Zimbabwe Wins The TechWomen Grant!

Nhanisi Maphosa
A few months ago, the Oasis interacted with one of the TechWomen Program attendants, Kim Bwanya. She talked about her relationship with technology and how excited she was to be part of the program. This time she talks about the impact project she presented with her teammates during the program and how it will help Zimbabwe.

How did it feel being among other women pursuing STEM-related careers?

It was good and challenging at the same time. Being among all the beautiful talent was great however being in the midst of people from different cultures was a challenge. A few people from Sub-Saharan Africa attended, and inclusive countries such as South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Cameroon, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria were present. The rest was from Asia and people from the Middle East. In comparison, our cultures are so different.

By challenges, might you be referring to racism?

Oh No, there was no racism whatsoever but the cultural differences slowed us down. Inherently people in Sub-Saharan Africa have the same traits which differ from people in the Middle East. Hence we took longer to reach the same understanding mainly because of language barriers.

Another challenge was some people did not know when to step up and when to step back. For example, during the question and answer sessions, one person could take up three-quarters of that time continuously asking instead of allowing other people to voice their questions.

How did you feel about that?

It didn’t affect me on a large scale.

How did you handle all the trip expenses?

The good thing was the program was sponsored by the US Department of State. Everything is taken care of including flights and accommodation. They also give program attendees a stipend. They gave us a card with money to buy our groceries and a card for transport because the public transport system is accessible with just one card. Although, I think more money would have sufficed.

Explain the relationship you had with your mentors when you got to California.

We had several mentors grouped into three different types: professional, cultural, and action plan mentors. The purpose of cultural mentors was to take us around the country and show us different experiences. Professional mentors were to help individuals archive their personal mentorship goals. As team Zimbabwe, we had three action plan mentors; their sole purpose was to help us work towards the impact project, pitch it on one of the final days, and hopefully earn money, which we did. We won the top position as team Zimbabwe amongst 21 countries.

What was the strategy you had as a team?

Action plan mentors would make sure we meet with them regularly as team Zimbabwe, either for lunch, potluck or dinner. Which helped strengthen the team bond and led to our victory.

Can you talk about the impact project that team Zimbabwe presented?

The impact project is called Focus Zimbabwe; we are to set up aquaponics plans in orphanages. Aquaponics is soil-less farming. The aquaponics setup unit uses fish, water, and nutrients to produce microgreen farming. The nutrients from the fish feed the plants. This system saves space and water and, you can get the yield six times faster than you would on mud. We aim to set up these units in orphanages. We will teach them how to set up the aquaponics system thus equipping them with skills. They then can grow their microgreens not only for consumption but also for sale to generate money for the orphanage. They won’t have to wait for donations or handouts. 

Where are you setting up the first system?

We are going to start with SOS Children’s Village. It’s got three brunches in Zimbabwe; one in Bulawayo, the other two in Harare and Bindura. So we will start with the Bulawayo brunch and, as the year advances, we will move to the other branches.

When is it kickstarting?

We received the grant at the beginning of this year. We are yet to discuss the logistics and how to set up everything. I think midwinter, the project should be on course.

Does this mean the team is all set and has the money to do it?

The money that TechWomen gave us is just for start-up, but we are working on raising more money so we can build as many units as possible and reach out to as many orphanages as possible. We have already started to crowdfund.

Does TechWomen help you crowdfund?

Yes. One of our action plan mentors is going to help us. We can raise twenty thousand US dollars with her help.

How are you assigned to the impact project?

As a group, we all have diverse skills, I am in technology. We have a lady who does agriculture, another who is a chemist, one who is in innovation management, a lecturer, and; one who is a data scientist.

Can you comfortably go back to your mentors to ask for assistance?

Yes. Once you start a relationship with your mentors, it doesn’t end when you’ve completed the program. I’m still communicating with my professional mentors. It’s an ongoing relationship until it naturally dries out.

Did the program meet your expectations?

They exceeded my expectations, but it was overwhelming because we were always busy. We got screen fatigued because we were in and out of zoom calls and long-hour workshops; it was exhausting.

What is the one thing that felt like an eyeopener from this program?

The beauty of this program is that it puts people in the San Francisco Bay Area, where all the money is, where most innovations in Tech are, and being right at the center of that as a Zimbabwean is like seeing dreams come alive on a large scale. In that area, people don’t speak in thousands but millions; you’d find that someone my age putting the same effort that I put in my work has probably obtained way more in Silicon Valley because opportunities are easy to grab.

Would you recommend someone to apply to TechWomen?

I highly recommend it and wish they could take everyone in this country to go there and experience life from a different perspective. People need to take on opportunities like the one TechWomen provides because such programs, if taken seriously, bring innovation and financial aid to the country, which Zimbabwe needs.