NJIDEKA HARRY TALKS INCLUSIVITY IN TECH, ENTREPRENEURSHIP, AND 3D PRINTING TECHNOLOGY

Njideka Harry’s unbridled passion
about 3D printing technologies and its
future in the industry is quite
contagious. The Founder of Youth for
Technology Foundation (YTF) recently
added the innovative model to the list
of strategic programs her organisation
offers to young Nigerians and
Africans. And she is excited about the
new program. Currently, YTF is the
only social enterprise in Nigeria at the
forefront of 3D printing and other
such related technologies.
The addition of 3D printing
technologies to the programs at YTF is
in line with the organisation’s aim to
inspire Science, Technology,
Engineering & Math (STEM) careers
and promote micro-entrepreneurship
in Nigeria, thereby helping to make
a significant social impact through the
creation of youth and women
entrepreneurs in the Nigerian
technology industry.
For Ms. Harry and YTF women, youth,
and their distinct but combined role
in improving the ecosystem for
entrepreneurship in Nigeria is the
primary focus, although improving
the socioeconomic status of women
and girls is at the core of their set
objectives. With the introduction of
technologies such as the 3D printing,
the industry has opened up yet
another avenue for women across
Nigeria to be impacted upon.
With their innovations, women such
as Maureen and Aisha, and young
girls such as Precious and Treasure
are already leading the charge
towards not just popularising 3D
printing technologies and learning
ways to make it economically viable,
but reiterating the fact that the
technology industry is indeed for
everyone.
In this interview, she talks about the
need for inclusivity in the technology
industry and the many potentials that
exist in 3D printing technologies.
Ventures Africa (VA): So, gender roles
and certain specialisations and
technology. We’ve broken a lot of moulds
here in the country, but there’s still the
issue of technology being a ‘man’s thing’,
as far as some people are concerned?
What’s your opinion about that and
addressing the issue of thinking in that
manner?
Njideka Harry (NH): I think the issue of
women in technology still remains a
very prevalent one in the Nigerian
economy today. Historically,
technology-focused subject areas or
courses at the university level – even
at the secondary school level – have
been perceived to be masculine and
mostly pursued by males in essence. It
is the role of not just the government,
but also private sectors as well as civil
society to encourage the ‘other half’ of
the population. Of which no nation
can be successful without, of course,
the input of women and girls into the
sector.
It is important to encourage them to
pursue science, technology,
engineering, and math careers. And
there are several ways that we can do
this. The first thing is by looking at
the curriculum in the education sector
to see if there are any existing gender
stereotypes within the curriculum,
and how we can look at ensuring the
curriculum, as it’s developed and
implemented, takes the role of girls
and women into consideration.
Secondly, I think the power of
mentors cannot be overstated; women
and girls in technology need women
leaders working in the technology
field, or running technology
enterprises. They really need them as
mentors. They need to see people in
the industry and in the classroom that
are pursuing tech careers that look
like them.
And thirdly, we know that cultural
stereotypes, as well as societal norms,
continue to penetrate societies in
Nigeria. As a civil society organisation
ourselves, we think it’s important to
really engage the families and the
communities, where these girls come
from, from day one. So that they
understand the benefits of pursuing
or continuing in science-related
education, as well as pursuing
technology-related careers.
VA: So, telecommunications is one of the
biggest areas in which ICT is
implemented, and Nigeria is one of the
biggest markets on the continent for ICT
and telecommunications. Do you think
that this reflects in our GDP, in terms of
ICT contribution?
NH: So, Nigeria, over the last year or
so, received about 19 billion dollars in
terms of ICT investment – one of the
largest investments when you look
across the sectors. The ICT area has a
huge role to play when it comes to the
gross domestic product and driving
that in terms of creation of jobs,
rehabilitating the educational sector,
etcetera. First, not just providing the
core technical skills to young people,
but also teaching them how to
monetise these skills in the market
place, by selling their skills to create
more self-sustainable communities.
VA: Do you think that there’s anything
else that can be done to improve the
[technology] sector that isn’t currently
being done?
NH: An enabling environment is key.
And that enabling environment can
be supported, not just by the
government, but also the private
sector has a role to play with civil
society organisations. Take a look at
the education system in Nigeria, for
instance. The education system is not
just broken, it’s actually obsolete.
Where you have hundreds of
thousands of young people graduating
from secondary schools but they are
not able to find jobs, or they are not
able to continue their education at the
university level.
It is important that the private sector
– working along with civil society –
come in and empower these young
people by investing in them, even
before they transition into
universities. So, rather than take
education, acquisition of skills, and
employment as three different,
discrete areas, the ability to converge
these areas from a private sector
perspective, where a company can see
potential in a young person, train
them, and provide them with the
skills, and then support their
education in some way, so that they’re
able to complete their education, and
then take an established job within
the company.
We’ve seen this successful model in
other countries, like Singapore. I
think there’s a lot that Nigeria can
learn from that one.
VA: How much of a role do you think
that ICT plays in entrepreneurship and
startups in Nigeria that are not
necessarily tech-oriented?
NH: So there is a wide array of areas
that information and communication
technology plays a role. When you
look at ICT at a broad level, it includes
anything from basic Internet access,
to digital literacy, to mobile and
software application, and then to
mobile banking, in essence. And
entrepreneurs span across all these
sectors. We also work with women
entrepreneurs where we’re teaching
them about mobile banking to become
banking agents in their communities.
Because one of the issues in Nigeria is
the issue of access to banks.
Especially for women, where a large
percentage of these women continue
to remain financially excluded. And
so teaching them how to use mobile
banking technologies and access
online banking tools has been
extremely helpful. We’ve seen that
some of these women have flourished
as banking agents, and it has become
a core part of their business model,
and they’ve been able to generate
enough income to support their
families, their education, and the
health of their children.
VA: What inspired YTF to take on
technology, not just for youth, but for
women specifically? I imagine it’s
because the role of women in the
economy is still being underestimated in
the country, for example, because we
ignore the contributions that they make
from the traditional market settings to
the bigger, more corporate ones. Was
there any kind of inspiration for YTF, or
it was the general “women empowerment
is not where it’s supposed to be, and
we’re just going to tackle that”?
NH: You know, when we began our
work 16 years ago in Nigeria, I would
attend different conferences, and
speak on different panels, meet with
people leaders within the government
and the private sector… One of the
questions that often came up was,
“Why young people, why technology,
why does it matter?” And today, that’s
obviously pretty much a moot point,
because everyone really sees the
benefits that appropriate technology
can afford young people, who are not
just the future, but actually the
leaders of today.
Today we have three billion young
people between the ages of 12 to 24
across the world, and this is one of the
fastest growing demographics in
Africa (Africa is currently the
youngest continent with the median
age of somewhere around 19). And
when we started to develop our
programs working with the local
population at YTF, a lot of the young
people came up to us and said, “Our
mothers could use this information.
Our mothers could learn from the
digital literacy education you’re
providing us. Our mothers could learn
from the entrepreneurship and life
skills you’re providing us with.”
And so we know that women
fundamentally are the backbone of
the economic communities that we
serve. Very often, reinvesting as much
as 90 percent of their household
income back into their communities.
And so we heard the voice of our
customer – the youth we serve – and
we began to work with these
communities to co-develop content
that would serve mothers. And that
has just proved to be wonderful for
the last several years because we do
fully understand the role that women
play in the national economy. And
when women thrive, entire
communities win.
VA: Where is YTF currently, and what is
the vision for YTF both in Nigeria and
other African countries?
NH: At Youth for Technology
Foundation, we really try to look at
the appropriate technologies, and
what technologies will serve
development amongst the young
people and the women. And looking
over the course of history, of course,
we can’t predict the future, but we
know that in looking into the future,
it’s important to look at what has
happened in the past. We’re currently
in the fourth industrial revolution
where technologies such as 3D
printing have taken a forefront in
looking at ways in which countries
using this technology can actually
revolutionise the manufacturing
industry.
For instance, the 3D printing industry
is estimated to grow from somewhere
around 3.1 billion in 2013 to
somewhere over 30 billion in 2025
which is just a huge incremental
growth rate in that industry. You see
an extreme amount of potential in
that industry at large. In 2014, about
133,000 3D printers were shipped
worldwide, and that number is set to
just grow incrementally.
Now, where is the opportunity for
young people and women
entrepreneurs, specifically in the
developing countries? We
fundamentally believe that young
people are creative. They want to
create, they want to make, and they
want to innovate. And by so doing
they can actually transform our
continent from “aid to Africa” to
more of a “made in Africa” continent
by creating the future that they want
to see. And so, what we’ve done at
YTF, through engineering prototype
hubs is, we have started training
young people and women
entrepreneurs how to model, using
AutoCAD and solidworks and some of
the other modelling software to create
products like small household
consumables and jewellery.
So these products they can eventually
put on online marketplaces and
monetize their talents. They can
monetize their talents through selling
their digital skills or digital products
to the global market. Specifically for
entrepreneurs in the product space,
we know that online markets allow
markups from –30 percent of
entrepreneurs have said that they can
mark up their goods for as much as 25
to 50 percent. So, this provides a good
revenue opportunity for young people
living in developing countries, in
terms of being able to 3D print
products and make them available to
the global marketplace for sale.

 

 

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