You might want to use the term ‘Hall of Fame’, ‘Roll- Call of the Greats’, ‘who’s who in…’ etc. Whatever categorization you might want to use, as far as women rights activism is concerned, you can comfortably add the name Abisoye Ajayi-Akinfolarin to that list. A hero; for the girl-child, for Nigeria, for Africa, for Humanity
Born Abisoye Abosede Ajayi, on 19th May 1985, in Akure, Ondo state, Nigeria. Abisoye Ajayi-Akinfolarin is a Nigerian women’s rights activist and the founder of Pearls Africa Foundation, a Non-Governmental Organization and a social enterprise that focuses on promoting the cause of vulnerable young girls by utilizing technology, entrepreneurship, skill acquisition and internship placements.
At age 10 was when Ajayi-Akinfolarin first experienced computers. But it has been a metamorphoses since then; from the rudimentary level of learning to type and modify text in Microsoft Word, which she described as ‘just beautiful’, to the discovery of her love for computers at an IT firm as an intern after high school, to the problem solving mentality she now has. That mentality is what GirlsCoding is all about. She believes that in the most likely of places, “you can still find diamonds…, and they need to be shown another life”
A Worthy Cause
For Funmilayo Kuti, it was the suppression of women in the electoral process. For Laila Dogonyaro, it was the deprivation of the girl child from education and the tendency to be married off early. Ajayi-Akinfolarin has seen the huge gender gap in the employment opportunities of the girl child in the tech industry. In order to deal with poverty and also change the status quo of a high percentage of men to women in the tech industry, Ajayi-Akinfolarin started a programme called GirlsCoding, a free programme run by her Pearls Africa Foundation, which seeks to educate by exciting the interest of girls about computer programming. Since 2012, the group has helped more than 400 disadvantaged girls gain the technical skills and confidence they need to transform their lives.
Ajayi-Akinfolarin is impact driven; it is not all about the remunerations. (Afterall,she left a successful, full time IT consulting job). Her drive is to change the statistics of the 2013 government survey that has shown that less than 8% of Nigerian women were employed in professional, managerial or technology jobs. Ajayi-Akinfolarin seeks to enable the disadvantaged girls to transform their lives by being thinkers and consequently, problem solvers. This problem solving will serve as a source of boldness, self-confidence and a development of proper self-esteem. In the long run, it goes beyond coding, it is actually the transformation of the lives of these girls.
Concrete Examples for the ‘Concrete streets’
An example of a project initiated by Ajayi-Akinfolarin is the‘Hope Baskets’. This is intended to get beggars off the streets- a desire borne by the girls she has been training. This project eventually led to the creation of a website to serve as a bridge between the rich and the poor, enabling the girls engage in decluttering services of homes for whoever is interested. The unneeded materials—food, clothing, educational materials—are then given to those in need.
Another project is called ‘Break the Blade’, which is intended to cause awareness about female genital mutilation, thereby discouraging and stopping the practice. To achieve this, the girls intend to design a wristband with a button that when pressed, informs the necessary authorities about the female genital mutilation about to take place.
One of Ajayi-Akinfolarin’s testimonies is as regards her trainee, Sharon Okpoe, a resident of what is regarded as the largest floating slum in the world, Makoko, a habitat built on a lagoon. Sharon’s father is a fisherman and her mum, a smoked fish seller. Ajayi-Akinfolarin’s visit to that habitat served as an eye opener to her of the vicious cycle of poverty in which most of these girls are trapped. In her interview with CNN, she states,“Many of them are not thinking education, a plan for the future. Technology is a space that’s dominated by men. Why should we leave that to guys? I believe girls need opportunities.”
Still a long journey ahead!
GirlsCoding is gathering momentum and spreading into different states in Nigeria. The goal hopefully is to build an institution called ‘Girls Village’ — a residential programme that would provide all types of training for young girls. Till that materializes, Ajayi-Akinfolarin creates opportunities for the girls to broaden their horizon. One way of achieving this is by taking the students to visit tech companies — not only showing them what technology can do, but helping them visualize themselves joining the industry. This strategy has started bearing fruits, Sharon Okpoe for example, has helped in creating an app called ‘Makoko Fresh’ that went live this summer, enabling fishermen like her father to sell seafood directly to customers. Sharon hopes to study computer science in Harvard and to become a software engineer.
Ajayi-Akinfolarin wants these girls to keep in mind that “regardless of where they are coming from, they can make it.”
She has been named one of CNN’s 10 Heroes of 2018! But she is more than a CNN Hero; she is the girl child hero; a Nigerian Hero; a Global Hero; an Everyday Hero.