Spotlight MEA
Middle East & Africa Spotlight Women in Tech

Ensuring Fintech Success for Women in East Africa Through Education

The sad reality of the current state of the fintech sector is that there is a huge disparity in gender when it comes to representation at a top level. While there continues to be ongoing efforts to improve this, more needs to be done. More so in some regions than others. Looking to ensure women and girls are guided on the right path to success, Sonal Kadchha created a charity in East Africa called Educating the Children (ETC).

Currently, Kadchha works as an ’empowerment’ counselor, assisting young individuals struggling with identity and confidence issues. This is in addition to city professionals seeking more purpose and meaning. She runs ‘women-only’ programmes to boost their confidence, however, she believes there is more work to be done in the fintech sector and beyond. Particularly in fast-growing developing countries.

Sonal Kadchha
Sonal Kadchha, founder, Educating the Children

This is especially true in the region of Africa, where less than five per cent of funding went to fintechs owned by a an all-women team. According to the research firm, Briter Bridges, all-male fintech founders received 82 per cent of the $12.6billion raised across the continent between 2013-2021.

However, not all hope should be lost. While there is a huge disparity that must be addressed, there are some promising signs for gender equality in the region. Another market research firm, Findexable found that globally, there are only 1.6 per cent solely women-owned fintech firms. Meanwhile, the African region has achieved double this average with 3.2 per cent solely women-owned firms.

Tackling the problem at its roots

While double the global average sounds good, 3.2 per cent is still far too small a number. One reason for this is education. Africa still faces significant barriers to education and economic empowerment, particularly for girls and young women. In Kenya, Sonal Kadchha found that there were simply not enough teachers to ensure each student was getting the help they needed

This experience inspired her to establish a scheme that allowed UK teachers to volunteer in local primary schools in the area. This initiative was the beginning of ETC. ETC’s Code Queen programme is designed to address the pressing need for education and skill-building among young women in East Africa. Its approach trains them in coding and connects them to education and employment opportunities.

The programme not only promotes gender equality but also takes steps towards closing the gender gap in the tech industry. Code Queen equips young women with the skills they need to build, create, and develop their own ideas and solutions to problems. The first cohort had an 80 per cent success rate in connecting students to internships, scholarships, and jobs, with previous students returning to facilitate new cohorts.

Building on current success

The Fintech Times chatted to Kadchha to get a greater understanding on how Code Queen could evolve and impact more lives. She said: “We need to raise awareness for the need to invest in young women’s ‘future ready skills’ across the world.

“We’ve seen the knock-on impact such investments can have through our grass roots projects but even the headline figures agree. It costs the world between $15-30trillion in lost lifetime and productivity according to the World Bank. And yet, according to UNESCO, globally only three per cent of ICT graduates are women. The disparities in the developing world are even bigger.

“We’re trying to build awareness of closing this gap through a coalition of donors and partners who realise the impact of investing in future-ready skills for young women can have. This in turn would enable more funding, which would help us to take on more potential students. At the moment we’re able to take on 60-70 per cent of those who apply.

“The demand is definitely there. ‘Linking’ (which is the percentage of graduates that we link to job/internship/training opportunities afterwards) is a key metric in our impact numbers. Developing more of these ‘linking’ partnerships with startups and other software companies is also key in order for us to be able to increase admissions.

“I see our ‘effectiveness’ as the amount of impact we’re able to make for each pound of donor funding. We’re developing and implementing a learning management system that will allow us to scale the program and hence increase effectiveness.”

educate the children

A matter close to home

Sonal Kadchha is a British-born individual with Kenyan-Indian roots. She has always taken a global outlook, having spent 15 years working in the financial services sector in London, Asia, and Africa. During her last four years in the corporate sector, she worked as the head of bancassurance for Prudential plc in Sub Saharan Africa, traveling extensively across Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, Nigeria, and Ghana.

Kadchha is now looking to expand the ETC program to other parts of Uganda such as Gulu and the refugee camp in Umbe. As well as other countries such as Kenya and Zambia. One of the biggest hurdles to expansion is fundraising.

She further told The Fintech Times: “I believe that we’ll eventually get there as it is becoming more and more evident that the greatest investment that any society can make is investing in women. If the investment is in future ready skills that are not currently available in the market then this is even better (as it is the case with ETC).

“The fintech industry is by its very nature all about decentralisation and innovation. Africa is playing its part in this with leapfrogging technologies. People don’t have bank accounts but they have mobile money. The success of MPESA is living proof of this.

“With ETC, we’ve tried to think like a fintech/start up. We’ve been nimble, minimised cost of delivery and kept adapting to needs of market. This is how we moved from building traditional bricks and mortar schools to future-ready skills tech skills before the pandemic.”

Author

  • Francis is a journalist and our lead LatAm correspondent, with a BA in Classical Civilization, he has a specialist interest in North and South America.

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