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A woman on a mission

By - | May 10th 2012

Julie Owigar, Founder of The JuaKali, a mobile phone application system linking hustlers with employers has been feted in the just concluded round two of Kenya ICT Board’s local content awards.

Hers was just one of the 795 applications made to the World Bank funded project, from which 150 applicants were short listed. The short-listed firms got the opportunity to undertake a one-week Business Plan training at the Strathmore School.
Out of  these 150 firms, 10 winning firms got a maximum of $50,000 (Sh4.1 million) while eight individuals won a maximum of  $10,000 (Sh820, 000) each. The highest winner- Virtual City got $150,000 (Sh12.3 million).

Julie, a computer science graduate from Nairobi University was one of the eight who pocketed $10,000 (Sh820,000), which she says will be used as seed capital to nurture a project that avails casual laborers to employers on demand.
She calls her firm a directory that targets experts in the informal sector, with profiling done according which area a particular worker comes from.

“It is a project I have toyed with since my days in campus as a computer science student. It came about when I was helping one of my lecturers find out how laborers use technology,” she said.
Right people
“I thought it as a good business idea that would help employers get the right people within their location to perform certain duties,” she says.

What JuaKali application does is to collect database of laborers, for instance, carpenters, plumbers, and gardeners, and we profile their details including location, phone numbers and experience. This makes it easier for an employer to know what he or she wants in an employee.

When an employer from West lands in Kenya and starts searching for a plumber for instance, they will easily get an employee from that area according to location we have availed in our database.”
Julie says her team — comprising of two individuals— plan to first roll out the project in Nairobi, and thereafter expand to other counties.

“Through the set target, we aim at giving employers the best professionals and saving them much time in looking for right people who may be just living the next door,” she says.
When she is not building applications, Julie is busy going around universities mentoring IT students through various talk shows. She is the president of AkiraChix, an organisation whose aim is to inspire and develop women with a specialisation in Technology so as to change Africa’s future.
Key areas

“We plan to do this through our key areas of networking, mentor ship and training,” she says.
The program would go a long way in bridging the gap between men and Women in ICT.
“Women form a majority of the population and half of the workforce in Africa. It is an anomaly that the percentage of women working in technology is less than 15 per cent.”

“Technology is one of the key factors driving Africa’s projected economic prospects. As such, there is enormous potential for maximising the growth of technology through increasing the number and quality of women in technology.”
AkiraChix also runs a training program — called the AkiraChix Training program —for young ladies from poor Urban communities who have a passion for technology. The training program aims at giving these girls IT skills that would enable them sustain themselves.

The inaugural set of students who joined this program in August of 2010 recently graduated, on the August 6, after a year-long priogram that saw the learn everything from basic computer packages, to programming and design concepts, as well as entrepreneurship and business development.

The students graduated after having presented their final projects, which required them to have used everything they had learned throughout the course of the program.
Currently, more than half of the students have gotten placements in various IT firms, and many others are already arranging job interviews and following up on new opportunities.

She says the organisation plans to run the program again, and will be selecting the second set of students in the near future.
“We also run a mobile garage targeting Information and Technology Students across universities. It is funded by Infodev, and implemented by us,” she says.

The aim of the program is to create sustainable businesses that can meet the needs of the knowledge economy through mobile applications for development, business incubation and technology entrepreneurship. For this program, AkiraChix will be targeting university students in the first program cycle.

The program hopes to create a social networking hub, encourage the creation of mobile applications, and create a competition for ideas to encourage entrepreneurship. It also establishes mentorship for developers.
So far, AkiraChix has been awarded one of six $35,000 grants for mobile social networking as part of the Creating Sustainable Businesses in the Knowledge Economy program, part of a partnership among infoDev, the Government of Finland, and Nokia.

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