Dorcas Litunya, a trailblazing star with a big heart for girls

In Kenya and the world over, it is no secret that the tech industry is struggling with diversity and inclusion especially when it comes to women leading critical roles.

And whereas lack of talent plays a big role in this imbalance, another career-limiting challenge threatens any meaningful progress; lack of mentorship for girls.

Quite often, tech products usually reflect the vision of its creators. So, when women and girls are left out of tech and innovation, the resulting products hardly meet their most pressing needs.

The problem is even more pronounced in marginalized communities, whether in urban centers or in rural areas, where girls are in an endless battle with other woes in life.

“I used to think of an engineer as a man. I hadn’t seen a female engineer when growing up. I didn’t know of a female engineer,” Dorcas Litunya, now a fifth-year Electrical and Electronics Engineering student at JKUAT, who mentors young girls in technology tells Maudhui.

Growing up in Machakos town, Dorcas like many other children, dreamed of becoming a doctor because she was brought up believing medics are the only people who solve problems.

When her teachers in Kenya High asked her to join the school’s engineering club, her mind, and career opened to a new world of possibilities.

Through the club, Dorcars’ interest in tech grew strong, becoming one of the pioneers in Tech-novation, a competition under the Safaricom Women in Tech program that strives to tap talent from classrooms to boardrooms.

“One of the teachers told us about Tech-novation competition by Safaricom. And that is the first time I started learning how to code,” she said.

Read also: Rise in short-term interest rates to push loyalty points redemptions

Tech-novation is a global contest that teaches young girls (six to 19-year-olds and beyond) how to code by challenging them to create apps that solve problems in their local communities. She participated in the competition in 2016 and from then on she fell in love with computers.

For the 2018 Global Tech-novation semis, Kenya was ranked fourth globally in submission behind Spain, Canada, and US.

Bringing women and other marginalized groups into technology offers avenues for innovations that meet women’s needs and help promote gender equality in the industry and society.

Since 2019, the 23-year-old has mentored six teams of young girls in Techn-ovation, with three of the teams having been recognized as global winners of the competition out of over 1,500 applications that are presented every year.

STEM education inculcates problem-solving, critical thinking, communications, collaboration, and digital skills that Dorcas Litunya help them to identify problems in their communities and come up with tech-based solutions.

The teams have also received outstanding recognitions such as the Social Impact award which recognizes innovation that would have a huge impact on their communities and help tackle problems such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), water supply, and climate change.

According to the UN Women’s Gender Snapshot 2022 report, women’s exclusion from the digital space has shaved roughly $1 trillion from the gross domestic product of low- and middle-income countries in the last 10 years—and the loss could swell to $1.5 trillion by 2025 if action is not taken.

With skewed representation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), women’s role in shaping technology, research, investments, and policy in the industry is also threatened.

Further, the same challenges visit their access to fast-growing and high-paying careers—an inequality worsened by the fact that, as tech and digital innovation disrupt industries, women are predisposed to bear the brunt of job losses.

Part of reversing this trend will require addressing the marginalization of women which maifests itself in so many forms. For Dorcas, establishing a friendship with the girls goes a long way in getting them to gain the most from Tech-novation mentorship, and therefore careers in STEM.

It is by identifying herself as a friend first that sees her mentees open up and freely share their challenges whether it is water scarcity problems in Kibera, the effects of tides on the fishing trade in Lamu, or the FGM menace in Samburu.

“Within a school, there could be only one laptop so working with them may prove very challenging. I work with community representatives, who help me in terms of knowing the best time to meet with the girls, and the resources they need,” she explains.

Her mentors Asha Panyako, Ketty Ammy, and Velma Ngoni from Safaricom Women in Tech remain her biggest inspiration as she juggles between classwork and sessions in the counties mentoring teams of girls.

The trio challenges her to scale up and improve her skills so as to become a good engineer. They also provide resources for her to mentor teams while encouraging more girls to explore the huge potential in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

The world needs more women in the digital sector as less than 30 percent of STEM professionals are female. As we mark this year’s International Girls in ICT Day today, at Maudhui we salute Dorcas for her belief, inspiration, and willpower in mentoring young girls in Kenya to embrace tech and innovation.

[email protected]

Oh hi there 👋
It’s nice to meet you.

Sign up to receive awesome content in your inbox, every month.

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.