Abisoye Ajayi-Akinfolarin runs GirlsCoding, a free program run by the Pearls Africa Foundation that seeks to educate — and excite — girls about computer programming. Since 2012, the group has helped more than 400 disadvantaged girls gain the technical skills and confidence they need to transform their lives.
It’s the vision of Ajayi-Akinfolarin, who left a successful career to dedicate herself to this work. She’d noticed how few women worked in this growing field — a 2013 government survey found that less than 8% of Nigerian women were employed in professional, managerial or technology jobs. She wanted to fix the gender gap.
In an interview with CNN, she said:
“”When I went to Makoko for the first time, I was surprised to see the living conditions of human beings,” recalls Abisoye Ajayi-Akinfolarin, a computer programmer in Lagos. “Most girls are trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty. Many of them are not thinking education, a plan for the future.”
“I believe you can still find diamonds in these places. They need to be shown another life.
Life growing up for me was tough. Losing my mother at the age of 4, (being) beaten by my father — life was just crazy. I learned to fend for myself.
My first experience with a computer was at the age of 10, on a school break, at a business center run by my brother’s friend. Learning to type and modify text in Microsoft Word was just beautiful. But I really discovered my love for computers when I joined an IT firm as an intern after high school.
When I got introduced to the world of computer programming, I was just natural with it. It just flowed. It’s all about solving problems. I never knew that I’d be looking for solutions to problems regarding less privileged girls.
That is what GirlsCoding is all about. We also want the girls to be leaders and change agents. We code towards a purpose, so they try to solve problems relating to what they see.
For example, one project that I really like is called Hope Baskets. The girls wanted to get beggars off the streets, so they created a website to be a bridge between the rich and the poor. They wanted a way where someone can declutter their house and give them a call. Then they take what they’re getting rid of — food, clothing, educational materials — and give it to those in need.
We have another project called Break the Blade, about stopping female genital mutilation. These girls believe there is a lot of ignorance about this and want to be ambassadors on this issue. Eventually, they want to have a wrist band where you can press a button and it calls local authorities to come if FGM is about to take place.
The fact that they can create solutions to problems makes them feel bold. It is no longer about just coding.
Right now, we are expanding into different states in Nigeria. One day, we also hope to have an institution called Girls Village — a residential program that would provide all types of training for young girls. We’d also give them a chance to incubate their ideas about how to solve problems in their communities and learn how to pitch them. You could call it a bigger version of what we are currently doing.
We want girls to be creators of tech, not mere users. Watching them write code is beautiful. Many of them never touched a computer before they got here. It’s mind-blowing. The joy on their faces, that’s more than money. I can’t buy it.”
By Ayo Al