Asia, Interviews

Nila Achia – Founder and CEO of Women In Digital (WIDBD)

Meet Nila Achia – Founder and CEO of Women In Digital (WIDBD), a Social Enterprise that has created programmers to help women advance by providing access to a Digital Platform.

What role does technology play in your everyday life?

Women in Digital is an all-star team of female technologists dedicated to bringing more Bangladeshi women into the digital economy.

I am a computer engineer. I am handling the technical things first and then I play my role as a CEO of Women in Digital.

Women in Digital’s Claim is “Empowerment through Technology” – how does that work?

Yes, we are empowering women through technology. Now they feel financially empowered too. In our work, we have focused on 3 things:

  1. We have our own Digital Agency “Lumina Dev” which is run by 100% women engineers and non-engineers.
  2. We have our own tech school in rural and urban areas. We have trained girls and women regarding tech courses and providing mentorship and work for their career. We have a job portal for our students, our website for tech school: www.womenindigital.net
  3. As Women in E-commerce our main motto is “empowerment through technology”. In our rural area, women are less educated but they are developing some creative products like handcraft. We have developed a web portal for them to sell their product to the international market through our platform.

Initially we gather girls and women from rural and urban areas. In the first stage we provide them training in soft skills, leadership and communication.

In the 2nd stage we provide them technical training like PHP, Java, Android, .net, C#, python, Laravel, graphic design etc.

 In the 3rd stage we give them the test job. In the fourth stage we secure them a mentor and in the last stage we connect them with online and offline job marketplace.

For maintaining the process we have developed a very specific curriculum, which our girls can learn first and earn first.

What are the most used tools in your work?

I mostly use Trello, Asana and JIRA for managing the projects and the team. Besides this, I am working on android and PHP.

In a nutshell: How does a workday in your life look like?

My morning always starts with checking the official emails and replying to them. My company is a 24/7 service provider company, we have shifting office time in our office. My office time is 10 am to 6 pm. In the office, I start my day with checking clients work deadline and I set the priority of client work delivery time. Analysis of new project and clients requirements and budget. Now we are starting to develop our own product so I need to give my time to it. Besides this, I am helping the team if they need any help. Sometimes I have meetings with international clients online.

Tell us a bit about your journey? Where did you start and how did you get to where you are now?

I’m Achia Nila. I was born and raised in a village and peri urban area.

I got a good education. There were both boys and girls in my school, so I never thought about gender issues. I was good in studies and I wanted to study computer engineering. I joined my University and the first day I was shocked. Unlike school and college, I was the only girl in the classroom. So I started looking for senior females in the entire university. There were two women, one had already quit and another was about to quit. In the entire country, there were hardly any women in the digital space. This is where my days of struggling started. People did not take women seriously at all. They did not think we can be good at something like coding.

During my second year, I applied for my first job. There I saw that women were only accepted for graphics or testing. Hardcore coding was a complete ‘no-go’ zone for girls. I had to fight for my first job but I got it. I was again the only girl in the coding department. There were many challenges. Let’s not get into that, it will be a very long story. But in short, the more time I spent, I became more aware of the challenges women face. It broke my heart because it is not about judging women in a certain job. The entire society was judging our existence, our capacity, our dreams just based on one thing- our gender. I knew very clearly that I am not going to keep fighting just for my own personal acceptance. Coding is something I love and I enjoy. And there is nothing about being a man or woman that affects coding. This became a bigger vision for me. To bring more Bangladeshi women in technology. To empower women through technology. This is how Women in Digital was born.

In the year 2013, I started with a small group of 5 women. Today we have trained more than 5000 females in technology. More than 3000 are actively working. In the beginning, it was a challenge to convince the girls and their parents. Another challenge was that we needed women with a good education. So we could mostly work with girls from a middle-class background. We all know that low-income families or rural areas need bigger help. This is why we started running training programs in the villages as well. Today, we have many success stories of women from different background. We have a woman who could not continue her higher studies because of the family’s poor financial condition. Today she is able to support her family. We have a rural girl from Mymensingh village, who now leads in that area.

There are many success stories like that.

Women in Digital today focuses on three areas.

  •  Women in Digital Agency: this is where women engineers develop IT product for international Clients mostly in Australia and the USA market. Recently we developed a water billing software for our local govt.
  •  Women in Digital Tech School: this is where we actually provide computer training for girls to be ready for the job market.
  • Women in E-commerce: with this, we are completely focusing on rural women. Here we create an international market for their handicraft products through our social media and website. The entire team from craftswomen, photographers to digital coder are women.

With the help of the Spring program, since last year we have been able to develop a financial model for the training center. Starting this February, we will have three tech schools, one in Dhaka, one in Ramgonj and one is Kurigram which will run like permanent institutes.

Bangladesh is probably one of the best countries in South Asia to encourage women in the digital space. Because of the government’s initiatives like Digital Bangladesh, we have the opportunity to reach even the most remote region, train the girls and also find them international jobs. There is a huge opportunity. I am proud of training 5000 women, but we have the potential for millions. Of course, there are challenges, it starts with the families, society, education system, exposure, the attitude of job providers, and much more. But we have already come a long way, from being the only girl in the class to being able to see thousands of girls, Women in Digital is not only a dream, but it is also a reality and a platform for a better future for women and girls in this country and the world.

Please continue this sentence: I have failed…. and these were my learnings:

I have failed so many times to run a tech company with the girls and these were my learnings and now I am successfully running a tech company with 100% female members.

Who’s your personal Shero & give us three sentences why?

Firstly my mother Syeda Teherun Nahar. Without her support I would never become Nila, She gave me a good education and taught me how I can be a good human. When I started my own business in that time I thought only I could inspire me. Nobody is here to inspire me.

After 2016 I got someone whom I can follow. She taught me one very important word that’s really something very meaningful in my life. The word is “Attitude” and the women in Sonia Bashir Kabir who was Former Managing Director at Microsoft Bangladesh, Nepal and many more countries.

Seeing still mainly men working in the tech industry, what would be your advice for (young) women who look at pursuing a career in tech, but are too shy or reluctant?

Be confident in your own strength. If you are not helping you, nobody will help you. Target – focus – action and you will achieve your goal.

Nila Achia – Founder and CEO of Women In Digital (WIDBD), an initiative of a Social Enterprise that has created programmers to help women advance by providing access to Digital Platform. Women in Digital is an all-star team of female technologists dedicated to bringing more Bangladeshi women into the digital economy.

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