Women in Innovation

Cameroon paves way for young girls to showcase innovative skills
by FRANÇOIS ESSOMBA

19 July 2022

The winners of the program pose for a group photo with Jean Jacques Massima, ITU’s representative to Cameroon

Women and girls are 25 percent less likely to know how to use information and communication technologies (ICT), according to a report published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). This clearly reflects the gender gap in access to digital tools.

The Connected African Girls Coding Camps launched simultaneously in the Cameroonian cities of Buea, Douala and Yaoundé in July 2021 offer girls and young women the opportunity to access foundational knowledge, digital tools and platforms to enable them become innovators, entrepreneurs and tech leaders who develop creative solutions to problems in their communities. The initiative of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), with the support of the Cameroonian Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, has helped train 8,500 young women in Africa, including nearly 4,000 Cameroonian women aged 12 to 25.

Funding support

To bridge the gender digital divide in Africa, the ECA and its partners are ready to fund programs that help women flourish in the fields of arts and mathematics. According to Vera Songwé, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the ECA, affordable and reliable Internet access is essential to unlocking African women’s full innovative potential.

At an event hosted by Minette Libom Li Likeng, Cameroon’s Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, 70 such projects were recognized in Yaoundé in February. Conducted under the direction of experts from the ECA, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), and the UN Women, the goal of the event was to highlight the achievements of young African women in the disciplines of animation, web development, robotics, and artificial intelligence.

Practical solutions

A group presents some of their inventions to Minette Libom Li Likeng, Cameroon’s Minister of Posts and Telecommunications

A group of girls named Iron Girls have created an intelligent traffic light program called Auto Lights that is expected to help reduce traffic congestion on main arteries in major African cities. This program aims to improve traffic flow at important junctions through adjustments to the traffic lights. This helps with more efficient management of traffic during peak hours. A camera records the coordinates of crowded locations and sends them to the traffic police in real time.

Another group recognized as one of the winners has created a program called My Comfy Doctor. This concept allows women to anonymously consult doctors and bypass conventional care due to social taboos and discrimination that may exist. “Our platform allows women with specific health issues to fill out an online form and instantly receive a code on their phone to use to anonymously handle all aspects of their consultation with a face-masked doctor,” explained Estel Nkeng, the group coordinator.

Happi Tientcheu, 12, led the group named Dangerous in developing a smart mailbox for utility bills, which are prone to being washed away by the rain when placed at the customers’ doors or windows. The client gets alerted by a text message as soon as a bill is dropped in this box, and the box remains on until the mail is removed.

Another group developed a three-stage fast firefighting system based on artificial intelligence to better manage fire breakouts. When a fire breaks out, a sensor detects it and sends a mobile app alert to a firefighting squad. Even before the firemen reach the location, the alarm instantly prompts an initial drone response.

The group known as Rotech has developed an affordable electrocardiogram for home use called Energyce. The device uses a dynamo-powered battery to help heart patients do light exercise while monitoring their health without relying on a grid-connected system.

For their part, the group named Dynamic Girls has come up with a smart solution for street waste management. Their innovation, called Keep Clean, is a public trash can with sensors that allow it to automatically open its lid when someone approaches it. “As a user drops off their trash, the bin sorts it into several compartments, one of which is for plastic items, another for glass and one for biodegradable waste. Once full, the smart bin automatically alerts a waste collection company,” said group member Gwladys Nadine Simo.

Universal support

A group showcases their creation designed to solve the problem of delivering utility bills when subscribers are absent

The minister, Minette Libom Li Likeng, exhorted the participants to move forward. “Make use of all the lessons you have learnt. The entire continent depends on you. Go forth and innovate. Provide solutions to your society’s challenges,” she said.

Jean Jacques Massima, ITU’s representative to Cameroon, lauded the innovation camp, stating that his organization is committed to driving digital transformation through such initiatives and is ready to support all efforts.

Jack Ma Foundation’s Executive Director Jason Pau emphasized the importance of African women entrepreneurs in the continent’s digital economy. Pioneering young Cameroonian women are a genuine source of motivation. “The Africa Business Heroes program looks forward to deepening its cooperation with the ECA to find and support more African women talent,” he said.

In addition, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the ECA, Vera Songwe, said that the Alibaba Group initiative will offer selected girls from the innovation camp the opportunity to partner with a mentor from among various business leaders.

Letty Chiwara from the UN Women said it is important to strengthen the partnership with the ECA, the ITU and the private sector under the leadership of the African Union to advocate for policies that advance gender mainstreaming in national agendas and ensure that African women are at the forefront of the continent’s development.

This article was first published in ChinAfrica magazine