By Regina Honu, Founder, Soronko Academy
Women in Ghana are disproportionately underrepresented in the fast-moving digital economy. What can be done to redress the balance, especially in a time where digital skills are needed more than ever?
The race for high quality jobs in the rapidly evolving digital economy is aggressive, global in nature and male dominated. In African countries, getting a foothold in the sector as an innovator or entrepreneur is challenging, particularly so for women. There are myriad reasons – but education, training and accessibility are persistent factors and Ghana is no exception. Moreover, as global economic activity slows due to the global pandemic Covid-19 and the myriad of consequences it brings, now, more than ever, there needs to be enhanced improvement of digital skills on the market, in order to withstand the tides of the pandemic and re-build the economy in the coming future.
According to a World Bank report, Ghana ranks poorly in terms of education and training when compared with the rest of the world. In all developing economies, girls’ education is a strategic development priority. The World Bank concludes that educated women, “…tend to be healthier, participate more in the formal labour market, earn higher incomes, have fewer children, marry at a later age, and enable better health care and education for their children, should they choose to become mothers.” All these factors combined can help lift households, communities, and nations out of poverty.
The message from global organisations is clear: when women are lifted up from poverty, enfranchised and included in the workforce, the contribution they make to sustainable economic growth is equal to (or even greater than) that of men. The challenge lies in widening access to skills-based education and training, particularly within the digital economy, so that women can secure fulfilling employment and make the fullest socio-economic impact. More women in work means increased productivity for the national economy, leading to a more diversified economy and raised levels and ranges of skills in the country. Combined, these outputs provide a key contribution to sustained growth.
The realisation of sustained economic growth in Ghana requires strategic inputs from multiple stakeholders, including government, the private sector and social enterprises. The Ghanaian President, H.E. Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo commented on 19 June (2019) that the digital economy has been well established in the country and that it, “…is supporting sustained economic growth and improving the wellbeing of our citizens.” He also highlighted the potential of technological innovations towards the transformation of economies across the world. Social enterprises such as Soronko Academy are a crucial part of this transformation in Ghana, empowering women to close the critical skills gap and gender gap in the jobs market.
Since 2015, Soronko Academy has run a mentorship program called the Tech Needs Girls Project, teaching girls from 6-18 years to code and create technology. To date, the project has trained over 10,000 women and girls from eight regions in Ghana and expanded its impact to Burkina Faso in partnership with the TuaRes Foundation. Soronko has developed an interactive coding curriculum and a team from Dartmouth College helped to add human centred design to the curriculum.
Overwhelmed by demand – and to ensure the sustainability of the coding skills – Soronko then opened the first coding and ‘human centred design’ school in Ghana. This is a unique environment, where innovation meets creativity in a way that inspires technical, problem solving and critical thinking skills: these skills are absolutely crucial if we are to see more women enter the digital workforce. The great news is that social enterprises are developing in tandem with a serious government strategy in Ghana, which is currently driving a digital transformation initiative.
Harnessing digital technologies as a key enabler of labour market effectiveness, job creation and ultimately economic transformation, public policy is now heavily geared towards enabling digital skills and a wider digital economy. Specific measures already implemented include an e-business registration system, paperless port clearance system, digital address system, a mobile interoperability system, a national identification card system and a transformational E-Transform Project to improve the digital economy and support innovation centres for entrepreneurship and job creation.
Soronko Academy has also recently launched ‘My Digital Skills’, the first of its kind in Ghana, an online skills assessment and job matching platform developed in conjunction with the Mastercard Foundation as part of its ‘Young Africa Works’ strategy. It is designed to ensure that young people, especially young women, are not left behind in the ICT sector and builds on what they have achieved over the last decade. The programme is the result of extensive consultation with leaders of African governments, private sector organisations, educational institutions, civil society, and, most importantly, young people themselves.
Looking ahead, it is incredibly reassuring to see so much proactive support for women in technology and – perhaps most importantly – an accepted understanding amongst all stakeholders that enabling women to enter the workforce in skilled jobs and enablers of economic growth is for the long-term good of society. The innovation and skills ecosystem is becoming richer every day in Ghana, and we all look forward to seeing programs such as those developed by the Soronko Academy and the Mastercard Foundation economically empower disadvantaged young women (aged 18-35) in Ghana through the provision of 21st century digital, technical and soft skills. The skills assessment tool will also ensure that employers are matched with candidates, including women, who have the exact skills.
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