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SISTEM one-on-one with Ms. Rumbidzayi Mlambo, co-founder of Techwomen Zimbabwe: "Coding, innovation, entrepreneurship and much more... Empowering Zimbabwean girls and women through STEM"

Rumbidzayi Mlambo

Rumbidzayi Mlambo is a Scientist and Intellectual Property Expert passionate about Science,Technology, Math and Engineering (STEM) and its role in development. She has received The international Women in STEM award for being the best STEM enabler for women, in the TechWomen Award for demonstrating potential as an Emerging Leader in the Area of STEM and part of the award involved an internship at a multi-billion dollar Tech company in the Silicon Valley. She was also the runner up in the ICT achievers award. She has worked for Government in the former Ministry of Science and Technology Development, The Research Council of Zimbabwe and the University of Zimbabwe and IPB Solutions. She is a regional coordinator for Global techwomen and Regional coordinator for Technovation Challenge an international mobile Application development competition). She has a Bachelor of Science Degree from the University of Zimbabwe and a Masters degree in Intellectual Property from Africa University currently studying for a Bachelor of Laws Honours Degree with the University of London with the ultimate goal of being. She is a self-taught web developer. She is the co-Founder of Techwomen Zimbabwe which has seen development of digital innovations by women.

Q: Please tell us about yourself and Techwomen Zimbabwe, its services, programs, members and partners. What were the reasons and goals that spurred Techwomen Zimbabwe's creation?

Mlambo: I went to the University of Kentucky and majored in Spanish and International Economics. I then attended grad school at American University and got an MA International Development and an MBA. Mercaris really the culmination of so many formative experiences for me: as a grad student I worked with coffee farmers during a time of very low commodity prices and saw how it impacted them. Shortly after that, I was an early-hire at a commodity exchange for greenhouse gas credits and other environmental contracts. I believe market mechanisms can be a tool to achieve environmental and social benefits, and Mercaris is an expression of that.

Q: Can elaborate on your program Technovation Challenge, in which girls build apps in less than 3 days to solve a community based problem?

Mlambo: The technovation Challenge is a global Technology and entrepreneurship Competition that runs for 12 weeks. Girls between the ages of 10 and 18 build mobile apps to solve problems in their communities. They work in teams of between 3 and 5 with a mentor and teacher. So far Techwomen Zimbabwe facilitated the participation of over 200 girls and led to the development of 20 mobile app prototypes in 2014 and another 20 in 2015.

Q: In your opinion, what is the state of science and technology in Zimbabwe in general, and specifically as it relates to girls and women?

Mlambo: Zimbabwe’s Science and technology system is evolving and developing. Unfortunately funding for R&D still remains very low and is at approximately 0.75% of GDP. Research and Innovation are taking place in Institutions of Higher learning and research institutions but commercialisation is very low. Support for inventors and Innovators could be better the country does have an Innovation and Commercialisation fund although it is also underfunded, the government does prioritise science and technology issues and with the improvement of the economy significant changes will be coming up in the next years. Women’s participation is low with 30 % enrolment in Technology and engineering courses. Stereotypes on which careers are suitable for girls and boys still exist with engineering being associated with boys.

Q: In your view, how can more girls and women enter the fields of science and technology in Zimbabwe?

Mlambo: Believe through demystifying Science and technology we can get more women and girls in Technology. One observation that we have had Techwomen Zimbabwe is that women and girls are problem and solution driven so showing them how they can solve problems/issues that they are concerned about through science and technology can help them get excited about STEM and stay in the fields.

Q: In your estimation, what are the biggest challenges that Africa faces in terms of science literacy? What opportunities lie ahead for Africa in regards to science and technology?

Mlambo: I believe the biggest Challenges for Africa in terms of Science and technology Literacy is funding for basic learning infrastructure for Science and technology especially in rural areas where the majority of the population leaves in. I believe that Africa still has untapped potential in Science and technology with its abundant natural resources and biodiversity Africa stands to benefit from the value addition of these resources and become the powerhouse in these products instead of exporting raw materials and importing finished products. I believe we are yet to untap the value of Traditional knowledge especially with regards to traditional medicine and natural products. I believe if we focus on our strengths we can fully exploit the value of Science and technology.

We've gotten good at producing a few 'cheap' commodities (corn and soybeans), while not accounting for things like water quality, soil quality, biodiversity, diversity of crops, etc. What's needed is a fuller accounting of the various benefits and costs involved in food production. Mercaris is one response to the need for better information. By bringing market data and transparency to the sector, we help lower transaction costs - from producer to processor to retailer. We help the supply chain get more efficient.

Q: What tips and advice do you have for students in Zimbabwe, Africa and the US that want enter studies and purse careers in STEM or related STEM fields such as business, economy, and medicine?

Mlambo: The growth of the organic and the non-GMO food sector is a result of consumer demand for more sustainably grown food and information about that food. It’s a good bet that this trend will continue. Mercaris is the place to go for the most sophisticated, data-rich view of a dynamic sector. And, although we started by covering organic and non-GMO, there are other 'identity-preserved' commodities that are growing but lack transparency.

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