Africa, Interviews

Gloria Muhoro – Gender, Technology & Innovation Specialist at African Development Bank

Technology must represent the diversity of the people it serves. For this to happen, we need more women in the tech sector and using technology.

Gloria Muhoro is an international development professional. She has solid experience leading work on inclusive innovation and women’s and girls’ socio-economic empowerment (especially leveraging ICTs) across Africa. She works at the African Development Bank as the focal point on Gender, Technology and Innovation and leading the Women in Tech work-stream in the Gender, Women and Civil Society Department. 

In a Nutshell: Tell us a bit about your job and what role technology plays in it?

I currently work at the African Development Bank (a multilateral development finance institution) leading the technology and innovation workstream in the Gender, Women and Civil Society Department. In this role, I am responsible for program design and partnership development in the implementation of the Bank’s Women in Tech program, which seeks to increase access to finance for women-led/owned tech businesses in Africa. I also enhance gender equality in the Banks technology projects and advise regional member countries on the design of innovative projects that have the potential to bring a critical mass of African women into the access, use and creation of technology. 

Where did your professional journey start and how did you get to where you are now?

My career has been shaped by the constant desire to improve the quality of life of vulnerable communities. Because of this (and despite having a scientific background), I consciously chose a career in the development sector. I’ve also always been fascinated by technology. I didn’t have a technical background in technology but had a strong interest in the sector. After a Masters in Inclusive Innovation, I narrowed my career interests to focus on leveraging technology and innovation as a tool for women’s socio-economic empowerment in Africa. So far, I can say that it has been quite a fulfilling career path. Regarding how I got to where I am now, I’d say it’s a mix of a curious mind, tenacity, introspection on my purpose and the contribution I wanted to make to society, a lot of hard work, willingness to learn and preparing for (and grabbing) opportunities.

What is the greatest transformation in technology you’ve witnessed in your career?

Having lived through the transition from the analog to the digital era, I’m fascinated by the transformative power of technology. From digital payments driving financial inclusion, drones delivering blood and medicine to otherwise hard to reach places, information at the touch of the button through mobile phones and the internet, social-media challenging the status quo through a hashtag, e-commerce platforms opening up a new world of markets, to artificial intelligence’s predictive modeling tools, the contribution of technology to society cannot be overstated. Presently, in order to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re witnessing how technology is facilitating population screening, infection tracking, reporting and the delivery of targeted solutions such as chatbox helpers and those combating misinformation and supply chain management. It’s truly fascinating. 

When you think about ‘women’ and ‘technology’ what comes to your mind first?

I think of the tremendous gains that Africa can reap if we enable our women to maximize their potential.

We need to address underlying stereotypes that prevent women from entering the tech sector.

Due to social norms and patriarchal cultures, a digital (gender) gap indicates that women have less access to technology, and participate less in the tech sector as producers, consumers, entrepreneurs and even as financiers (venture capitalists, angel investors etc.). This has to change. Technology must represent the diversity of the people it serves. For this to happen, we need more women in the tech sector and using technology. Barriers such as cost, network coverage, security and harassment, trust and technical literacy all need to be addressed to get more women online and fully connect to their world and communities. Likewise, we need to address underlying stereotypes that prevent women from entering the tech sector.

We always hear there are not enough women working in Tech. What needs to happen to change that?

Let me offer a few examples of medium to long-term approaches that we can take to get more women into tech.

First, we should create opportunities for girls to access basic education.

Second, we must target reforms in the education system that encourage girl’s interaction with science and technology from a young age and encourage their interest in STEM as they transition through every level of schooling.

Third, we must make science and technology more attractive and relevant for women and girls.

Finally and I would suggest, most importantly, we must change social norms and attitudes about women’s and girl’s participation in ‘male-dominated’ or ‘technical roles’ and address issues of unconscious bias and the ‘maternal wall/glass ceiling’ in the workplace. This will require concerted efforts and greater resources from governments, private sector, civil society and development partners.

What skills do you need for a career in tech (aside from the actual tech skills)?

I would like to broaden the narrative on the skills needed for a career in technology. I believe that the potential for women in the technology sector goes beyond coding and actual tech skills. Yes, women and girls should be encouraged to learn how to code if they are interested in computer science. But for those who aren’t, there is a world of opportunities to pursue in the tech industry that does not require actual tech skills. Tech companies are businesses and therefore, they would need more than just front or back-end developers; they will require financing, procurement, acceleration, marketing, business development managers, user experience experts and so on. The list is endless. Having said that, for one to excel in any of these areas, they would need a tenacious drive grounded by the firm belief that any dream is possible, regardless of one’s gender. 

We must change social norms and attitudes about women’s and girl’s participation in ‘male-dominated’ or ‘technical roles’ and address issues of unconscious bias and the ‘maternal wall/glass ceiling’ in the workplace.

What are the most important questions/topics that should be researched in future concerning female entrepreneurship?

I believe more research is needed on how we can enable (and incentivize) financial institutions and impact funds to overcome unconscious bias and the perceived risk of lending to women entrepreneurs despite the evidence that indicates that women entrepreneurs give better returns on investments and repay 98% of their loans even without collateral. This will help close the gender financing gap for women entrepreneurs. 

If you had 1 Million € to invest in women, what would you do?

That’s a good question. With 1 Million € to invest, I would focus on transforming the access to finance and business enabling environment for female entrepreneurs in Africa in order to enable them to maximize their business potential. African women are naturally entrepreneurial. According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2016/17 Women’s Report, one in four women in Africa starts or manages a business. However, the funding gap for these entrepreneurs is estimated to be $42 billion. This funding gap needs to be critically addressed as women’s access to financing is considered to be the most crucial instrument in advancing their economic capacity.

Gloria Muhoro is an international development professional. She has solid experience leading work on inclusive innovation and women’s and girls’ socio-economic empowerment (especially leveraging ICTs) across Africa. She works at the African Development Bank as the focal point on Gender, Technology and Innovation and leading the Women in Tech work-stream in the Gender, Women and Civil Society Department. 

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