techwomen event

A packed room of young professionals pitching startup ideas isn’t that unusual for Google’s Mountain View, Calif. headquarters.

But this meetup last Thursday was different.

The women who took center stage weren’t trying to build an app that further cushions modern life. Instead, these techies wanted to improve STEM education in South Africa, help farmers in Zimbabwe and inspire more girls into the sciences in Libya.

Boosting Career Skills

The event was part of a week of mentorship opportunities put on by TechWomen, an organization funded by the US State Department.

Those who shared their goals at the Googleplex last week all receive mentors from US tech companies. The goal: To advance skills, which the women can use on return to their home countries.

For example, Mercy Sosanya hopes to bring better food manufacturing practices to her native Nigeria. She’s already worked in the industry for 14 years, but she cited the experience with TechWomen as a major boost to her career efforts.

Sosanya and colleagues pitched a concept called “STEM in a box,” which would give teachers ready-made curriculum for teaching science, technology, engineering, and math. The concept is similar to the UN’s School-in-a-box program.

“My group decided that we wanted to really focus on education. That’s the key to bringing the type of change that’s needed for science in my country,” she said.

Marketing Exercise

Sosanya was one of about 20 groups of women who pitched their ideas to a small panel as part of an exercise in marketing.

It was one of many events during a three-week trip to the US that includes exploring Silicon Valley, working with others from the biggest tech companies, and a whirlwind tour of Washington, DC.

Each of the participants get a profile on the TechWomen profile page.

Overcoming Adversity

Edith Cecil is the vice president of professional exchange and community outreach for the Institute of International Education, which runs TechWomen and multiple other fellowships, (most notably the Fulbright program).

She said the women are impressive because of the tenacity they have shown to overcome often tough circumstances.

“I’m always inspired by what comes out of these individuals,” she said. “They were so excited to be here at Google, which for them represented so many innovative things about technology.”

The women are chosen from Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East.

During the five-week program, they assist in project with other Silicon Valley companies and work with mentors. After they wrap up the program, they typically stay in contact with mentors and have other opportunities for other networking events.