Is There Room For Innovation In Diversity & Inclusion? A “Shared Value” Approach Can Bring It to Fruition

By Tara Chklovski

We’re so excited to share that Salesforce is partnering with Technovation for 2017-2018! We’ve been working with Salesforce for years, and are proud to partner with them for the upcoming season, expand the program, and inspire young women to see their power as creators and entrepreneurs. Check out the announcement from Salesforce, and read on for our CEO Tara’s perspective on our ongoing work with Salesforce.

 

Diversity and Inclusion wasn’t a term a few years ago as you can see from the Google Trends depiction of interest in this term from 2004 to now.

It is exciting to see the growing attention around engaging and supporting underrepresented groups in engineering and technology. And we can and should aim really high in these efforts. But there is also room for innovation here. The idea of Shared Value” developed by Michael Porter (the leading authority on business strategy and competitiveness) is an intriguing challenge to explore here. What are the most innovative ways in which corporations can integrate social responsibility into their value chain? My favorite example is that of the Toyota Prius. Through the Prius, Toyota was able to move ahead as an environmentally conscious corporation, while also launching a hugely successful, innovative product.

Another notable example is that of CVS and its strategy to stop the sale of all tobacco products in 2014, foregoing $2 billion in sales revenue. Instead they launched a comprehensive smoking cessation program in stores and established themselves as thought leaders among health retailers.

Porter says that businesses acting as businesses (not just as charitable givers or compliance to corporate citizenship), opens up strategic opportunities to create competitive advantage, while driving the next wave of innovation, productivity, and economic growth.

That’s why I am drawn to the problem of how best to create “Shared Value” while thinking about Diversity and Inclusion — especially for the technology industry, where the value chain is focused mostly around human capital. One notable example has been Salesforce and their integrated 1-1-1 commitment to communities. We started working with Salesforce employees in 2014, engaging them as mentors in our 100-hour technology entrepreneurship program for girls – Technovation. Salesforce mentors supported teams of middle and high school girls to identify a problem in their community, develop a mobile app and launch a startup. 58% of mentors increased their technical skills around mobile computing, design thinking and product development, 67% increased their knowledge about entrepreneurship and 73% learned to be effective mentors.

The girls were exposed to powerful role models from the tech industry, while learning first hand how to work in teams and launch a technical product and business plan. Through this deep, 100-hour mentorship experience, 78% of girls were more interested in Computer Science and 70% of students were more interested in Entrepreneurship (Technovation Lookback Report). This impact is significant considering the historical trend of women entering the field of Computer Science over the past 40 years (data taken from NCES).

What we learned working together with Salesforce was that it takes time to develop and integrate a shared value strategy into a technology-based value chain. We started engaging Salesforce mentors and connecting them to Technovation girls in 2013. Since then more than 70 employees have supported girls all over the world to become technology entrepreneurs.

This year we are thrilled to go into our third season of collaboration, working closely with Salesforce to scale up, analyze our data more closely and improve the quality of learning for thousands of girls all over the world.

The best example of shared value in my opinion is still to be discovered for the technology industry. Most current examples are around skill based volunteering, job creation and workforce development, and are all very powerful starting points. However, I feel we can do more! I am excited to see if we can use our three years of past collaboration expertise to innovate further. We will bring unusual, real-world experiences to Salesforce employees and young girls, connecting groups and nationalities that would normally not come together so that they can problem solve and debug collaboratively. A successful shared value outcome would be the development of a new product or software delivery mechanism that brings direct value to Salesforce, while improving the communities the girls come from.

Here is an example of an unusual community and their first encounter with the power of mobile computing. Ancoraimes is a rural community 4 hours outside of La Paz, Bolivia.

Walking is the primary means of transportation for most people in Ancoraimes, as it is so remote and not easily accessible by road. In addition there is no currency that is used. People barter and exchange goods. Ten girls from Ancoraimes came together with the help of a passionate mentor, Pamela Gonzales, and created an unusual mobile app, Sarana, through which community members could scan QR codes posted on rocks for miles all around, to better use the large amounts of time they spent walking by learning their traditional language and some programming languages! (Pitch Video).

The possibilities are limitless if we are successfully able to connect more and more remote and underserved communities with high quality mentorship and training. And vice versa, for the mentoring corporations, the experiences their employees have may help in the development of new and innovative product lines and delivery mechanisms – creating true shared value.

Mentor Story: Alma Maria Rinasz

When I first told my QA engineer friend, Gilda, that I wanted to learn how to program in C, she couldn’t understand why an English teacher would want  to learn to code. Yet, a couple of weeks later, Gilda was tutoring me on my CS50 homework, and we set the foundations for our social enterprise, C Girls Code.

Two years later, we’ve brought Technovation Challenge to Central Mexico. Gilda convinced me of the importance of sharing our knowledge and teaching other women and girls about entrepreneurship and programming with Technovation Challenge. And just like she was willing to help me when I first sat down to learn about conditionals and loops, I understood that I had to do the same for young women.

Gilda and I have helped get the word out and assemble a team of mentors who are working with twenty girls from a halfway house. We have encountered challenges along the way, but we’ve also found so much support and willingness from our community, our friends and family. We’ve had to take baby steps with our girls, many of whom don’t get to use a computer regularly. So when our girls learned to test their very first app using the App Inventor, we couldn’t have been prouder. We even have a non-girl team (I’m mentoring my son and three of his friends).

Technovation Challenge has allowed me to live something that not only is important but in alignment with my own interests and life-long goals. I believe that I must be a part of the positive change by setting a positive example and giving back to my community. As a mother, I want my children to see me doing just that and to understand why it is important for us to be the change we want to see in the world. During the time that I’ve been volunteering with Technovation Challenge, I became unemployed. I decided to use my time to bring to together my writing skills, online experience, and digital media know-how to author a book for Mexican immigrants living in the United States. Deported: A Survival Guide for Natural Born Mexicans is a culmination of what I try to do every day (be of service and create value) and how I want to be remembered in this world: as someone who was a woman for a change.

Alma Maria Rinasz is the author of Deported: A Survival Guide for Natural Born Mexicans, and a 2017 Technovation Mentor. 

Open Letter to Technovation Students: Kate Strong

This is the first in a series of open letters written to Technovation students by their supporters. People around the world are impressed by the young women who participate in Technovation and want to cheer you all on and offer some advice and words of encouragement!

Hi ladies,

You’re more than half way through your program with Iridescent Learning. 

I’ve been following your stories and ideas that you’re bringing to life. What you are doing is incredible: You are taking a stand for your own future and learning valuable skills in how to create the change you want to see in your life, your family, community and the world.

I am sure you’ve come across challenges and there have been times when you wanted to quit – maybe your team wasn’t communicating or working together, or your MVP (prototype) failed, or maybe you’re behind on deadlines. But, you didn’t quit and that shows me how dedicated you are to the project and to bettering yourself.

You have invested in the greatest thing ever: YOU!

Everything you are learning will be with you for the rest of your life. You are growing from the challenges, mistakes and the success you achieve.

Keep moving forward and persevering with your project because you are becoming a person who others see as driven, determined and an inspiration to help others to create something in their own lives.

Kate Strong
Ethical Entrepreneur & Global Adventurer (more…)

Alumni Spotlight: Briana Berger

We recently had the chance to catch up with Briana Berger, who participated in Technovation in 2016 and was named a semi-finalist for her app SleepBeep. Read on to hear about her early experiences with technology, the challenges she’s faced in tech, and her advice to young women who are interested in technology and entrepreneurship. 

Tell us about yourself!

My name is Briana Berger.  I’m a seventeen year-old Technovation Alumni from Gainesville, FL.  I love to understand the ins and outs of everything. I always ask questions, and I think that my love for code grew out of that. It also probably explains why my toddler-self “researched” why baked cookies taste good by eating the cookie dough. As my yearning to learn grew, I have become a leader in my community for events and in coding.

I founded my own non-profit called SeniorTechNet to encourage seniors to use technology and some I have even taught to code. I also founded a club at my school called coderGirls, where I teach Python and we compete in Verizon’s Innovation Challenge. Under the club, I have created coderKids, a community outreach, to teach young kids to code, and I founded the yearly Florida Hackathons for Floridian high school students to innovate and learn. (Ed note: since we talked to Briana, coderGirls has launched as a national nonprofit organization!)

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Alumni Spotlight: Soumya Tejam

Technovation recently had the chance to reconnect with Soumya who is a 2015 Alumna and hear about her experience with tech, what she’s working on now, and what advice she has to girls interested in technology and entrepreneurship.

My name is Soumya Tejam and I participated in the Technovation Challenge in the 2015 season. My world pitch experience has in the most cliched manner changed my life. In the past two years, I’ve gone from zero coding experience to teaching a group of underprivileged girls in my community how to code, starting my own company and developing my app Cappable.

The app that I built for Technovation is called Cappable and it acts as a bridge connecting physically challenged job aspirants with corporations willing to hire them and NGO’s aiming to help them. It will be available for Android and iOS very soon and through the process of programming it, I’ve enriched my programming skills which I hope to implement in other projects. I’ve got positive feedback from the people who I hope will use this app and I can’t wait to see it in action.

Since World Pitch, I have also founded a business venture — BookBite. Founded in the summer of 2016, BookBite is a subscription box service thats sends out a curated package containing a Young Adult novel, short stories by budding novelists, bookish goodies, and an exciting online experience which gives you access to discussion forums and online downloadables. I started BookBite because I noticed the lack of passionate readers in our community and sought to change that attitude among my peers. Through the process I’ve learnt a good load about running a business, from customer acquisition to engagement and retainment. Through BookBite, I’ve run competitions, BookTalks, donation drives, and reading sessions. I’ve also gotten the opportunity to present my venture to Sandy Carter and speak at the IBM India Onward conference with Vanitha Narayanan in Delhi about the work that I’ve been doing.

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Mentor Story: Ugi Augustine

We are often asked if men can mentor in Technovation. The answer is yes, because being a Technovation mentor is about supporting young women and their interests in technology and entrepreneurship. Technovation mentors young women develop their confidence and leadership skills as well as their technical skills. It is also helpful for girls to see men and women working together to promote STEM education for girls. We do encourage men who want to volunteer as mentors do so in partnership with a woman.

This week, we would like to introduce you to a male mentor,  Ugi Augustine from Calibar, Nigeria.  We hope that his experience as a male mentor will encourage other men to volunteer. We also asked Ugi how he supports his team.

Why did you want to mentor in an all girl’s program?

The idea of having women develop software moved me into becoming a Technovation mentor. Professionally, I already impact knowledge and urge my employees and team members to achieve the unthinkable, but so far we have no women on our team. I believe that one or all of the ladies we currently mentor would become very good software developers.

Grace Ihejiamaizu had introduced me to team CHARIS and [told me] how they won the Technovation competition.  I volunteered to help them develop their app Discardious (which my team and I are currently still helping them with), and we have not just assisted with development of their app, we are also training them so they get regular classes every week. My hope is that they become outstanding young software engineers and do well, just like their male counterparts.

I mentor a lot of people, not just the girls, but it’s been a difficult process mentoring the ladies. I have actually discovered that they seem not to believe that coding can change them and take them places like the men that come to study with us. Most of the men let go of their chosen careers and adopt software as a way to make it in life–on the other hand, the ladies tend to hold on to the careers they already have. With team CHARIS and team SCEPH, I have seen young ladies who really want to make a difference through technology.

What advice do you have for all mentors?

To mentor the girls, the first thing I did was to make them believe in themselves and their abilities to change their communities with ideas. I also taught them to see failure as a normal thing, and understand that a lot of people fail, but then get better after they try again. I have failed so many times in trying to set my company up, so I use my life experiences to inspire them. As a mentor, my job ends in showing the way, the will is invented by the girls, and this is what I make them clearly understand.

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Alumni Spotlight: Houyem Boukthir

Technovation recently had the chance to talk with Houyem Boukthir, a 2015 Technovation participant from Tunisia. We got some great advice for young women interested in tech, learned how Houyem worked though challenges during the program, and what inspires her.

 

Tell us about yourself!HouyemBoukthir

My name is Houyem Boukthir, I’m 18 years old and I live in Ariana, Tunisia.

When I was 8 I dreamt of founding a car manufacturer producing only autonomous and ecofriendly vehicles, therefore reducing stress, car accidents and pollution. When presenting the idea to my father he replied that I needed a huge amount of money in order to fulfill my dream. Thanks to my childhood optimism, that didn’t stop me — on the contrary that’s when my long journey of saving money started.

I first bought a piggy bank and started saving all my pocket money depriving myself of stuff other kids my age would buy. As I grew older I realized that money wasn’t the most important thing I needed. In fact, I needed some skills that neither school could teach me nor money could buy.

I got myself more involved in community services, jumped in every event and training I’ve heard of and with 5 other friends we founded the first club in our school counting more than 50 members.

I was obsessed with the idea of becoming a better version of myself bit by bit each day, and turning into a person who worked for change and success instead of only dreaming of it. That’s when teammate Narmine introduced me to Technovation; an experience that I’ll never forget. It made me more aware of how far I have come as an individual and how hard I will work in order to achieve my goals.

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Technovation Challenge 2017: Sustainable Development Goals

By: Maggie Jaris

Let’s talk about the focus of this year’s challenge — Sustainable Development Goals (which you may have seen referred to in our materials as SDGs)! This year we’re challenging young women around the world to apply their creativity, ingenuity, and determination to develop a solution to a problem that falls into one of six SDG tracks: poverty, the environment, peace, equality, education, and health.

These tracks are taken from the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals — a set of goals to promote peace, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all.

We are asking students to focus on these six tracks because we believe that tying this year’s challenge to global initiatives will help underscore the international nature of the program, the power of collective work, and the need for socially-conscious design. We want to invite young women across the world to see themselves as people who can solve big problems — and help them understand that they can start to solve them now.

The UN has defined targets to achieve for each of their Sustainable Development Goals. Technovation teams will be doing their part to help reach these targets in the 6 tracks we’ve selected, and to make a difference. The global problems we’re facing are large and numerous — but we believe that young women have the ideas, drive, and determination to lead the change for a better world.

 

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Alumni Spotlight: Wendy Ho

We recently had the chance to catch up with Wendy Ho, a 2016 Technovation finalist, and hear about what projects she’s working on now, what she’s planning on doing next, and what advice she has for other women interested in technology. Wendy was part of team CodeHAUS which developed the app Ask Ada.

Tell us a little bit about yourself! 
Hello! My name is Wendy Ho, and I’m from Dallas, TX in the USA. I participated in Technovation in 2016.

What was your relationship or experience with tech before Technovation?
Before Technovation, I had always wanted to program or do something with technology, but I didn’t really know where to start. More so, I thought that it was too late for me to start learning about programming on my own, since most people I knew who programmed were boys and they had started learning from summer camps or own their own since middle school. I suppose I always wanted to start programming, but I just didn’t quite believe I could learn on my own and be successful.

What made you join Technovation?

I heard about Technovation from a friend at a summer program who had participated last year. Her app concept sounded amazing, and I was stunned that she knew how to program apps. More importantly, however, I realized that she had made a difference in her school community, and I wanted to do the same to my community. I joined Technovation because I wanted a catalyst to learn how to code and to create apps that solve community issues.

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Mentor Story: Unity Girls Who Code

 

We are delighted to share the story of a new team, Unity Girls Who Code, from Morristown, NJ! Unity Girls Who Code  was started by a mother and daughter. This story came our way through their mentors.

Members of the ‘Unity Girls Who Code’ team at Unity Charter School in Morristown, NJ took their first Technovation field trip on a recent Saturday, to Primrose, one of many properties under the preservation auspices of Harding Land Trust in New Jersey. Given that Unity Charter School embodies sustainability at the core of its values and education, the girls chose to explore  the “environment” theme this season. Diala and Jeff, co-mentors to Unity Girls Who Code, are leading the girls through the 20-week curriculum, and the girls are currently at the Ideation module.
Upon arrival at Barrett field, the girls present on this trip — Kayla, Bella and Ella — took a long walking path following tree markers as their guiding light until they reached a vast and open landing where board of trustee members of  the not-for-profit Harding Land Trust organization had all come together to volunteer their time towards preservation of the land by laying soil, mulch and lining the pathways. The girls participated with delight as they picked up logs and carefully placed them along the pathways. With some logs being quite heavy, teamwork went into full force where the three girls each carried one side of the log together until they dropped it on the trail in unison. There were also ribbons wrapped around the bark of many trees; these preceded the latter placed orange markers so the girls enjoyed removing these temporary markers as they took stock of the paths they had helped restore.

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