Emma Dicks has wanted to play a role in education for as long as she can remember, so she pursued a degree in business science at the University of Cape Town. During her studies, she took time off to intern at Mobenzi, a company that uses technology to support public health systems, and this ignited a strong interest in the power of technology.
In her final year at university Dicks joined a group of friends running an innovation challenge for high school students, which eventually grew into Innovate South Africa. Dicks recognised that while South Africa has a thriving technology industry, very few women hold positions in which they are driving innovation within the industry. Wanting to see young women at the forefront of innovation in South Africa, she initiated Code4CT — a programme focusing on using technology to create solutions — which was born out of Innovate SA.
In December last year, Mobenzi challenged Code4CT to create applications that help improve the country’s maternal healthcare system. During the process, teams of learners were given input by nurses, and then given the opportunity to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges. Earlier this year, Code4SA hosted a module about open data for Code4CT, equipping learners with data handling skills.
“The biggest success to me has been seeing the girls become role models to their peers and start changing narratives around what it means to be a woman in tech,” says Dicks. “The narrative around tech skills is all wrong. No one seems to be telling high school girls that tech skills allow you to bring an idea to life; to create something tangible that people can interact with and that can fundamentally alter society. I want to show young women that coding is more accessible than they might think, that it is creative and a powerful tool for social change.” — Fatima Asmal
The central mission behind the Code for Cape Town programme is to see more young women elect to pursue tech-related study paths and enter the workforce equipped with the skills they need to hold influence in the tech industry.
Over a 5 year period, the initiative identified 200 talented girls, taught them coding skills and nurtured their interest in technology through an extramural coding programme. As girls navigated critical career choices, the programme allowed them to experience that coding is achievable, creative and powerful, avoiding girls self-deselecting from Computer Science fields on the assumption that it’s ‘not for me’.
37% of these young women continued on into STEM-related studies and another 48% continued on into other studies equipped with robust coding skills that will augment their impact in their chosen fields.
In response to the needs of our students, we expanded our suite of programmes that support young coders, which we now run as CodeSpace.