Building Gender-Inclusive Ecosystems – 3 Key Takeaways for Digital Innovation Hub Leaders

Gender inclusion in the technology and digital innovation ecosystem remains a challenge globally. Women have less access to digital technologies and are underrepresented in ICT jobs and top management. Concerning funding, women-owned start-ups receive 23% less funding than their male counterparts. 

In support of bridging the digital gender gap in Africa, Africa Technological Business Network (ATBN) together with AfriConEU organised a webinar focused on Gender Lens Innovation: Building Inclusive Ecosystems. Webinar participants included Digital Innovation Hub leaders and representatives of digital ecosystems in Africa. 

Webinar panellists were Stav Bar-Shany (ATBN) who discussed the use of systems thinking to address gender barriers, while Janat Issifu (WAN-HIVE Ghana) spoke about the need to adopt a woman-centred design in the digital ecosystem. 

Below are the key takeaways from the event: 

Systems thinking is vital for developing effective gender inclusion strategies 

Systems thinking views everything within an ecosystem as connected. It is an approach that tackles the root causes of a problem by identifying its origins and creating shifts within the ecosystem. 

‘The premise of systems thinking is a series of questions, starting with Why?’ notes Stav Bar-Shany. 

This model of questioning can help digital innovation leaders identify the root causes of the digital gender gap. Stav shared previous research from ATBN that identified barriers such as cultural norms, societal structures, and a lack of role models and women-centric support, within the digital ecosystem. 

ATBN was then able to design programmes and services to address these challenges. They developed HerFutureAfrica, a women-centred incubation programme, and Founding Women, a book spotlighting African women in tech as role models. As demonstrated by ATBN’s work, applying systems thinking is vital to understanding gender barriers and developing effective solutions. 

Woman-centred design can enable digital innovation hubs to tailor their services to women’s needs

It’s important to conduct a needs assessment among women in tech spaces to identify their specific challenges and priorities. 

‘The needs assessment allows digital innovation hubs to tailor their services to meet the expectations of women, use channels that the women are comfortable with, and link other aspects of their lives with technology.’ Says Janat Issifu. 

Janat further shared how her organisation WAN HIVE Ghana identified five essential needs among their female digital ecosystem participants: Mentorship, Leadership, Entrepreneurship, Community Development, and Networking opportunities. To meet these needs WAN HIVE Ghana created Tech for girls, an initiative that trains and equips women with technological skills, and the Female Entrepreneurship Tour that develops and deploys women -led start-ups to ensure business sustainability and scalability.

Collaboration between digital ecosystem stakeholders is crucial in bridging the gender gap

As previously noted, the digital gender gap is driven by complex, interrelated factors and rooted in deep seated cultural norms. Developing lasting solutions ultimately requires the efforts of more than one individual hub or organisation. Partnerships can accelerate the pace of change, mobilising people and organisations with diverse resources, expertise, and capabilities to coordinate efforts to drive systemic change .

The importance of collaboration toward promoting gender inclusion is showcased in ATBN’s work. One of their key initiatives, the Coalition for Digital Equality (CODE), connects African digital ecosystem actors and policymakers with UK academic and industry partners to collaborate in addressing the digital gender divide in Africa. To date, this network has facilitated collaboration and knowledge sharing to develop ecosystem-wide solutions to dismantle gender barriers preventing African women from participating and benefiting from the digital economy. WAN HIVE Ghana also hosts a girl’s start-up connect event that brings together start-ups in the community to connect, collaborate and share relevant insights.

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