Ore Somolu speaks to Temitayo Ololufinlua of free2run about her discovery of computers and using ICT to empower young girls. Ore Solomolu is the Executive Director of WTEC, Women Technology Centre.
How did you discover ICT?
In 1982, my father brought a ‘Commodore 64’ computer home. He’s an
engineer and very interested in learning about new technology. My siblings and
I were excited to have a computer, although we were uncertain what we could do
with it. We quickly learnt how to play games with it and my favourite was
Hangman. In 1993, my Dad (again!) brought home a computer with the Windows 3.1
operating system. My siblings and I played around with it to figure out what we
could use it for and the Paint program became an early favourite. As I was
waiting for my university admission exam results to come out and had plenty of
free time on my hands, later that year, I signed-up for a 6-month diploma in
computer programming and learnt to write programs in BASIC and COBOL. I also
learnt to use Lotus 123 for storing and manipulating numbers. I was excited to
have a computer at home on which to practice these new skills.
I went on to university to study Economics, but while at
university I set-up a business typing and printing essays for fellow students.
I was surprised that I could make money from such a seemingly simple skill. It
was then that I began to think about an ICT-related career. My curiousity to
learn more about how computers and other information technology could benefit
economies led me to pursue a Masters degree in Information Systems.
Why did you start W-TEC? My Masters degree was in analysis, design and management of
information systems and during this year I started learning about the impact of
information technology on economic growth and development. Through my reading,
I realized that women on the African continent were very under-represented. I
was curious about this and made this the subject of my dissertation. The idea
for the Women’s Technology Empowerment Centre (W.TEC) was borne from this
I had the idea of a place where women could learn basic technology
skills – like how to use a computer for creating and editing documents – to
more advanced skills like creating tools. Research showed that women were more
comfortable learning in a women-only or predominantly female environment and so
I wanted W.TEC to be a space where women could feel free in asking all the
questions they wanted to and develop new skills and knowledge without a sense
What’s the most touching feedback you got about your work?
I think the responses we get from the girls at our annual Girls Technology Camp is among
the most heartfelt. The 1-week residential
camp is aimed at helping secondary school girls (JSS 2 –
SSS 2) develop an early interest in computers and other information and
communication technology (ICT), as well as enabling them develop positive
images of technology-related careers. The long-term goal is increased numbers
of women working with and using information technology productively for
professional and leadership activities. Seeing girls
who came to the camp not having a clue how to turn on a computer, for instance,
and then able to write and edit their essays, communicate with someone miles
away using e-mail and having a more informed view of their career options is
After the camp is over, we keep in touch with all our graduates and
many of the young ladies tell us how their confidence grew as a result of the
things they learnt during the camp and through their interaction with the
staff. Their parents also get in touch with us too to share with us how their
daughters have helped them out using some of the technology skills learnt. I
love getting that kind of feedback.
What makes you smile about your work?
I love seeing girls and women who were
formerly hesitant about using technology start to feel comfortable using
different tools and especially when they realize that developing expertise can
be a matter of trial and error.
I love it when girls and women come back to me to say this is what I
was able to do because of the skills and confidence I gained from the W.TEC
programme. We have some young women who have made the decision to pursue
technology-related careers as a result of the information they received at the
Are social stereotypes responsible for restrictions women experience in ICT?
Certainly there are a lot of stereotypes out there that we attempt to dispel;
such as programming is hard, using a computer is for people who are already
technologically-sophisticated, engineering requires great physical strength. We
invite professionals to share the realities of their work with our women and
Stereotypes are typically enforced by popular media. So for
instance, an engineer or web developer or database manager would usually be
depicted on television and in books as male. Then, women draw from their
personal experiences and knowledge. Frequently, many of the people they know in
these types of jobs are men. So
the idea is re-enforced that these jobs are for men.
Women in ICT as a development opportunity for Nigeria
Over the last decade and a half,
Nigeria has witnessed a rapid growth of ICT jobs
especially – within the oil and gas, telecommunications, banking, and entertainment industries
– however according to data by the Development Information Network, women
account for less than 20% and tend to occupy mostly junior or non-technical
positions. This is a big loss of economic and social development opportunities
for women. A research paper by Goldman
Sachs Global entitled ‘Women Hold Up Half the Sky’ illustrates how the economy
benefits when women are educated. Knowing how to use new tools is a crucial
part of this education.
You are also a writer and an editor, how do you balance these different demands?
My editorial work is periodic, so that is not an ever-present
challenge. More frequently, I have to balance the time spent on W.TEC with
keeping-up my personal blog and Twitter account. I have to admit that it has
been very difficult and where I could blog several times a day in 2005 and 2006
when I first started my blog, now weeks can go by and I don’t post anything.
Not that there’s a lack of topics to write about, but I struggle daily with
finding enough time for all the things I need to do.
Also within W.TEC’s work, we also have our organization blog and
other social media. It’s a constant juggling act. I don’t think there’s ever a
perfect balance. Sometimes, you tilt more in one direction that the other. I
just do the best I can and try not beat myself up about it when I’m achieving
less that I’d like to.
What are your words to women thinking of starting careers in ICT?
Go for it! Try to find out as much information as you can about your intended career
path. Seek out people working in that field and learn as much as you can about
it. People feel honoured to be asked about their experiences, so please look
for mentors. If you need additional information, feel free to contact W.TEC
through our website: www.w-teconline.org.
Temitayo is a free2run contributor, blogger with an Msc in English Literature
Free2run will feature contributions that are supportive of womens leadership, participation in politics and champion the advancement of women. However we recognize that contributors have individual political, cultural and ideolgical leanings which do not necessarily represent free2run.