Q: Please tell us about yourself, your educational background and the path that led you to eSTEM Morocco.
Larhrissi: I am Nezha Larhrissi, thirty eight years old, mother of two lovely kids of twelve and nine years old, repectively girl and boy. I live in Rabat, Morocco and serve as advisor to the Moroccan Minister of Environment while leading my PHD research on ICT impact on Sustainable Development. I was born in Fez, where I studied mathematics and physics part of what we call, preparatory classes for Engineering schools. I moved then at the age of nineteen years old to Rabat to complete my engineering degree in telecoms at the National Institute of Posts and Telecommunications in 1999. I spent most of my career ; almost fourteen years within Nokia and Nokia Siemens Networks working in operations, sales and strategic Marketing. On 2013 I decided to shift career by taking first the Techwomen US exchange program for emerging leaders in Middle East and Africa and then moving to serve in the public sector. This incredible journey brought me to get inspired from a wide network of women leaders in the field of technology to co-create eSTEM Morocco with my two friends Salima Kaissi and Zineb Rharrasse, Techwomen of the same year.
Q: Tell us about eSTEM Morocco: who created it, why, what programs does it offer and who does it serve?
Larhrissi: After our Techwomen experience in 2013, we realized Salima, Zineb and I that we could make a difference in our community by taking responsibility to do something for the Moroccan girls. We could witness through our own experience the impact of moving within a community and being exposed to women leders. So we decided to get inspired from Techwomen program concept and roll something similar at smaller scale in Morocco. This is how eSTEM Morocco was born. The mission of eSTEM Morocco is to provide girls and young women with tools and self confidence to encourage them pursue careers in the scientific and technological fields while spreading consciousness on the environment challenges and the role technology can play towards a sustainable world. We do this through different tools including but not limited to mentoring, self-development workshops, competitions, etc…
We are proud to have H.E. Hakima El Haité, Minister of Environement in Morocco as Godmother of the program. She says : « In the past 250 years, the face of the planet changed due to overuse of natural ressources. Massive adoption of technology led humanity to critical environment degradation. Girls we have hope and faith in you and your innovation to use science and technology for a better world. »
You can also check the Techwomen Blog Article here : https://www.techwomen.org/girls-education/learning-by-doing-rolling-out-estem-morocco
And the eSTEM Presentation video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e2Cby5vCflY
Q: Experience – Plan – Serve – Persevere are important values guiding eSTEM Morocco, could you please elaborate on them in the context of your organization?
Our values evolved since we first launched our program. We focus now on three :
· Learn by experience
· Know value of time
· Persevere despite failure
Having values means a lot to us. It guides our code of conduct, it helps us focus on our mission which is providing girls and young women with tools and self confidence to encourage them pursue careers in the scientific and technological fields while spreading consciousness on the environment challenges and the role technology can play towards a sustainable world. As an eSTEM Morocco community we breath these values in every action. For instance, we try to expose girls to real field experience rather than theoritical talks for example taing them to meuseums, to events, getting them produce something… We include time manegemnt course in almost every activity to bring awareness to how much can be done in a weekend for example and we train them on time planning tools. Last but not least we pitch the idea that there is no failure, there are only experiences. This last one is very important as we push our girls to participate in competitions so by definition there could be winners and loosers. We want to help them build inner strength to face challenges and work tiresly towards success.
Q: Tell us about your participation in the Technovation Challenge.
Larhrissi: Thanks to Techwomen unparralleled networking opportinities we met Mrs Anar Simpson who is the global ambassador of Technovation. She carries so beautifully her mission of preaching, encouraging and guiding whoever wants to do something impactful in their communities. Thanks to her, leading by example, we got inspired to launch the program for first time in Morocco in 2015. When I first went on the technovation website I came across the world map of previous editions participating countries. It was sad to me to see no red dots on Morocco. This is when I promised myself that we will make it so that next year, red dots appear and this is what happened.
It was painful mainly because on one hand we were discovering the program for fist time, so everything was new to plan, build and execute and on another hand due to lack of helping hands. We are so proud of the girls who bought seriously into the program and completed the full four months journey. Six teams among which an 11 yeras old team have submitted their application and the full list of requiered deliverables knowing that they all participated in an international competition for the first time of their lives.
Q: Please also tell us briefly about your participation in the Startup Weekend Women and as the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Marrakech (Morocco).
Larhrissi: The first program we executed in november 2014 was eSTEM Week, a concept inspired from the Techwomen experience. For the duration of a holidays week, we took the mentees who were all high school girls of 15-16 years old through an unusual routine to them. We designed a rich program consisting of site and meuseum visits, self-development courses, entrepreneuial workshops, entreprise shadowing and networking events. The week was so perfectly chosen that luckily the public schools vacation coincided with the Global Entrepreneurship summit and the Startup Weekend Women events. We took opportunity to make the girls participate to both events. One should have seen their brinkling eyes when they were at SW finals and were impressed by the courage of one youg girl who pitched an idea at the finals. It was an eye opener for them that there could be possibilities to enhance one’s limits to wider borders than what they are used to spend their weekends doing. The lucky mentees who got a chance to travel to Marrakech and hear the Vice President of the United States speaking or meet U.S. Second lady Jill Biden or interact with U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Catherine M. Russell weren’t less inspired. For them being part of such a prestigious event is a once in a lifetime experience.
It is our pride to say that one of the Technovation teams, the one who won the Rabat regional technovation event participated only one yera later with their mobile app they developped within technovation to the second edition of Startup Weekend Women and guess what ? they won the first prize and will be the lucky team representaing Morocco in Turkey next year!
All this wouldn’t have been possible without active implication of all our partners, supporters, mentors, coaches and anybody who believes in our cause. We are deeply grateful.
Newspaper article on Startup weekend Casa : http://lematin.ma/journal/2015/le-roadshow-des-entrepreneurs-demarre-sur-les-chapeaux-de-roue/236464.html
eSTEM Week strong moments video : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mVRg9nsGsvc
Q: What challenges is eSTEM Morocco currently facing?
Larhrissi: Since we started with our first program in november 2014, eSTEM Morocco have been running 6 activities listed bellow :
eSTEM Week (11/2014)
FabFems Webinar (1/2015)
Gravity Tour conference with US Astronaut (1/2015)
Technovation Challenge (1-4/2015)
eSTEM Trip for Aitattab girls (4/2015)
Global Youth Leadership Summit (8/2015)
ISESCO-UNESCO Excellence camp (9/2015)
Our perspectives for 2016 are to run on a bigger scale Technovation Challenge 2016, reinforce collaboration with Techgirls and Techwomen communities and run a National conference on STEM and girls. The current challenge is how to scale Technovation 2016 to be run in different cities of Morocco knowing that is related to volunteering williness of mentors and coaches. Our ambition is to spread the entrepreneurial mindset among all girls in Morocco. Get them become aware of what happens around the world and open for them intercultural exchange opportunities.
Q: Finally, in your opinion what are the key steps to increase the STEM participation of girls, women and rural populations in Morocco?
Larhrissi: To me Science is a family matter and in a bigger scale a Society matter. Either we mystify it and make it a big thing that only bright brains can apprehend or we simplify it and integrate the idea that science is not rocket science !
In the first case, we continue implicitly nourishing the weakness that most of girls feel, the inferiority to boys that is more anchored in our North African and Arab culture. In the second case we free our girls from stereotypes and get them realize that they can build stuff the same way as a boy can.
So key step for me is demystification of STEM and this is the main reason eSTEM is not only adressed to high school girls but also to women who turn mothers one day and can play an active role in spreading those ideas. Towards that goal everybody can contrinute. There are plenty of way one can get involved with us ; either by becoming a mentor and role model or by hosting visits or even just suggesting sites to visit. One can also provide a training as a coach. Finally, just sharing info is of great value-add to us (for insatnce, being active on Social Media, sharing ressources for role models and for mentees, sharing info on international competitions targeted to high school girls). For sponsors we do not need money, we gratefully accept inkind donations.
eSTEM Morocco latest : https://www.facebook.com/estemmorocco/