More power to you, Girls

Encouraging young women to think different, take the path untravelled and change the world with technology, at ‘Digi Girls' by Microsoft taking forward International Women's Day 2018

Contributor: Linda Speldewinde

One of the events that synced perfectly with our idea of giving power to girls was

‘DigiGirlz’ held by Microsoft that took forward the International Women’s day 2018. It was a futuristic discussion on what we can do to encourage girls and giving them a sense of power that makes them believe, and know, that they can go out there and change the world.

It was an honour to share the keynote alongside Dr. Idah Z. Pswarayi-Riddihough—World Bank country director who opened the session with a fantastic talk. Here are some highlights on what Idah shared at this thought provoking-session which aimed to encourage STEM education among young girls—a very relevant discussion not only for the young girls but, also for their mothers.

Girls as visionaries of tomorrow

“You, young ladies are those visionaries of tomorrow.  Don’t let anyone ever tell you differently. Let your imagination, critical thinking and analytical curiosity loose and you will be surprised at what you can achieve" This was the thrust of what  Idah tried to inspire and share it was an encouraging message on inspiring the girls of tomorrow to be visionaries of tomorrow and to learn and create opportunities for themselves to be part of the future working force. Some further interesting thoughts from Idah, below are excerpts from her talk.”

Self Learning and making a difference by taking charge
I read with interest about how the smart school concept is helping schools to improve student learning outcomes using Information and Communications Technology (ICT). Today the role of the teacher and parent is changing – as technology evolves rapidly, we can’t teach our kids everything in a classroom but we can give them the skills and the tools so they can teach themselves and stay updated. This is something within our control as students, teachers, parents and school communities to take charge and make a difference. We applaud organisations such as Microsoft, and others that are making digital learning platforms available to schools making self-learning possible.”

Sri Lanka is getting old before getting rich
In Sri Lanka, there are more women in higher education than men; but when you dissect the numbers, the girls are not taking STEM subjects in adequate numbers. And there are less women in paid employment. In the decades to come a large share of Sri Lanka’s population will be above 60 years. Sri Lanka is getting old before getting rich. This demographic will further impact family lives and women’s opportunities to be part of the working force. This trend, left unchecked will mean more seniors will necessarily be poorer in their old age as savings will be lower.”

Taking forward Idah’s ideas on setting the right kind of framework for young women to grow up in, my main message was around creating or becoming role models of action. It was about inspiring women to create a positive impact and lead female empowerment beyond fighting for ‘equality’ and to ‘inspire more by doing, rather than talking’. Making the conversation more relevant for today by bringing out the more empowered side of things about the modern woman—the woman who I am, who you are, who is brave and independent...who makes no apologies for who she is, who she is going to be and who she is meant to be. Here are some of my thoughts;

We are way past the stage of fighting for girls to be equally educated as boys

I think we can all agree that educating girls is no longer even a question today. I believe there is a real need, more than ever before, for women to come out and share a positive message about who we are and what we can do. One of the most powerful ways to do that is encouraging entrepreneurship and supporting it.

The courage to dream big and leading a force in female empowerment by 'doing'
As someone who is doing a combination of all of that, I can tell you it's not an easy journey but, it’s worth it. To me in particular, as someone who can spot the talent in another women a mile way, it's really important to lead this way. We can all inspire each other in our own journeys. To me, I always see the world as ‘can be’ rather than just the way it is! I make my own dreams happen and inspire other women to do the same! Not by talk but by action, work and commitment. I lift my head now and again and see the world I keep creating around me but, the rest of the time, my head is down working. I try to show other women that this is a road less travelled but it’s good to go that way; that it’s ok to dream big, support other women dreaming big; that we need to hold each other’s hands sometimes; that there are ways to do that in creating the world they envision for themselves in making their own dreams happen.

The modern woman today is not a victim
I think that there are many voices for what women can't do so let's create some for what women can do. I think there are a lot of victim messages out there and they do need to be heard. But, my focus is on the positive messages because they need to be shared. Because we need to acknowledge that things are changing, that there are also great modern men who work with us, and share these stories of encouragement. This is what I mean by ‘the modern woman today is not just a victim’.  Look around you: women today are influencers; we are change makers in society, professionals; people who make massive things happen...and this modern woman is quite capable of having a conversation with our male counterparts in the world and progress together.

It was fantastic to share the stage with Idah and openly channel these thoughts. I must mention how inspiring it was to see the work of the Microsoft Sysco teams, and was happy to get to know them through Digi Girls and their good work for communities at a macro level.

Following this meeting, I was also happy to have had the opportunity to invite  Dr. Idah Z. Pswarayi-Riddihough, World Bank Country Director to AOD where she personally spent time with our team and seeing student work and understanding the impact of the work we are so passionate about. Given her personal passion, during her visit she was able to relate to our team and the work we do on education and women empowerment for girls of tomorrow. It is such a great thing to find like-minded collaborators. The World Bank and AOD align so perfectly in many of our core values from inspiring sustainability to empowering women—so a future collaboration is in the horizon. AOD has many ideas to align our thinking on how to use the power of design driven innovation to give new life to developing economies through our projects that link contemporary designers with traditional artisans. We’re thinking of possibilities to join forces with the World Bank to encourage young women to take on futuristic professions geared towards creative thinking and innovation. Another amazing opportunity is to collaborate on pushing sustainability forward as part of all products and processes by making sustainable design a practice from school levels to business. The prospects are amazing and together, we’re going to make it happen!