Women in Technology Uganda (WITU) aims at Empowering, Inspiring and Training the next generation of Uganda female leaders, business women, and technologists. WITU has the vision to reduce the technological gap that exists between girls and boys.
In a bid to understand how WITU operates, we had a conversation with Irene Kituyi, Director of Operations at WITU.
According to Irene, one of the reasons WITU was founded is that “if you call a tech meeting, you’ll find more males than females”.
Yet, when we enter school doing sciences, we are at the same level. Why does it happen that when it comes to taking professions, girls don’t take tech as a profession? – Irene
Currently, they work with girls at different levels of the education ladder. From primary schools, Ordinary and Advanced level as well as those at tertiary level.
Though, of all these, our interest lay with the program aimed at girls who drop out of schools. WITU organizes a special program for this group to interest them in technology. But, prior to being admitted to the cohort, they’re given a three months training which includes basic computer training, life skills, and entrepreneurship.
Initially, the main focus of the cohort program was to train these girls on how to start tech businesses. But, they later learned that some couldn’t afford or had different interests.
That’s when they decided to make the program broader to accommodate even those that weren’t looking to start tech businesses as well as girls that looking to be employed.
Another important aspect of the cohort program that the team at WITU never saw coming was the inclusion of Sexual Reproductive Health among the topics covered as well as life skills.
This was after learning that some of the girls were skipping training due to sexual reproductive related issues.
Plus, like any human being, Irene says that they needed to know themselves better in order to build self-esteem as well as communicate effectively. Therefore, their training aims at interlinking all that.
To them, the above is not only necessary for those looking to start their own businesses but even those looking to be employed.
Currently, WITU is training cohort number 13 since the inception of the program in 2015 and each of these cohorts averages 75 girls. The girls are required to trek daily to the WITU premises located on Kanjokya street in Kamwokya.
Which explains why the majority of the participants are from surrounding areas of Kawempe, Kamwokya, Kyebando, Bukoto, Kisaasi. Though there are some that come from as far as Mbuya and Najjera.
They hold two sessions to ensure everyone is covered. The first session is in the morning and starts at 9 am to midday and the second one in the afternoon from three to six pm.
Asked if they are for profit or not, Irene highlights that they’re “not-for-profit but donor funded“. One of the donors is the Segal Family Foundation, though they’re trying to figure out a way of being self-sufficient by outsourcing some work from other organizations.
When the program first kicked off, everything was free. But, with time, WITU introduced a fee. This, Irene says, was “to make them interested in what they are doing because it was completely free so people used not to take it seriously by the attending irregularly.”
The fee is 20,000/- of which UGx. 10,000 is for them to get an Identity Card and the remaining UGx. 10,000 is for graduation facilitation.
While talking about success stories from the various cohorts, Irene admits that their “success stories may not be popular names in the country yet, but to us, they mean a lot.”
Some of them are girls that came with zero shillings but now own a business making 20k a day. At the end of each cohort, we have three objectives; Either you have started a business, improved your business, and or getting employed – Irene
One of the challenges is that girls drop out in the middle of the program. Though, Irene is quick to add that “some drop out for good reasons.” For example, she cites, “if someone gets a job in the middle of the training and she can not continue.”
The other crucial challenge is that some girls who would like to start their businesses don’t have startup capital despite the fact the average startup capital is UGx. 300,000 for girls in the cohort programs.
It is a big challenge, many write very good proposals but don’t have money. So far, we have tried to get banks to get them some micro loans as well as in-house loans but it is not a lasting solution – Irene
Meanwhile, they are “looking for partners who can give them money,” according to Irene. This includes the plan to approach the minister of gender for a partnership on their women empowerment program.
Irene also adds that however, much they also try to get the girls funding, the past experience indicates that “girls are very much committed when they inject in their own money.“