ICT and women are not mutually exclusive subjects in Africa. Nnenna Nwakanma – herself a successful business woman in the ICT industry – describes how chances are growing for women to use the potential offered them by the new technologies to facilitate communication, manage small enterprises, participate in joint decisionmaking processes, and preserve African heritage. The greatest benefit that women can derive from information and communication technology, however, is in furthering their own education and that of their children. This improves their capacity to achieve human rights, promote political stability, and secure gender justice.
A successful businesswoman with her own consulting company, Nnenna Nwakanma operates internationally and is also a recognised authority within the world of ICT and development. Her company advises private firms, governments, large businesses and international development, as well as civil society organisations. Nwakanma is one of the founding members of various important and active ICT initiatives in Africa and was recently nominated for the Graça Machel Award for Prominent Women in Technology as part of the African Women Excel Awards. Continue reading to discover more about this dynamic woman.
eLA: You were recently nominated for the “Graça Machel Award for Prominent Women in Technology”. What excites you most about working in this maledominated field?
Nnenna Nwakanma: Trailblazing, though difficult, brings with it lots of excitement. There is also the satisfaction of achieving your aims, especially when working alongside people who share the same vision as you. I maintain that technology is the best thing that can happen to a woman. Naturally, women are a multi-tasking species, so a good Internet connection at home will multiply the capacity of any woman who has the skills needed to make optimum use of it.
eLA: Where do you see the greatest potential for African women in ICT and how is it possible to strengthen their position in this field?
Nnenna Nwakanma: Their potential lies in entrepreneurship, in building communication skills and management capacities, in increased participation in governance, in encouraging transparency in processes, documentation and mobilisation. Women also play an important role as the guardians of African culture and heritage, and ICT provides the means by which to do this. By digitising our collective memories, transforming the oral into the written and by creating our own content, telling our own stories and painting our own pictures, African heritage lives on.
However, where ICT can really help women realise their potential is in terms of education, both for themselves and for their children. Through eLearning and online knowledge acquisition, women can qualify themselves for global challenges. This also helps to establish the necessary framework to ensure our children’s education.
eLA: In your role as a consultant, what are some of the recurring questions asked by your African clients when planning to implement eLearning solutions?
Nnenna Nwakanma: Firstly, many of the questions that arise revolve around infrastructure, electricity being the main concern. Secondly, the question of human skills is often brought up as teachers are generally poorly remunerated and have not had basic IT training. Thirdly, there are also issues concerning the lack of hardware, funding and sustainability. As you can see, there are lots of questions, but not yet enough answers.
eLA: How do these questions vary depending on the region your clients are from?
Nnenna Nwakanma: In reference to the e-readiness evaluation of Africa, analysis shows that the key issues include: level of democracy; openness and transparency in government; IT procurement processes; government budgeting; economic, social and political stability and the respect of human rights. Thus, it may not necessarily be a ‘regional’ issue but rather one that is country-specific.
eLA: Your other fields of interest include human rights, conflict management and gender mainstreaming. To what extent and in what ways do they overlap with ICT?
Nnenna Nwakanma: I am still surprised to be classified as an ICT person. I see myself more as a human development activist who uses ICT to drive her passions.
ICT is a cross-cutting enabler for development. Ignorance, illiteracy and exploited religious beliefs are some of the issues that lead to human rights abuse, political instability and gender discrimination. The role of ICT in counteracting these issues, by supporting education and good governance, cannot be over-emphasised. In Africa, interactive technology-enabled media, mobile and hand-held devices, social media, residential Internet connectivity and the speeding-up of the spread of information are all key in raising our levels of development.
eLA: In the heated debate about technology in education at the last eLearning Africa conference in Dakar, you emphasised the urgency of enabling all Africans to have access to ICT. How are you pursuing this goal?
Nnenna Nwakanma: Within the framework of my roles and responsibilities, I do my best to move things forward. I am actively involved with the Digital Solidarity Fund, the Free Software and Open Source Foundation for Africa (FOSSFA) and the Open Source Initiative, amongst others. At NNENNA.ORG, we remain committed to contributing our expertise in ICT policies, implementation and evaluation with governments, as well as in building the necessary skill sets across all sectors of the population in a gender-balanced manner.
Recently, I have been involved in projects centered around eLearning, eGovernment and quality assurance in education and I hope that by the time eLearning Africa 2010 arrives, we will be able to look back and count a reasonable number of accomplishments. As Nelson Mandela says: ‘It is a long walk,’ but I believe that continually putting one step in front of the other will keep us moving.
eLA: Thank you very much for your time, Ms Nwakanma!
October 8, 2009
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