For too long, coding was seen as a man’s game. But thankfully, there’s one woman (one of a growing number, we’re happy to report), who’s working to change that narrative. ABISOYE AJAYI-AKINFOLARIN is the Social Entrepreneur and Founder of Pearls Africa, and she’s on a mission to build a tech community of girls from under-served areas. Her coding program is
engineered to provide them with the functional skills to create solutions for their communities as well as improve their standard of living. A woman’s rights activist, Ajayi-Akinfolarin was named alongside nine others as CNN Heroes in 2018. In this interview, she shares insights on her foundation, the need for more women to be represented in the tech space in Africa and her part in bridging the gap.

When did you discover your love for computers?

I was fortunate to work in EDP Audit, thanks to my brother who linked me up while I was seeking admission into the university and I interned and worked in the firm for a couple of years. I [could]
say that it happened accidentally but today I am glad I was given such an opportunity, which has given birth to what I do today.

Let’s talk about your foundation. Why did you turn your efforts to young girls from disadvantaged backgrounds?

My experiences as a young girl who grew up facing a lot of challenges, made me grow with the passion and heart of change for disadvantaged young girls. If these disadvantaged girls are taught the appropriate skills and given the appropriate

[resources]

, they can create solutions to long-lasting problems that have faced their community and our nation at large and as a result gain economic independence in life, thereby putting a stop to the vicious cycle of poverty they have always known.

Coding and programming are very much male-dominated areas. Did you face any pushback when you decided to pursue both?

Science was never in view [for me], even when I learnt [Microsoft Word] when I was younger. The computer does not know if you are male or female, it only responds to a set of instructions given to it by its user. I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy and that success doesn’t come without a price.
I happened to find myself in that field and I decided to make the best use of my time there in order to make a difference.

The foundation focuses solely on girls from disadvantaged communities, how about girls from average homes that have the means to pay and would love to be a part of the foundation?

We do teach girls who have the means to pay and the passion to learn. That actually wasn’t the initial plan but along the way, people were intrigued by what we were doing and wanted their daughters to sign up. This is a way we have been able to keep
this NGO sustainable because the money a girl pays goes as far as training a couple of girls for a particular period.

If you had the resources, would you extend this to everyone in c l u d i n g boys?

I have always had a focus and that focus is girls. This came as a result of women being under-represented in the tech space. If anyone wants to equip boys, and we have the resources, we would empower them with all the resources and mechanism we have at our disposal to equip boys. The world is becoming a global city and we would love for everyone regardless of gender to be fully represented.

Creating A New Lane For Girls In tech, speaking of funding, how is the foundation funded?

From the start, it was funded by friends and family. With a side business as a consultant, which also helps to sustain our NGO, we started writing proposals. Some were approved while some were not. Thanks to our partners, US Consulate, Union Bank, BudgIT and many more, who really contributed to making the training of the girl child possible over the years.

The conversation about the need for more women in the tech space is ongoing; Do you see Pearls Foundation contributing to bridging that gap?

That is our vision, we want more women technically involved in solving problems that tackle our nation’s most pressing issues and when this happens, there is space for economic growth. We are not just training these girls to be knowledgeable; we are training them to compete on a global scale in the tech world and this as well in bridging the gap. Pearls Africa is contributing to making women tech savvy.

Seeing that the future is intertwined with technology, what is your advice to young girls who are in school and looking to walk a career path?

I would strongly advise them to take online courses, volunteer with organisations so as to gain some form of practical experience. They should be humble enough to assume zero knowledge and willingness to learn. It may not be easy but they should have the mindset that says ‘it’s possible’’ they should also not expect success overnight, they must be ready to read and learn and endure the process of growth, be able to delay gratification.

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