Africa: a model for women’s innovation

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Societe Generale: Partner of Digital Women’s Day

After the success of the Paris editions of Digital Women’s Day (DWD), partnered with Societe Generale, the event is picking up stakes for the first time and heading to Dakar, Africa!  This year’s theme is “Women: World Changers”. For two days, the event will promote innovation led by women in a bid to work towards a responsible, more inclusive digital society. DWD co-founder Delphine Remy-Boutang explains this initiative in Senegal along with the major stakes and challenges of encouraging women to work in new technologies.

How did you get the idea to create Digital Women’s Day?

I co-founded Digital Women’s Day in 2013 after working at IBM in England for about 15 years. When I came back to France, I was often asked to speak about innovation and technology, and 7 years ago I was often the only woman present at round table discussions. So I had the idea of creating an event to promote women’s innovation, entrepreneurship and intrapraneurship. The event has since grown from 300 participants the first year to 10,000 last year; 25,000 if you count livestream.  And we doubled these figures this year at Maison de la Radio.

My area of expertise is communication, and with DWD we shine a spotlight on all these role models - these role makers in fact - who are women creating, innovating and generating jobs. We build them up through targeted initiatives, accelerators, the connections set up between these start-ups and large corporations. We give them visibility, and that’s essential. I like to take the example of Frichti, a start-up that took off at the fourth annual DWD in 2017, or Leetchi at the very first. We bring added value by finding these rising stars on the verge of taking off and putting them squarely in the spotlight for all to see.

Another key goal is to break down barriers for women, to encourage them to believe in themselves and to dare to pursue a career in the Tech industry.

“There has never been a better time to be a woman. We just need to give them confidence. There are so many opportunities in the digital field, you just have to be there. It’s important for women to feel comfortable in this field for two reasons. First of all, the digital sector exists because of women: code is a language created by a woman, Ada Lovelace, then you have all those women working in the shadows during World War II, and Margaret Hamilton at NASA who made a huge contribution to putting man on the moon. In the 1970s, when the digital field gained recognition as a genuine area of expertise in its own right, men took over and now women are under-represented at just 28%, falling to 10% at tech start-ups. In AI, which encompasses the industries of the future, an algorithm cannot be considered “neutral” if it is thought up, written and designed by a man.

These robots will be biased. Women aren’t better, they simply bring another perspective, albeit one that represents 50% of Humanity!

Delphine Rémy Boutang

This is the first year DWD will be held in Africa. Why Africa?

Africa is the continent that champions women entrepreneurs, with 27% of women starting their own company. Women are playing an active part in the continent’s growth. Africa is the cradle of Humanity, but that’s also its destiny, when you realise that by 2100 one in three human beings will be African. Our ambition is to create ties between the continents, generate synergies, integrate local start-ups in a broader ecosystem.

Africa is the future of the digital industry. We’re already thinking about next year’s DWD, which should be held in Ethiopia, where the President and the Prime Minister are both women, and which is the only country in Africa that was never colonised. These are beautiful symbols of open-mindedness and freedom.

How is the venue shaping up in Dakar? Is the anticipation building?

We have a seating capacity of 300 and 650 people already signed up! So both days, centred on inspiration, experience and networking, are already a resounding success. The idea is to turn DWD into a pan-African event. We have start-ups coming from all across the continent: Côte d’Ivoire, Togo, Benin, Chad, Mali, South Africa, and more. We’ll be handing out awards - Margaret Awards - we’ll be taking a tour of everything going on in Dakar, which is a model city in Africa in terms of innovation ecosystems.

One highlight will be our tour of the Innovation Lab by Societe Generale to showcase everything your Group is doing to help women grow and achieve long-term success. We have over 50 speakers on the programme, including Florant Youzan, the Head of the Innovation Lab, and Edith Brou.

Why is it so important to have the support of major groups like Societe Generale or Total?

Because together we can change the world. Also, thanks to your support and everything you do to promote women entrepreneurs, we will reach that goal. We’re thrilled to have you by our side. We also have strong support in France from government authorities: we’ve been welcomed at the French Embassy and met with Edouard Philippe in Matignon to kick off the seventh annual Digital Women’s Day in Paris.

When you think about the business stakes involved, you realise that everyone needs to get on board and act now. AI stands to generate over 2.3 million jobs. The question is who will take these jobs? To not encourage women to work in these fields is to build an increasingly unequal and biased future.

“Instants Africains” – a sounding board for entrepreneurs

The blog “Instants Africains” (Glimpses from Africa) charts African entrepreneurship seen through the eyes of four African influencers. It is the tale of a continent that takes action, told by those who are making it, experiencing it and shaping it. The blog provides a space for dialogue in which Edith Yah Brou, Diane Audrey Ngako, Florent Youzan and Jean-Marc André share their encounters with the African figures whose entrepreneurial spirit has struck a chord with them.

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