Middle East and Africa: 10 Women Leading in Tech

Middle East and Africa: 10 Women Leading in Tech

The tech industry is notorious for its exclusion of women, and this is usually the case globally particularly in the Middle East and Africa. In recent years, regional programs as well as partnerships across continents are facilitating access to female entrepreneurs and innovators. Despite the Western view that these areas are oppressive to women, programs like the UK Lebanon Tech Hub, Ghana Code Club, She Leads Africa, and TechWomen are making an impact on the women's role in leadership we see now, and can expect in the near future.

Below is a list of influential women in the tech industry that are paving the way in the Middle East and Africa.

1. Eve Tamraz: Co-Founder at Sensio AIR, Lebanon

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Lebanese Eve Tamraz graduated from the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Paris with a degree in Toxicology, Health and Environment. She is the co-founder and Chief Scientist at Sensio AIR: a device and app with the mission to help allergy and asthma sufferers predict, prevent and manage their symptoms. It provides features to identify pollutants and allergens whether in your home or elsewhere, explain medical symptoms, and help prevent exposures and reactions. Sensio AIR benefited from the UK-Lebanon Tech Hub, “the tech hub has really really helped in terms of education,” says Tamraz in The Guardian. “I had a scientific background, and they gave me the means to understand the business side of things.” She is currently based in London, but plans to return to Lebanon to contribute to the growth of the startup scene.

2. Jasmine Rove: startup investor, Iran

Iran hasn’t been a big supporter of digital businesses or women in the workforce, but somehow Rove has formidably navigated these obstacles. She currently works for a large corporation in London, and invests in Iranian startups. One of those companies is TOD Game Studio, which created Fruitcraft, the biggest mobile game in the country when it was released in 2012. According to The Guardian, she has to be careful discussing the Iranian tech scene internationally, but it’s been getting better. “The government has been massively supportive recently,” says Rove. “If they want the country to survive, they’ve realised they have to invest in startups. You still have a weird political system, you can’t get away from that, but they’re keen to get this off the ground.” Working within the restrictive laws of Iran, which dictates that a written permission must be granted to women by either thier husband or father when travelling abroad, is part of the challenge. These oppressive attitudes are very prevalent within the larger culture, despite the equality she experiences within the tech community.

3. Lara Noujaim: Director of Publishing at Game Cooks, Lebanon

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After getting her MBA in the United States, and working at both Yahoo and Google, Noujaim wanted to return home to Lebanon, and invest in the local tech sector. After connecting with Game Cooks, she saw the potential for the expanding gaming industry, especially for mobile with the high adoption rate that is currently taking place in the Middle East. The game developer had previously released one of the first mobile games in Arabic in reaction to the Arab Spring, called Run for Peace. Since Noujaim joined the team, Game Cooks has released Vindicta, the first VR game to be published by a studio in the region, according to her post in GameBiz.

4. Yasmin Belo-Osagie and Afua Osei: Co-Founders at She Leads Africa, Nigeria

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She Leads Africa is an online community that empowers young african women to achieve thier professional dreams, whether starting a business or expanding skill sets. Thanks to its powerful digital content and the community built around it, She Leads Africa also holds events throughout the African continent such as career coaching and business launch support.

Yasmin Belo-Osagie is a graduate of Princeton University with degrees in history and finance. Half Nigerian and half Ghanaian, she grew up in Nigeria, and then went to boarding school in England for 8 years. Following her graduation from Princeton, she took a year off to spend 6 months at Cordon Bleu in London and Paris, during this period she additionally spent two months in Hong Kong working in the pastry kitchen at the Mandarin Oriental. It is after these adventures that Belo-Osagie moved back to Nigeria where she started working at McKinsey & Company, a management consulting firm, prior to founding She Leads Africa with Afua Osei.

Afua Osei has previously served as a Fulbright Scholar in Malaysia, assisted the White House research and writing teams in the Office of the First Lady, and examined housing tax credit programs as a Baltimore Mayoral Fellow in the Office of CitiStat. She moved to Nigeria in 2013 to join McKinsey & Company as a consultant advising multinationals and government agencies on operations and strategy. Afua graduated from the University of Chicago with a Master of Business Administration and Master of Public Policy, studied international management at the London School of Economics, and graduated cum laude from Allegheny College.

5. Ala’a Agha Karss: Founder at Superiors ICT, Jordan

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A graduate of the Jordanian Hashemite University with a Bachelor's in Software Engineering, Ala'a Agha Karss founded Superiors ICT in 2016, an IT support and training organization. Karss launched Orphans in Jordan project, a digital platform with the mission to help orphans overcome psychological and financial obstacles by providing social skills workshops and mentorship programs to increase university enrollment rates in the long run. Karss, alongside the rest of her team, was the recipient of Best Project award at Women in Tech 2017 for the TechWomen Exchange Program in Silicon Valley.

6. Ola Doudin: Founder at BitOasis, Jordan

A Jordan native, Ola Doudin studied electronic engineering at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom, and taught herself to code. With the drive to push the boundaries of traditional career paths in government, engineering, or large companies, and cultural expectations that most Arab parents want for their children, in 2015 she began to explore the potential for blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies in Jordan. As she recognized there was a gap in the financial infrastructure of the region, she also saw a rising technology that could help. In 2015 more than half of the residents in the Middle East had access to the Internet, but less than 20 percent had a bank account. Thus she founded BitOasis, one of the first Bitcoin wallets and exchanges in the Middle East and North Africa. According to Technology Review, as of June 2017 BitOasis has been processing over $60 million per month, and doubling in volume every subsequent month.

7. Omnia Shawkat: Founder of Andariya, Sudan

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Andariya mission is to build multiple digital platforms of edutainment, technology, contemporary and gender issues for a broad audience of socially conscientious, tech savvy, information hungry, internationally exposed communities tuned into affairs of the Sudans. Written in English and Arabic, Andariya was a response to the extensive research done on the unspoken and unseen Sudanese contemporary cultural diversity.

8. Ernestina Appiah: Founder at Ghana Code Club, Ghana

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Ghana Code Club is a non-profit after school program for children between the ages of 9 and 18 provided across the country. The NGO teaches kids to make games, animations and websites, and trains teachers with the goal to increase the number of girls in tech. Ghana Code Club is member of the #eSkills4Girls Africa Network, an initiative aiming at closing the existing gender digital gap, specifically in developing countries. The goal is to increase the access of women and girls in the digital world and to boost relevant education and employment opportunities globally. This platform was initiated by the G20 members with the UNESCO, UN Women, ITU and OECD to collect and disseminate information and knowledge as well as policy recommendations, good practices and flagship projects on gender digital equality.

Ernestina Appiah was a secretary at an IT firm in Accra, Ghana. The unnoticed, lowest paid admin taught herself to code, started a small web design service to become a business owner with international clients, lead a team, mentore people, invest in startups, pay for her mentees college education. 

9. Olatorera Oniru: Founder at DressMeOutlet, Nigeria

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Founder of the Lagos-based e-commerce site, DressMeOutlet offering fashion, beauty and wellness products of which 40 percent are made in Africa. With a MBA from Emory University Goizueta Business School, Oniru is a speaker on the role of leadership, entrepreneurship, and technology as drivers of growth in Africa, and additionally leading initiatives for the African economy to rely less on importation and innovate with natural resources and citizenry capabilities.

10. Esther Olatunde, Cassandra Sarfo, and Priscilla Hazel: Co-Founders at Tress, Ghana and Nigeria

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Tress is a hairstyle inspiration and community app for iOS and Android, built by three women that realized they all had the same problem: finding hairstyle inspiration from social media and search engines without the opportunity to acquire specifics about each style. The app provides a platform for women to share, exchange how-tos care for natural hair, and discover products that work with different textures. CTO Olatunde, CPO Sarfo, and CEO Hazel met at the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology in Accra, Ghana.

This list shows that success is industry agnostic so long as the projects aim at improving the lives of people. The women behind the companies we highlighted have been bold enough to push certain boundaries and challenge the status quo whether cultural, socio-economical, or governmental. Temper innovation with effective leadership, and we multiply possibilities for communities across the globe. 

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