Last Friday, the BBC’s new Broadcasting House played host to the 2013 London meeting of Africa Gathering. Indigo went along to listen to debates and presentations from three expert panels. The event has already been covered in some depth here, but I just wanted to add my own thoughts and reflections on some of the issues covered during the day:
- The first panel looked at how more women could be encouraged to take up careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Although the event has an Africa focus, the remit of this panel was much wider. Excellent contributors such as the UK space scientist, Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock, made passionate appeals to increase the profile of women in science and move away from the idea of scientific careers being ‘pale, male and stale’. More also needs to be done to raise the profile and history of science outside Europe and America. Nigeria, for example, does have a space programme, while South Africa has one of the largest telescopes in the world. The panel all agreed that a more diverse range of role models would help, but this won’t be sufficient to change things overnight. There are plenty of other barriers to women taking up STEM careers…
- One of the biggest of these barriers was women’s access to finance, a recurring theme in the second panel on financing innovation. Across parts of Africa, women are often discriminated against when using financial services. How, then, can female tech entrepreneurs get the funding they need to get their projects off the ground? While access to finance is a problem more broadly, female-led start-ups suffer most. They must rely on family and friends to fund ventures, which inevitably and drastically reduces the numbers of women who can successfully start a company. The worst thing about this, of course, is that it creates a vicious cycle – few women can access finance and start companies, so there are comparatively few role models or female success stories, meaning that the profile of female entrepreneurs remains low and access to finance remains a problem.
- The third and final panel of the day looked at policy making and disruptive thinking. Good, effective policy making is clearly a key part of creating an enabling environment for all start-ups, including tech companies. Policy makers often work in a disjointed fashion and rarely follow a linear path. It’s also interesting how in recent years, problems that were previously considered ‘developing world issues’ have transformed into issues of global policy making concern. Consider, for example, the recent G8 agenda which focused on transparency, trade and tax. The global nature of these challenges make joined-up policy making very difficult, although if they are to be tackled effectively, some joined-up thinking will be necessary.