Training programs and seed funding provided by IFC client Gebeya help close the gender gap in Ethiopia’s technology sector. Photos: courtesy of Gebeya

Semhal Tekleab is only 20 years old, but she’s already pursuing a career developing apps for Android phones.  It wasn’t a hard choice. “The future is mobile,” she explains, matter-of-factly.

Before Tekleab discovered Gebeya, an Ethiopian company that trains, hires, and cultivates IT talent in Africa—and which is now training her in her chosen field—her own future was less certain. In Ethiopia, where she was born and raised, gender stereotypes persist, and girls don’t always have the opportunity to continue learning after high school. This has implications for Ethiopia’s high-tech industry: Even though there is a need to fill jobs, talented women have trouble accessing the training needed to meet market demands.

Gebeya’s training programs for women like Tekleab help close that gender gap so that Ethiopia can become more competitive—with the equal participation of all of its citizens. Gebeya’s Digital Gender-Ethiopia Program, which provides scholarships to train 250 female software developers and offers seed funding to 20 female entrepreneurs, targets the gender disparity in the areas of technology and innovation. The project launched in March with funding from IFC’s Creating Markets Advisory Window and IFC’s Disruptive Technologies & Funds Gender Program, funded through the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi).

The women entrepreneurs selected for the Digital Gender-Ethiopia Program receive technical and strategic guidance on business development from Gebeya. The funds support mentorship programs from globally recognized digital entrepreneurs. The project enables Gebeya to expand its scope beyond the current tuition model and include promising female software developers who, without the scholarships, would not be able to afford the training.

For Gebeya’s chief executive officer and co-founder, Amadou Daffe, the program fills a critical continent-wide need. “African women constitute 50 percent of Africa’s population but only contribute 39 percent to its Gross Domestic Product,” he says. “This is a result of their inability to afford tuition, societal misconception around women and career ability, inadequate familial support, as well as gender stereotypes. We can no longer stand back and watch as intelligent, capable African women are pushed to the sidelines. We have to do our part to close the gender gap in technology where females are highly underrepresented.”

Semhal Tekleab says Gebeya’s training program has given her the skills to advance in her career.

African Talent for African Businesses

For years, companies in Ethiopia have had to outsource their IT needs to foreign sources or spend significant sums retraining their staff. Gebeya, founded in 2016, is already changing that. By focusing on training and nurturing local talent, Gebeya fosters the tech potential of the African continent, combining the passion of innovators with the pragmatism needed to compete in the global economy. Its training differs from others in the market through this blended curriculum, pairing programming and real-world, job-readiness skills.

Sixty women in the first cohort of the Digital Gender-Ethiopia Program are receiving their diplomas in November.

The training comes first, like the education Tekleab is receiving in the Digital Gender-Ethiopia Program. “We dive deep,” she says. “Coming here…has taught me how to problem-solve, how to communicate with the people I’m working with, and it gave me the skills I need to propel me in my career.”

Gebeya is responsible for identifying talented candidates who can benefit from the program but need financial assistance—women like Tekleab and Amen Sime, another trainee, who is specializing in Web back-end engineering. The courses are conducted in four six-month cohorts which are “quite intense,” Sime admits. Gebeya’s wide reach has made her more aware of how she can contribute her tech skills to the entire region, and now “I’m inspired to make an impact on the continent of Africa and not just my country.”

Amen Sime says “quite intense” training has made her understand how she can contribute her tech skills to the region.

From Training to Entrepreneurship

As Sime pursues her training, some of her fellow students are already graduating. Sixty women in the first cohort of the Digital Gender-Ethiopia Program are receiving their diplomas from Gebeya in November. In addition, the five women selected for Gebeya’s Digital Gender Entrepreneurship Program are receiving $10,000 each in seed funding to “incubate” their start-up initiatives and transform their business ideas into commercially viable ventures.

Tekleab is determined to count herself among Gebeya’s successful graduates after she has completed her training.  She plans to “continue learning and start my own company,” she says.  First though, she will “take all the lessons from Gebeya I feel like I can to become a good, proper entrepreneur… I feel so prepared.”

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Published in November 2019

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