Pearls Africa Foundation
Nigerian female programmer Abisoye Ajayi-Akinfolarin’s love for computers led her to a life’s mission to help lift girls out of poverty through science, technology, engineering and math by teaching them how to code. Ajayi-Akinfolarin founded the Pearls Africa Foundation, which provides more than technological skills, giving girls tools to become financially independent.

About Abisoye Ajayi-Akinfolarin

After graduating from the University of Lagos, Ajayi-Akinfolarin founded the Pearls Africa Foundation in 2012, leaving her job to dedicate all her time to the Foundation. a statistic indicating that less than 8% of Nigerian women had professional, managerial or technological jobs, a staggeringly low number, drove her to establish the Foundation. She wanted to give women and girls the opportunity to acquire the skills to change that statistic and lift themselves out of poverty. In 2018, she earned the title of CNN Hero of the Year in acknowledgment of her efforts.

The Girls and Women of Makoko

Lagos, Nigeria, has a thriving economy of oil, finance and manufacturing, however, the world’s largest “floating slum,” Makoko, is on a lagoon in the city within which 250,000 people live. The slum city rests on stilts and its residents use canoes for transport. Gentrification led to the displacement of some members of the slum community until many deemed it unconstitutional. Most people in Makoko, including women and girls, do not have access to regular food, water, electricity or education. Drawing inspiration from the aim of helping the girls of Makoko, Ajayi-Akinfolarin began the Pearls Africa Foundation.

Pearls Africa Foundation Programs

The Pearls Africa Foundation has 10 different programs to help girls learn to code, keep them safe and secure and prepare them for educational and career-oriented opportunities. The flagship program of the Pearls Africa Foundation is Girls Coding, which provides underserved girls with an education in computer programming and coding, including courses such as HTML, CSS, JavaScript and Python. This training prepares the girls to compete for STEM jobs and achieve financial independence.

Similar programs are Lady Labs, which teaches basic IT and technology skills and provides IT experience. Empowered Hands provides vocational training such as bead-making, fashion designing, hair styling, Aso-oke weaving and more. Pearls Africa actively searches for internship placements for its students and provides scholarship opportunities through its EducateHer program.

Its mentoring activity, Safe Space, gives girls a place to cope with and address psychological trauma from their daily environments. Mentors answer questions and guide young girls in areas such as sexual health and dealing with abuse as well as cultural practices. This allows girls to understand and address their mental health issues, heal from the impacts of abuse, receive career guidance and more. Safe Space holds workshops every month to help girls build life skills and become successful in their careers.

The Foundation also has three different outreach programs: Community Outreach, Medical Outreach and School Outreach. Respectively, these efforts involve a feeding program and donations, providing free healthcare assistance in Lagos and mentoring girls in secondary schools.

Each of the programs of the Pearls Africa Foundation provides young girls in Nigeria with the tools to lift themselves out of poverty and lead successful, fulfilling lives.

– Sana Mamtaney
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Data Literacy
Since 2015, Nepal has been on the rise from a period of political turmoil. The country faced social unrest, economic instability and a shift to a three-tiered government. After a difficult transition, Nepal adopted a new constitution in 2015 and held elections for government members. These democratic changes brought Nepal some peace as well as hope for a better and more consistent future. One key element of a Nepali future hinges on data literacy.

Nepal’s new government aims to achieve the status of a middle-income country by 2030. To achieve this goal, it is imperative that all members of society are able to access and properly use data. Citizens need to have data literacy to inform decision-making, create developmental opportunities and much more.

What is the Power of Open Data?

Prioritizing the collection and making official statistics accessible to the population is essential in boosting policymaking and delivering public services. Professionals possessing data literacy can use data to change these systems in evidence-based ways that better serve the population. For example, education or sanitation fields can improve with a greater understanding of how they currently function within the country. If Nepal wants to transition to a middle-income country by 2030, data collection and analytics will be essential to making evidence-based fiscal decisions.

The public in Nepal has had access to government data since 2007. However, reports state a limited public understanding of how to request such information. There is also a widespread “culture of secrecy” in regard to public data. Another barrier to accessing open data is internet speed and access to an internet connection in private households.

What is Nepal Doing to Encourage Data Literacy?

Nepal launched the Open Data Awareness Program in 2017. It aims to bring awareness to Nepali youth about data literacy, as these youth are the future generation of leaders and policymakers for the country. The program strived to raise awareness through training sessions at colleges and youth organizations. The program then culminated in a hackathon event where youth from all over Nepal collaborated in data-oriented problem-solving.

In 2019, the World Bank worked with Nepal to create a 100-hour Data Literacy Program. The first phase of the program involved 40-hour in-person training on data literacy. During the second phase, program participants trained people in their community using the information learned in the first phase. The third phase was another in-person training, this time 60 hours, involving participants from various diverse Nepali organizations. This training also covered data literacy topics such as python, machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Later that year, the World Bank, Asia Foundation and UKAID collaborated to organize a two-day Solve-a-thon at the Kathmandu University School of Management. This event provided a platform for professionals with backgrounds in programming, research, development and data science to collaborate on data projects to further development in Nepal. These participants worked in teams on different projects that tackled issues such as air pollution, gender equality and tourism. The program held open debates on complex issues and how to use data to find efficient and effective solutions. Youth and professionals were able to come up with interesting prototypes from the Solve-a-thon. Two creations were a chatbot that tracks Nepal’s air quality and a dashboard that monitors tourist flow.

Data Literacy During the Pandemic and Beyond

In most recent news, the Nepal Data Literacy Community on Facebook that emerged from the Data Literacy Programs in 2019, decided to tackle COVID-19, by providing the correct information using open data as its resource. The community came up with initiatives to inform the population as well as collect and spread COVID-19 crisis management information. Its initiatives aim to remove language barriers on information, investigate the relationship between air pollution and COVID-19 mortality, make data on COVID-19 publicly available and analyze global media trends around divisive pandemic narratives.

Other initiatives have also come together to launch Open Nepal, a community knowledge hub. The group produces, shares and uses data to further development in Nepal. The site is a diverse platform for organizations and individuals to share their experiences and bridge the gap in data literacy. Open Nepal involves the public and private sectors to make sure no one is left behind in the fight for Nepali development.

Giulia Silver
Photo: Flickr