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Dream team plugs into ICT solutions

By | Updated Sat, February 26th 2011 at 00:00 GMT +3

AkiraChix is a ten-member team of innovative women in technology, who are training younger girls to embrace IT and entrepreneurship. KIUNDU WAWERU writes about their steady record of excellence

What is Akirachix all about?

We are an all-girls tech team, determined to transform the world, one application at a time. We are energetic, and intelligent, thus akira, Japanese for energetic. We are into information technology and want to empower girls to take up ICT jobs.

Where does AkiraChix draw its members from?

All the members have an information technology background. We are ten registered members with about ten other non-registered members. The President, Judy Owigar, is a Computer Science graduate from University of Nairobi currently working as IT engineer at the Japan centre for conflict prevention.

The all-girl group, AkiraChix, doing what they do best at the ihub. [PHOTOS: ANN KAMONI

Former Safaricom CEO Michael Joseph with some members of AkiraChix.

The Vice President, Linda Kamau, studied Business IT and works as a developer at ushahidi.com, based at the iHub on Ngong Road, Nairobi from where the AkiraChix offices are. AkiraChix communications advisor, Marie Githinji, is an IT freelancer.

What does AkiraChix hope to achieve?

We have different goals, but the main one is to empower women through technology, a field which has for long been associated with men.

Indeed, we have realised that girls have so many untapped ideas and we want to offer them an outlet. AkiraChix is also seeking to demystify the tech field, besides training, mentoring and encouraging the girls I high schools.

What are some of your programmes?

Last year, we embarked on training 29 poor girls and five boys in a programme we dubbed ‘Akishika’. The trainees had completed school and failed to further their studies.

We trained them on programming design and entrepreneurship. Our challenge was lack of space and computers.

Fortunately, Computer Aid International donated 36 laptops. In return, we had to develop an application for the visually impaired.

We are working on improving the software Magme, which had been previously designed for the visually impaired.

It’s an open source windows-based magnifier that will work in line with the non-visual desktop access screen reader.

By April, Magme should be ready for testing by some visually impaired students.

What challenges have you faced?

When starting out, some people would say that we won’t last, that as an all woman’s group, there is bound to arise catfights. Sure, there have been differences of opinions but that has only strengthened us.

President of AkiraChix, Judy Owigar

Vice President, Linda Kamau

A real challenge is finance, and mostly we finance our projects from members’ donations.

Also, all of us are working and we do not have much time to spare for AkiraChix projects as we would wish to.

What other applications have you designed?

We continually urge our members to come up with innovations and one major achievement of the AkiraChix is M-Farm. Five members of the AkiraChix participated in the IPO48 competition where different groups were given 48 hours to develop and execute a web or mobile business concept.

In 48 hours, AkiraChix were able to come up with M-Farm, a mobile information resource centre that focuses on delivering real time information to farmers on market prices, connects them with suppliers, agro vets and cooperatives. The application won the group Sh1 million that will help them roll it out.

In another competition, Random Hacks of Kindness, we developed imatch, an app that came third.

Random Hacks of Kindness brings software engineers together with disaster relief experts to identify critical global challenges, and develop software to respond to them. It was founded by Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, Nasa and World Bank, dedicated to bringing software developers together to respond to challenges facing humanity in the area of natural disaster risk.

Our app, imatch, is designed to help victims of disaster connect with people willing to donate food, clothes or medicine, via mobile phones.

Another achievement is on the grant we received from Infodev, a donor-funded agency hosted by the World Bank to foster innovation and collaboration among different stakeholders in the mobile communications sector.

With the grant, we are charged with facilitating the activities of the mobile lab (Mlab), as we have been selected as the implementing organisation in Kenya for mobile social networking activities as part of the Creating Sustainable Businesses in the Knowledge Economy Partnership. We will be working together with the Mlab consortium; University of Nairobi School of Computing and Informatics, iHub, The World Wide Web and Emobiles.

What’s the future of AkiraChix?

We would like to see the day organsations like AkiraChix will come together for the greater good. Also, we are looking forward to the day our Akishika students will graduate, get jobs and reach out for more unprivileged girls out there.

The future of technology in Kenya is really bright as many people are coming up with mobile apps set to change the way people live.

Our last word to girls out there is to embrace technology, as that is the way of the future. Join us and learn as you make mistakes in a supportive and creative environment.

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