Full disclosure: The author of this piece, Megan Anthony, is a co-organizer of Girl Develop It Wilmington.
After her first Girl Develop It class, Jaka Kabba said to me, “I’ll try — no, I must bring this back with me.”
Jaka is one of the 1,000 Mandela Washington Fellows for Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) visiting the United States this summer. Jaka, who lives in Sierra Leone, was chosen from over 50,000 applicants for the summer program and spent her time with 24 other fellows between the ages of 25 and 35 at the University of Delaware. When her fellowship ends at the end of this week, she will return to her current work of preventing and eliminating violence against women and providing socio-economic help to victims of the Ebola virus disease.
This girl is my hero.
I’m still dumbfounded that both Jaka and I, two very different women living in two very different countries, came to the same consensus about improving our communities. That conclusion is Girl Develop It, a software development education program for women.
Surprisingly, I met Jaka through the Delaware tech scene. Through my work at coworking space 1313 Innovation, I met PR consultant Ken Grant, and through him, I met the University of Delaware’s YALI organizer, Kim Bothi.
After meeting Kim, we planned a meeting between the entrepreneurs from 1313 and the YALI fellows. The event was for entrepreneurs to exchange successful business ideas with the fellows.
But after reviewing the fellows interests and their extensive resumes, I knew I wanted to invite a representative from Girl Develop It to talk about our work with empowering women through web and software development. Outside of my day job at 1313, I co-lead the Girl Develop It chapter in Wilmington.
Bindu Jallabah, Girl Develop It’s new operations director, was the perfect person to talk to the fellows. While managing the operations for all 53 chapters, Bindu also runs a nonprofit in Africa. Her nonprofit leverages mobile technology to teach women about maternal and reproductive health services and advocates for women’s self-care in remote villages in West Africa.
Bindu’s presentation grabbed the fellows. Her previous work and why she chose to come to Philadelphia and continue Girl Develop It’s mission truly resonated with them. They were so influenced that the fellows pleaded with us to host a class before they head back to their home countries this Sunday.
I had less than a week to plan a class and find a teacher during typical business hours, which was was extremely daunting, but the Delaware tech scene snapped into action: we managed to get Zip Code Wilmington’s Dominique Clarke and J.P. Morgan developer Alejandro Londono teach Intro to Web Concepts and Intro to HTML. We hosted it at 1313, and of the 25 YALI fellows at the University of Delaware, 13 attended the class, including one male. (They had other programming for the day but some wanted to skip it for this class.)
It wasn’t until after class did Jaka and I had the chance to catch up and she told me that she wanted to bring the Girl Develop It model to her community. I’m ecstatic that they also see the value in this nonprofit just as I did one year ago, when I helped bring it to Wilmington.
Can we empower women in Africa, like Girl Develop It has done in the U.S., by teaching them software development?
I have no idea, but I hope we get to find out soon.
Megan Anthony is the community manager of Wilmington’s 1313 Innovation. The graduate of Temple University previously worked at financial services firm J.G. Wentworth and Philadelphia’s Pyramid Club.