Driven by her need to see many more women in the tech industry, American social entrepreneur Netia McCray founded the youth-focused social enterprise, Mbadika.
Mbadika, which means “idea” in the north Angolan language of Kimbundu, hosts engineering workshops at which children are taught basic engineering principles through making simple DIY kits. It also explores possible solutions to the challenges faced by aspiring young innovators and entrepreneurs in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.
During a trip to South Africa, McCray’s organisation taught young South Africans how to make low-cost, solar-powered USB chargers. Made from a solar panel, a USB circuit, batteries and other electronic components, the chargers can be used to power phones or USB powered devices.
McCray believes if you have ever made something to solve a problem, then you are an engineer.
GETTING MORE WOMEN INTO TECH
McCray spoke to Redbull Amaphiko about the importance of encouraging young curiosity.
“Whenever I disassembled stuff at home, I always thought of myself as a detective unravelling the world’s mysteries,” she said. “I wanted to understand how the colourful wires and green boards dotted with silver holes would turn on our television or radio.”
Her father encouraged her interests when she was a child, helping her to construct toys from plywood and learn the ins and outs of hardware. She would also strip her toys and household items to their circuit boards so she could better understand how they worked.
Today, McCray is an electrical engineering graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She said it was very difficult to find female tech entrepreneurs as role models.
“Women in tech are rarely given a platform to share their successes with the world. So, for little girls like me, having a tech career seemed as realistic as being a fairytale princess. If we want to see more women encouraging other women to enter the tech industry, we must start providing a platform for them to share their stories to young girls.”
Good mentoring in any field is a powerful mechanism for success. Because there are not many mentors publicised in the tech industry, if one does not immediately come to mind McCray suggests finding a mentor by exploring local publications and looking through university tech departments.
“Even if you can only reach your mentor through Twitter, Skype or Facebook a few times a year, it’s still worth reaching out. I promise you, more times than not, you’ll find support. We were once in your shoes and we want make your journey a little easier than ours.”
McCray herself was inspired by Saran Kaba Jones, the founder of Face Africa, an organisation that installs water purification systems for Liberian communities. “Her work has provided me valuable insight on how to avoid costly mistakes when implementing large scale projects,” she explained.
“If I had attempted to navigate my career solo, I would have quickly left for other more well-trodden paths. My mentor assisted me in my preparation for my career and ensured that I had the ability to take advantage of every opportunity that was available.”