Editor’s Note: The following article was written by TechWomen, the organization that organized the amazing event described here. One of the participants, Bih Janet Shufor Fofang, met with ISSP Board members and Santa Cruz County area educators during her visit here in California in October, and is now a member of ISSP’s Africa Advisory Board. We in ISSP look forward to collaborating with Bih Janet and her school, the Tassah Academy.

“The mission of TechWomen is to empower, connect, and support the next generation of women leaders in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics by providing them access and opportunity to advance their careers, pursue their dreams, and become role models for women and girls in their communities.”

Bih Janet with other TechWomen participants and Dee Dee Myers in DC

Bih Janet (second from left) with other TechWomen participants and
Dee Dee Myers (second from right) in DC

TechWomen is an initiative of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). TechWomen, launched by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2011, supports the United States’ global commitment toward advancing the rights and participation of women and girls around the world by enabling them to reach their full potential in the tech industry

TechWomen is managed by the Center for Women’s Leadership Initiatives (WLI) at the Institute of International Education (IIE).

What TechWomen Program Does

TechWomen brings emerging women leaders in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) from Africa and the Middle East together with their professional counterparts in the United States for a mentorship and exchange program. TechWomen provides participants access to networks, resources, and knowledge to empower them to reach their full potential. During the five-week program, participants engage in project-based mentorships at leading companies in the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley, participate in professional development workshops and networking events, and travel to Washington, D.C. for targeted meetings and special events to conclude the program.

Over the last two years, seventy-eight women from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, the Palestinian Territories, Tunisia, and Yemen participated in TechWomen. The 2013 TechWomen program has expanded to include women from Cameroon, Kenya, Libya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.

Mentoring Across the World

Bih Janet Shufor, with her mentor Shannon McElyea

Bih Janet Shufor, with her mentor Shannon McElyea

“I learned from my fellow Emerging Leaders that we all face the same challenges as women. Our fears and aspirations are similar. It is now unto us to unite as women leaders to effect positive change, starting from our communities”.
– Janet Bih Shufor, Cameroon, ISSP Advisory Board, with Shannon McElyea, Mentor

The TechWomen experience doesn’t end in California or Washington, D.C. After the program, Emerging Leaders and Mentors have the opportunity to reconnect during delegation trips to program countries in Africa and the Middle East. Programming focuses on expanding networks of women in the STEM fields, creating and strengthening partnerships, encouraging girls to pursue STEM careers, and ensuring the sustainability of Mentor-Emerging Leader relationships.

After an Incredible Month, Emerging Leaders say Goodbye

In just five, jam-packed weeks, the 61 TechWomen Emerging Leaders from 16 African and Middle Eastern countries have completed a four-week mentorship with Professional Mentors at leading companies in the San Francisco and Silicon Valley, captured the best of Bay Area and American culture with Cultural Mentors, and participated in panels, workshops, and events featuring prominent and inspiring female role models such as Sheryl Sandberg (Chief Operating Officer at Facebook and author of Lean In), and Rashmi Sinha (CEO and Co-founder of SlideShare). In addition to the Bay Area, they also traveled to Washington, DC to attend meetings and special events at the U.S. Department of State, including a luncheon with Lee Satterfield, Evan Ryan, and Dee Dee Myers, and even a private reception with Dr. Jill Biden (American educator and wife of Vice President Joe Biden).

Asked how they would summarize their TechWomen experience, the Emerging Leaders said:

  • Life-changing experience!
  • Awesome
  • Walking on clouds
  • Life-changing
  • Transformational
  • EXPOSURE
  • Extraordinary!!!!
  • A dream come true
  • Once-in-a-lifetime
  • Breathtaking
  • Enriching!
  • Mind-broadening

Below, they recount their most memorable take-aways from the TechWomen program:

  • People are the most important thing in any company. – Nihal Fares, Egypt
  • If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Plans are great because they can help take your goal and break it into bite-size steps so you can feel more confident about achieving the goal, help you determine how long it will take to achieve your goal, save you energy, time, and money by helping you to focus on the things that are essential, and remind you every day what you need to do to reach your goal. – Nassima Berryah, Algeria
  • The most valuable thing I learned from my mentorship and Professional Mentor is to not be afraid of failure; it will only limit your potential.” – Peace Asukwo, Nigeria
  • Fail early and fail fast. Then, pick yourself up and forge ahead. Never take your eyes off the prize. – Braunhilda Ngum, Cameroon
  • Ask questions. – Josephine Kamanthe, Kenya
  • Advocate your passions and ideas. Anyone can be the next entrepreneur. – Shatha Jayyousi, Jordan
  • Everything is possible as long as you set your mind on it. We are actually very similar, which is evident from our experiences and situations, even though we may come from different backgrounds and countries. – Mary Simiyu, Kenya
  • Women can make the world look better if they can grab the chance. – Nermin Ahmed, Egypt

Now that the 2013 TechWomen program has ended, the Emerging Leaders are soaking in some much-needed and well-deserved rest and relaxation. While some are exploring the U.S., other Emerging Leaders have already reunited with their loved ones in their home countries. They are all ready to share and implement their dreams, visions, and plans for the future. We can’t wait to see the kinds of changes they create in their jobs, personal lives, communities, and countries, as well as the impact that the combined efforts of the entire TechWomen community will create globally. We think it’s safe to say that these 78 remarkable women have graduated from “Emerging Leaders” to “Leaders.”

We’d like to thank each and every Emerging Leader, Mentor, host company, volunteer, and supporter who helped make this program possible, and who pushed us toward success. We are already looking ahead to next year’s program, and we are eagerly anticipating what’s in store for TechWomen 2014.