Open Innovation and Open Education Promote Women in ICTs

There is global recognition that our digital world must address the needs of all people but the digital gender gap remains a fundamental challenge.

To promote women’s equal participation in the creation and use of innovative technologies and digital media, we need to ensure that they have the necessary access, knowledge and support to ensure new technologies serve the needs of both men and women.

There are hundreds of initiatives around the world that promote women’s access to ICTs and that aim to create technologies for women, by women. But what is particularly promising in the field, is the work to integrate innovative policies – specifically in Intellectual Property (IP) law and open innovation – with women’s digital entrepreneurship, as well as open education programs that transform technologies through community-led initiatives.

IP Law and Open Innovation

Creators who invent new technologies require knowledge about IP laws to both protect and enable innovations. While always fully respecting IP rights, open innovation offers opportunities to bridge the global digital divide for women. New trends in open innovation provide a space for women to build their creative capacities as leaders and makers.

My experience seeing Harvard’s Innovation Lab and MIT Media Lab in action and attending its open invite workshops and events provided rich insight drawing focus to the fact that the arts and sciences including technology, engineering and math – STEAM movement – are enabled IP law. As more women move into the foray of technology production, their understanding of IP laws is an especially important component to ensure their innovations are encouraged and protected.

Innovations in Open Education

Few women are involved in designing and building the online applications that have become the new engine driving education, information, science, engineering, art, entertainment and commerce. A few novel ideas developed by young women seek to change that, some based on the principles of open innovation, others inspired by open education:

Rails Girls project is a volunteer-based coding workshop that enables for young women to take part in the digital revolution. Global Chapters, including the first Johannesburg chapter that I helped to organize in 2014, empower young women to become confident about making career choices in the new digital space.

Ruby on Rails introduces young women to creating applications and websites. Though only introductory, the participants enjoy hands-on training under the supervision of local coaches. The success of the programme, now in over 150 countries worldwide, demonstrates young women’s desire to gain ICTs skills and knowledge.

Another example, Chibitronics, co-founded by an MIT Media Lab PHD candidate, makes building circuits and electronics easy through building and creation. This is yet another example of leveraging open learning to encourage innovation.

There is abundant enthusiasm by women and girls to take part in the digital transformation of their societies. We need to inspire them to overcome obstacles and traditional barriers of entry in the digital space so they can strive to make meaningful contributions to the world of tech. We need to ensure that policy frameworks are in place in order to provide an enabling environment for women’s innovations in ICTs.

Note from ITU: The Annual GEM-TECH Awards recognize innovative solutions to bridge the digital gender gap. The GEM-TECH Awards have become a global showcase for policies and projects that promote women in ICT. Nominations are now open until August 15, 2016.

Ayesha Dawood is a South African and Harvard educated digital media and technology lawyer. She has an LL. M. from Harvard Law school and was a recent 2016 Fellow at the Weatherhead Centre for International Affairs, Harvard. She is also is an artist and the author of Little Monks Africa Adventure.

Blog in  ITU Blog


This was astounding. Walking into ThoughtWorks, Johannesburg and seeing coaches clean, mop, vacuum and organise desks for the first Rails Girls Johannesburg -was humbling and I was awestruck…

That is the spirit that set the tone for Rails Girls Johannesburg’s first presence in SA.   The organisers, coaches, ThoughtWorks personnel and volunteer Gary Segal including a 10 year old volunteer, Zaakirah Sader all pitched in to ensure that the Rails Girls got their first best Ruby on Rails coding experience.

The SWAG, a little red gift bag, with a Code of Conduct, a toolkit for online safety and a ThoughtWorks mug, were sleek and minimal and every Rails Girl got a T- Shirt – It was a proud moment. Then we improvised – Eskom’s epic load shedding tried to foil us – so we presented without slides on Day 1 to introduce our Rails Girls to the Rails Girls programme. Amidst identity game and descriptions of themselves they Rails Girls Johannesburg, found their coding spirt and each other. That in itself should have been enough. Then Orville Khangale stepped in and saved the day getting us connected with personal hotspots.

It was not – they were blown away by Vuyisile Sisulu’s wifi spoon presentation and showed us a few tricks. Then Ridhwana Khan took them through the Rails exercise like the pro – she is and they look to it with a lot of enthusiasm. Bentobox and theory and boxes and logic, style, design and infrastructure were demystified with Mariana Bravo – I loved that part and was delighted to act as scribe as these amazing young girls popped answers out with shocking clarity. I was blown away.

The sessions for coding were intense and labelling the girls into groups – ranging from Ruby Onxy, Crystal, Tanzanite, Platinum, Pearls, Jade, Emeralds, was a hit – these Rails Girls Johannesburg shone like jewels in their sessions. They worked hard, really hard for a long stretch of coding and came up with apps for books and fashion. Girls with brains and style is what I call them. The future coders glowed and regardless of their fatigue – after the marathon coding session. They were so well supported by these incredible coaches Liandra, Senovia, Faris, Bukiwe, Simba and Charles.   Ridhwana, Mariana and Vuyisile were there with them as they coded too! Big up to these incredible community spirited coaches.

We had some moments, too much Pizza, who thought we could ever have had too much pizza! Too little marshmallows – this I will remedy joyfully next time.

The Rails Girls were invited to come to ThoughtWorks by Brain Keke, Head of Technology for Pan Africa when he spent some time talking to them .. that was gracious and a real plug in opportunity for the Rails Girls. The highlight for the coders – their time, effort, and perseverance was honoured by the Deputy Minister of Education, Mr Enver Surty – who acknowledged the digital space for young women – and inspired them to embrace the digital world with full pride. This was indeed a coding moment for these first ever Rails Girls of Johannesburg and an emerging digital space for young women. They received their Certificates of Participation from the Deputy Minister of Basic Education and shone more brightly than the jewels they proved themselves to be. Theirs was a glow of pride, recognition and accomplishment. All sparks and curiosity.

Thank you, Rails Girls Johannesburg! Thank you all for the community. Thank you for the amazing sparks and curiosity.

Its success has ensured that the Finnish inspired community spirited Rails Girls movement is likely to roll out nationally in 2015 in the major cities of South Africa.


Coding for young women: Apply to Rails Girls Johannesburg

Taking part in building the Internet may seem like a dark mystery to most people. But Rail Girls is changing all that. If all you have is curiosity and a willingness to learn, you can join a unique group of women, and some young men, who will walk into the new world of technology.

In a first for South Africa, Rails Girls Johannesburg is scheduled to begin early in December. Born in Finland, Rails Girls is a global, non-profit volunteer community that aims to launch women into the world of digital technology., in association with Rails Girls, is organising a unique experience that will contribute to making technology accessible and friendly. Making technology approachable is the objective of this unique project that has spread to 232 cities, including Mozambique and Uganda.

Our aim is to give tools and a community for women to understand technology and to build their ideas. Rails Girls does this by providing a great experience on building things and by making technology more approachable.

Our aim is to give tools for women to understand technology. The Rails Girls events do this by providing a great first experience on building the Internet.

“Rails Girls was founded in end of 2010 in Helsinki. Originally intended as a onetime event, we never thought we’d see so many local chapters all around the world.”

Participants learn sketching, prototyping, basic programming and get introduced to the world of technology.

As Rails Girls is entirely a non-profit, participants don’t pay and coaches, organisers and speakers don’t charge. Thanks to willing sponsors who want to promote the benefits of “open technology”, the traction of the two-day events around the world are surprising even the founders.

Participants don’t need any previous knowledge about programming and there are no age-limitations. A hands-on approach to learning the basics of Ruby on Rails, participants need no previous experience about programming. Although there are no age limits, Rails Girls Johannesburg wants to aim the first event at young people between 15 and 18 years of age.

The workshop will be informal. No panel discussions or lectures, just one coach for three or four participants. At the end of the workshop, participants will feel confident and inspired about programming and web design.

The event will take place at:

Thoughtworks office Address


South Point Central

2nd Floor

17 Melle Street




Parking Address

Arbour Square Building,

c/o Juta & Melle Streets,




Parking will be provided. A ticket will stamped at the Thoughtworks office.


Light refreshments and snacks will be available. The workshop starts on Saturday 6 December 2014 and continues on Sunday 7 December 2014.

You need to submit your application by or before 20 November 2014 and, if you are selected, we will contact you by or before 26 November 2014.


  • Curiosity about the Internet
  • A laptop
  • Transport to and from the venue
  • Completion of application form

All you need is a laptop and some curiosity. Show sparks!


 Go to www.  to submit your online application