers up to date with Internet news.
Eve is a graduate of Boston University, where she studied economics and international relations. She’s the founder of Crowdfunding, a social project that helps to find investors for local start-ups. Crowdfunding won second prize at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s global entrepreneur pitching contest.
5. Emma Kaye
Emma Kaye is the South African CEO and Founder of Gate 7, a new media, content and mobility company.
Emma studied business, marketing and computer programming at Oxford Brookes University before working in London in finance and software development. In 1995 she moved to South Africa and co-founded Triggerfish Animation with director Jacquie Trowell.
Emma has generated award winning commercials and television programmes. Her career highlight was Takalani Sesame, which was so successful that Triggerfish was asked to work with the Sesame Workshop in the US and other countries.
Emma started the first Animation Festival at Sithengi, Africa’s largest film market in 2001 and co-founded animationsa.org and animationxchange.
Emma joined breakdesign, a studio that creates content and applications for mobile phones. In May 2007 she founded Gate7 and in 2008 Emma co-founded Mobfest – Africa’s first User Generated Mobile Content platform. The first channel was launched, fiction on phones, a Novel Idea. It is serialized fiction written specifically for the phone.
Emma was nominated as the first African to sit on the board of the Mobile Entertainment Forum and was the fist African to be selected as one of the top 50 global women in mobile entertainment.
6. Heather Ford
Heather Ford is a South African researcher, blogger, journalist, technology social entrepreneur and open source activist who has worked in the field of Internet policy, law and management in South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States. She is the founder of Creative Commons South Africa.
Ford graduated from Rhodes University, with a Bachelors degree in Journalism in 1999, her major was cyber publishing. In 2003 she went to Stanford University as a fellow in the Reuters Digital Vision fellowship programme and volunteered for Creative Commons, a non-profit organization that strives to increase the range of creative works available for others to build upon legally and to share.
Heather launched Creative Commons South Africa, was project director of the Commons-Sense programme at Wits University’s Link Centre and co-founded the African Commons Project.
Heather was appointed executive director of iCommons, a UK based corporation that seeks to improve the global commons by promoting collaboration amongst supporters of open education, access to knowledge, open access publishing and free software communities.
Heathers’ research and work in developing the commons led her to Wikipedia, where she serves as a member of the Wikimedia Foundation Advisory Board.
Heather is pursuing a Masters Degree in Information Management and Systems at the University of California, she founded Geek Retreat, an annual event that brings together SA’s Top IT minds.
Heather has been selected for the Google Policy Fellowship, which allows students to spend their summer break working on the Internet and Technology policy issues.
7. Florence Seriki
Florence Seriki is the Chief Executive Ofiicer and founder of Omatek Computers.
Omatek Computers Limited was one of the first companies to locally assemble desktops and notebooks in Africa.
Florence is a fellow of the Nigerian Society of Chemical Engineers, Nigerian Computers Society (NCS) and the Institute of Directors. She holds a Bachelors of Science degree in Chemical Engineering from University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) and an MBA from the Lagos Business School.
8. Uche Eze
Uche Eze is a media entrepreneur and owner of the popular web property, BellaNaija.com. Uche aspires to make the site Africa’s Number 1 fashion, music, style, movie, TV and beauty website.
Uche graduated from the Richard Ivy School of Business, University of Western Ontario, Canada.
She relocated back to Nigeria, established Bainstone, the parent company of BellaNaija.com, and in July 2009, quit her full-time job to focus her energies on building BellaNaija.com.
Eze was featured on CNN i-List on the 28th of September 2010. During the interview, Uche discussed the genesis and inspiration for the BellaNaija brand, social media and social media activism in Africa and future plans for BellaNaija.com.
9. Nnenna Nwakanma
Nnenna Nwakanma is an Free and Open-source Software activist, community organizer, development adviser and development consultant originally from Côte d’Ivoire in West Africa.
She is the co-founder of The Free Software and Open Source Foundation for Africa (FOSSFA), which she also co-chair. She also heads up the Africa Network of Information Society Actors (ANISA), and the Africa Civil Society for the Information Society (ACSIS).
Nnenna Nwakanma holds a triple Bachelors, in the Social Sciences, History and English and a Masters degree in International Relations and Law.
Nwakanma has done large-scale work within International development organizations and institutions in Africa on Information, Documentation and International Relations.
Nwakanma is one of the major Civil Society Actors in the World Summit on the Information Society; she represents the African Civil Society on the Digital Solidarity Fund, and advises on the Africa Information Society Initiative.
Nwakanma is also Council Chair of the Free Software and Open Source Foundation for Africa, and also runs her own Platform of Development Consultants.
10. Oreoluwa Somolu
Oreoluwa Somolu is Executive Director of the Women’s Technology Empowerment Centre (W.TEC), a non-profit based in Nigeria working to encourage Nigerian women to use technology to empower themselves socially and economically.
Oreoluwa worked for several years in the United States at an educational non-for-profit organisation on a number of projects, which explored the interplay between gender and technology and which sought to attract more girls and women to study and work in science and technology-related fields.
She has a Bachelors degree in Economics from Essex University, U.K. and a Masters degree in Analysis, Design and Management of Information Systems from the London School of Economics & Political Science.
Oreoluwa’s published work include ‘Telling Our Own Stories: African Women Blogging for Social Change’ (Gender & Development Journal, Nov 2007) and ‘Making the Most of On-line Learning: An Introduction to Learning on the Internet’ (Education Development Center, 2004). She also maintains personal and professional blogs.
Oreoluwa Won the 2009 Anita Borg Institute Change Agent Award – sponsored by Google.