Meet Five Inspiring Women Innovators Who Are Improving Lives on International Women’s Day—and Every Day
“The need to touch lives and improve the living condition of women and girls in disadvantaged communities inspires me every day,” said Chukwudera Bridget Okeke, Board Member of Concern Women International Development Initiative.
Bridget, a Women Deliver Young Leader and “Stories of Advocacy” grant recipient, shares her inspiring story of innovation and the enabling power of technology as part of the She Innovates Global Launch today, which is timed to coincide with International Women’s Day. Bridget’s story is one of more than a hundred showcased on the She Innovates Global Program platform.
The She Innovates Global Program, created by UN Women and the Global Innovation Coalition for Change (GICC), helps female innovators and entrepreneurs defy gender barriers and turn their women-centered solutions into reality. I’m proud to represent HP as a member of the GICC, alongside my colleague, Michele Malejki.
At the She Innovates Global Program Launch event today in New York, I have the honor of discussing “How to champion girls through innovation and technology,” with Wade Davis, former NFL player, diversity and inclusion consultant, and UN Women Champion for Innovation, and Melissa Kilby, co-director for Girl Up, a UN Foundation organization. The event, which kicks off at 2 p.m. ET, will be livestreamed here.
Also today, Girl Rising, Citi and The International Rescue Committee, in collaboration with HP and Amplifier, released a new film and awareness campaign, Brave Girl Rising. The 20-minute film, written by a refugee, performed by a cast of refugees, and made in collaboration with refugees, is about how hope, love, and friendship can propel us beyond even the bleakest of circumstances. The film debuts at screenings across the country including in Austin, Seattle, Palo Alto, Los Angeles and New York, as part of a larger campaign to raise awareness of the plight of refugees.
In honor of International Women’s Day and the launch of the She Innovates Global Program and Brave Girl Rising campaign, I want to introduce you to five phenomenal and inspiring women innovators who are changing the world for good.
Nasro, is a 17-year-old Somali girl living in Dadaab, one of the world’s largest refugee camps. She arrived at the camp when she was only 7 years old, and she—like other young women in her camp—faces daily threats to her well-being.
School is inconsistent and difficult to get to. Rape and assault are so commonplace that many girls cease their education. Some are married as young as 13 and average life expectancy for women is a mere 52 years.
Nasro is surviving by sheer will and determination. School is her lifeline and, she believes, the only hope for a better future. The odds are nearly impossible, but she is fierce—and brave, which is why Girl Rising and its partners are sharing her story. Watch the film at https://girlrising.org/brave.
Chukwudera Bridget Okeke
Bridget is one of 15 Young Leaders who received HP technology as a Women Deliver “Stories of Advocacy” grant recipient to help advance her advocacy work with Concern Women International Development Initiative (CWIDI).
CWIDI promotes the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of young people in Gwagwalada in the Federal Capital Territory in Nigeria by sharing information, education and communication materials. Bridget and CWIDI make bi-weekly visits to places where youth congregate, such as clubs, restaurants and football view centers, to provide them with SRHR information and services such as family planning, HIV/AIDs tests, and prevention of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
She relies heavily on social media such as Twitter, blogging and WhatsApp platforms to reach young people. Between August and October 2018, CWIDI’s Twitter campaign, using hashtag #SexualReproductiveHealth, reached about 17,600 people. She also uses her HP Sprocket photo printer to share images of SRH issues, educating more than 1,000 young people in the community.
“Many of these people do not have access to smart phones and are illiterate,” said Bridget. “Using images is ideal to support their quick understanding of the SRH messages.”
Bridget explains that using technology to advance her advocacy work has helped create a safe space for young people to access information, ask questions and engage in dialogue about importance issues impacting their health and rights. It has also raised visibility of their work, which has sparked new partnerships.
“I hope to see young women being able to make informed decision about their bodies and lives,” said Bridget. And that the youth in Nigeria “acquire leadership skills, education skills, negotiation, communication and dialogue skills to be able to question some of the harmful cultural practices that affect their lives.”
Fellow Women Deliver Young Leader and “Stories of Advocacy” grant recipient Jennifer Amadi is co-founder and program advisor of the Knit Together Initiative (KTI), a youth-led, youth-focused advocacy and campaign organization in Nigeria that works to empower young people to build resilience, and determination in themselves and the society.
“I wake up every day, with the desire to make little contributions to the future because, somehow I believe that efforts towards the well-being of everyone—especially, for adolescents and young people are tiny seeds to the future I, (we) want,” said Jennifer.
“My first magic with technology was on galvanizing support for the passage of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition bill via online campaign,” she said. “Ever since, I have continued to use innovation to influence strategic actions; expand awareness…, educate the public… and advocate to decision makers.”
The former president of Nigeria, Dr. Ebele Goodluck Jonathan, signed the Violence Against Persons Prohibition bill in 2015, prohibiting female circumcision or genital mutilation, forceful ejection from home and harmful widowhood practices, abandonment of spouse, children and other dependents without sustenance, battery and harmful traditional practices.
“At that moment, I realized how useful I have been,” said Jennifer. “I grew more radiant because I knew the implication of what such a robust, gender-positive piece of legislation means for the well-being of girls and women in Nigeria.”
In December, Ifeyinwa Afe, Managing Director of HP Inc. in Nigeria, stood on the stage at the Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100 in Johannesburg, South Africa, and announced our new three-year commitment to educate another 100,000 people in Africa as part of our broader goal to enable better learning outcomes for 100 million people worldwide by 2025.
It was a moment that underscored Ify’s important work on the continent. Together with her organization, Ify is helping to solve the learning gaps that exist in Africa as well complete lack of access to quality education.
“Innovation or invention is borne out of necessity and the desire for a positive change. I realized a few years ago that for Africa, in order to achieve greatness we must begin at the foundation, which is education,” said Ify.
“I started with some research to learn more about the communities around me that I could work with. My greatest research data came from simple interaction, visiting the semi-formal learning facilities, orphanages, rural communities and from the organizational perspective, liaising with various stakeholders to learn and participate in global reaching actions towards providing quality education in Africa,” she said.
“I have seen first-hand the benefit new technologies and education can have in underserved communities—particularly when, like Nigeria and South Africa, they are undergoing such rapid digitalization. Tech hubs are emerging across Africa, from Egypt to Kenya to Nigeria, and anticipation is rising. In Nigeria, HP LIFE (a free online learning program from the HP Foundation) has trained more than 2,000 people, and our ongoing work with small businesses and entrepreneurs in Lagos’s Computer Village has been a great success.”
My colleague and fellow GICC member, Michele Malejki, is honoring International Women’s Day by participating in a discussion at The Female Quotient Girls’ Lounge at SXSW in Austin, Texas. Following a premiere of the Brave Girl Rising film, Michele will join representatives of Girl Rising, IRC, and Black Girls CODE on a panel moderated by Shelley Zalis, Founder, The Female Quotient. The program will shed light on the courage and strength of girls who are rising to the challenge of gaining an education to change their lives and fulfill their dreams.
It’s a challenge Michele works to address every day as Global Head of Strategic Programs on the HP Sustainability and Social Innovation team.
“Sustainable Development Goals will be one of the biggest challenges of our lifetime. Having worked for the public, private, and civil society sectors means I try and find innovative solutions and inclusive processes to achieve these ambitious goals,” said Michele. “I truly believe that modern times call for modern approaches to philanthropy and social good: truly sustainable impact requires more than writing a check, or dropping technology in a classroom, and the ways in which we partner for social good at HP hopefully and uniquely reflect that.”
One of the innovative partnerships Michele says she is most proud of is our work with UNICEF and the Clooney Foundation for Justice. Together with the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, the program is expected to enable better learning outcomes for about 3,500 Syrian refugee students in Lebanon, as well as thousands more of their Lebanese peers and teachers this current school year.
“We worked with the government to ensure teachers were trained on our technology before it ever entered the classroom. We surveyed teachers, students, and educators across Lebanon to ensure we were bringing solutions that truly mattered. The fact that all of this was happening during one of the largest humanitarian crises of our time created extra challenges for this program, but I am proud of what we’ve achieved and of the sustainable impact we are creating.”
Like Michele and Ify, I’m honored to work for a company that fosters innovation and continuously works to make life better for everyone everywhere. We believe better innovation comes from diverse, empowered teams and people, so we are focused on reinventing the standard for diversity and inclusion—in how we operate as a company and impact society. This International Women’s Day and every day, we have the responsibility and opportunity to break down gender barriers that stifle progress and hinder innovation. It’s up to all of us to #balanceforbetter.