- The tech sector still grapples with gender underrepresentation, raising the critical need for diversity in driving innovation.
- Mukarukundo’s entrepreneurial journey ignited during her university days, but she soon realized that her ideas, like those of other women, were met with closed doors.
- With less than 50% of Africans having access to basic, affordable healthcare, Zuri Health harnesses innovation to transform inclusivity and accessibility.
In the pursuit of gender equality and women’s empowerment, technology has emerged as a powerful catalyst for change.
As the world celebrated International Women’s Day 2023, the global theme was: DigitALL – Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality.
This rallying cry recognizes technology’s immense potential to advance women’s rights and create a level playing field for female entrepreneurs worldwide.
Yet, as we embrace the promise of a tech-driven future, we must acknowledge the challenges women still face in accessing technology to start and grow their businesses.
While the digital landscape has opened unprecedented doors of opportunity, not all women have equal access to these transformative resources.
Joining in a recent webinar hosted by TechImpulse were four remarkable female founders who have harnessed technology to build their companies and startups: Daisy Isiaho, Co-founder and Chief Product Officer of Zuri Health in Kenya; Farah Emara, CEO and Co-founder of FreshSource in Egypt; Jacqueline Mukarukundo, Co-founder and CEO of Wastezon in Rwanda and Sana Afouaiz, Founder and Director of Womenpreneur-Initiative in Belgium.
These women have broken through hurdles and redefined accessibility, paving the way for others to follow suit.
The tech sector still grapples with gender underrepresentation, raising the critical need for diversity in driving innovation.
The journey toward gender equality is not merely a goal; it has become indispensable for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Zuri Health’s vision
Zuri Health is a transformative force that revolutionizes healthcare globally, breaking barriers and paving the way for accessible, affordable healthcare solutions.
“I had a passion for technology, and because I Understand the potential for technology to make a positive impact, having experienced first-hand challenges that many people have faced while trying to access healthcare services,” Ms. Isiaho shares.
In 2019 early January 2020, Zuri Health was launched when COVID-19 was at its peak.
Understanding the potential of technology to bridge healthcare gaps and the struggles fueled her determination to create a game-changing platform.
However, being a female African founder came with its share of obstacles.
Limited access to capital and investment networks posed significant challenges, while the male-dominated industry exuded skepticism towards the budding startup.
But adversity only fueled Zuri Health’s resolve to address the pressing healthcare needs in Africa.
Identifying the pain points, Zuri Health confronted the staggering statistics head-on.
With less than 50% of Africans having access to basic, affordable healthcare, the team harnesses innovation to transform inclusivity and accessibility.
Unveiling multiple solutions, they created a virtual hospital, ingeniously deploying an app, website, and chatbot interface.
This empowered users to connect with doctors, purchase medication, book lab tests, and even request home visits for consultations.
To deepen inclusion, they introduced an indigenous SMS functionality to cater to 65% of users lacking access to smartphones or the internet.
With Zuri Health rapidly expanding to over eight African markets, its unique selling points lie in its end-to-end patient journey, strategic telco partnerships, unmatched adaptability, and a multichannel, multilingual approach.
Notably, the majority of their staff are women.
“Our goal is to empower female talent. We want to create multiple opportunities for growth and leadership,” Isiaho adds.
From Cairo, Fresh Source has embarked on a revolutionary mission since its inception in 2019 – to create MENA’s most sustainable Fresh Food Systems.
The aim is to transform the lives of producers, consumers, and businesses through data-driven technology and sustainable practices.
They recognized the pressing need to modernize agri-sourcing in the region where 45% of Egypt’s food was lost before it ever reached store shelves.
Lack of price transparency resulted in the exploitation of producers and businesses by intermediaries, hindering the growth of the agriculture sector.
The Fresh Source is determined to harness the potential of data and tech to foster a convenient, affordable, and reliable food supply while strengthening food security through sustainable food systems.
To tackle the challenges, they have revolutionalized the industry, which has saved customers money and time and significantly reduced food wastage, achieving an impressive 5% loss rate compared to the national average of 45%.
Their commitment to farmer empowerment is evident through the development of financial inclusions, providing vital support such as crop loans, agri-inputs, and B2B financing.
“In a male-dominated industry, securing the right investors proved to be a challenge,” Emara recalls.
Reflecting on the obstacles she faced, she was even advised to appoint a male CEO, but her unwavering commitment to inclusivity and women’s empowerment stood firm.
Their dedication to innovation is commendable, as they incorporate technologies such as machine learning and traceability, employing blockchain for food safety, tracking, and weather forecasting.
Proving a point
Mukarukundo’s entrepreneurial journey ignited during her university days, but she soon realized that her ideas, like those of other women, were met with closed doors.
Undeterred, she set out to pave the way for gender inclusivity and women empowerment, making a mark in the male-dominated tech world.
“I am tired of being the only young female in rooms filled with men,” she shares.
With a clear vision to tackle the mounting challenge of electronic waste in Africa, she co-founded Wastezon.
Their innovative platform addresses the pressing issue of electronic waste, driven by the influx of secondhand phones and laptops from the US and Europe.
Wastezon serves as a matchmaker, connecting those needing e-waste management with recycling organizations, creating a crucial link in the fight against climate change.
Wastezon boasts an impressive 3,600 users today, with four organizations onboard in pursuing digital transformation.
“As a woman in this field, you need to prove people wrong,” she shares candidly, reflecting on her challenges.
She emphasizes the need for work-life balance amid societal pressures and sky-high expectations.
Women often juggle multiple roles, but she encourages them to be confident and break free from the confines of gender-defined roles.
One of her biggest hurdles was the need for more female mentors in the tech sphere.
Her story echoes the importance of nurturing an inclusive environment where women’s ideas are embraced and their contributions celebrated.
Empowering women entrepreneurs
The Womenpreneur Digital Hub initiative was born in March 2021 and marked a turning point for women across the MENA region.
The platform has already impacted the lives of 6000 members and garnered an astounding 1 million views on its website, depicting an unwavering commitment to unleash the untapped economic potential of women.
Spearheaded by the visionary Ms. Afouaiz, the digital hub was born out of a deep understanding of the challenges faced by women entrepreneurs in the region.
“We notices that many women struggled with scaling up their businesses, facing obstacles like bankruptcy that led heartbreaking closures,” Ms. Afouaiz reveals.
Driven by the mission to uplift and empower, the Womenpreneur Digital Hub set out to equip women with the necessary tools to thrive in the digital age.
By providing comprehensive training in digital marketing, business resilience, funding strategies, and scaling-up technologies, the platform has become a beacon of hope for countless aspiring women entrepreneurs.
Beyond just imparting knowledge, the initiative goes the extra mile by fostering networking opportunities that serve as the lifeblood of entrepreneurial growth.
By supporting women’s economic empowerment through many resources and customized information, the hub becomes the wind beneath the wings of countless women entrepreneurs.
But the journey doesn’t end here. The future holds even more promise as the Womenpreneur Digital Hub Initiative empowers even more women across the region.
A particularly exciting project on the horizon is the launch of a mentorship program.
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The initiative will create a support system that nurtures innovation and fosters exponential growth by connecting successful startups with budding entrepreneurs.
The future of women in tech is bright, and we can make it a reality!