Recently, I met 174 incredible women from the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, and all around the United States here in Washington. These women are trailblazing female leaders in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) who took part in the State Department's TechWomen program.
TechWomen was designed to increase the trade capacity of the participating countries, promote economic advancement, and support the global commitment of the United States to advance the rights and participation of women and girls in communities around the world by enabling them to reach their full potential in the STEM fields.
When they were all together in Washington, I experienced firsthand what TechWomen is all about: a global network of women leaders in the STEM fields. Seventy-eight of these women left their homes and businesses to spend time in America's buzzing hub of innovation, Silicon Valley. The remaining 96 women, some of the best and brightest American women in Silicon Valley, serve as their mentors.
There was an excited energy in the room as women from Algeria, Cameroon, Egypt, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Nigeria, the Palestinian Territories, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tunisia, Yemen, and Zimbabwe spoke about their past five weeks in the United States. They discussed the new knowledge they gained, networking opportunities they took part in, and most importantly, the relationships they built to support their careers and start-ups back home.
I spoke with one of the TechWomen, Saze, who started a company in her home country of Nigeria with dreams of providing digital content for the over 170 million Africans, as well as the 120 million who will come online in the next five years. Saze wants Nigerian and American women in STEM to work collaboratively to solve problems. "Learning from other women in the heart of Silicon Valley, where the term was coined, deepens my understanding and provides greater insights that I can share when I come back to Nigeria," she said. "It is my hope that we can begin a two-way conversation with STEM professionals in Silicon Valley and Silicon Lagoon (as Lagos is known in tech circles)."
I also had a chance to meet a few of the TechWomen mentors. I spoke with Larissa, a TechWomen mentor for the past two years, who works at Mozilla. She sees the connections created during the program as a way to propel women forward in the STEM field, globally. "I see an increasing need for women to come together to shape how technology is forming, and we need professional connections to be able to be forceful players in the game," she said.
It is vital we increase the number of women who are working in STEM. Through the power of mentoring, TechWomen brings together female scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians who can work to resolve our world's most pressing issues, making the world we share a better place, one woman at a time.