SISTEM one-on-one with with Ms. Sandra Tererai, Founder of Taungana, a South African based STEM organization: "Empowering future African leaders (through STEM). One girl at a time".
Sandra is a food scientist and process improvement specialist who has had the opportunity to apply herself in a multitude of roles in the manufacturing, engineering and FMCG space. Based in Johannesburg,
she currently lends her expertise to a Swiss organisation, in the oil and gas industry, in the defining and implementation of integrated management systems – health, safety, security, environment and quality. Sandra is passionate about financial
independence for women through powerful careers in the fields of STEM and entrepreneurship. She would like to widen the reality of girls and women through exposure to powerful narratives and experiences that would ordinarily not have been a part of their
cumulative life journey. Recognising the role STEM plays in the development of African communities, Sandra is convinced that promoting entrepreneurial STEM activities for African high school girls and women from different geographies is a powerful way to realise this.
Q: Please tell us about yourself and Taungana (how and why was it founded, its goals and programs).
Tererai: I come from a small town called Masvingo in Zimbabwe and I identify as African.
Taungana was conceptualised as a multi-pronged solution to the great need for development
in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics domains on the African continent (and globally). For instance, UNESCO reported that 2.5 million new engineers and technicians are required in sub-Saharan Africa to provide the clean water and sanitation the continent desperately needs.
On the other hand, females remain hugely under-represented in these STEM fields, globally and in Africa. These are all startling figures in a continent where women are the largely the primary caregivers, particularly in rural communities. To foster innovation and economic development in African countries,
it is important to bring these women to the STEM problem-solving table – yet access to information and exposure to the application of STEM education in career paths remains extremely limited for students who live outside of our continent’s major cities. And so Taungana was born.
identifies and develops talented high school girls from underserved rural Africa with knowledge and resources through exposure and access to STEM organisations, careers, role models, education and continued mentorship through practice leaders while equipping them with entrepreneurial skills to implement monetizable
community development projects. Outreach events in rural communities catalyse mass STEM awareness while data mined on STEM engagement barriers forms the basis for consultancy and advocacy. We achieve our goals through our Fellowship Program, Networking platform and Business intelligence leg.
Q: Can you please elaborate on Taungana's motto:" Empowering future African leaders. One girl at the time". Additionally, can you also expand on Taungana's focus on rural communities?
Tererai: Taungana believes in a generation of African girls that change their lives and contribute to global sustainable development through science, technology, engineering, entrepreneurship and mathematics - STEM. When we took a step back to analyse what would be needed to realise this vision, it was evident
multiple barriers and challenges had to be addressed and it would take a coming together of minds and resources from different specialities and geographies to achieve such a feat. While we set about creating a movement that took the form of an intricate yet simple ecosystems playing on the strengths of various stakeholders,
we would start anyway – we would reach out to the girls we could with what we had and begin the journey, even if those few tens of girls were just a scratch in the big number needed to achieve the vision. Hence the motto: "Empowering future African leaders (through STEM). One girl at a time".
63% of sub-Saharan
Africa is classified as rural and these are communities that ultimately need STEM development the most to tackle the critical issues of sanitation, healthcare, infrastructure, clean water, poverty – to mention a few. Taungana Ambassadors are change agents who equipped to create monetizable STEM solutions for their communities
empower them and the broader community hence our focus on rural communities that need this development the most.
Q: Tell us about Taungana's STEM Expo that includes 30 female high school students from rural South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe, for a weeklong residential STEM program in South Africa.
Tererai: The STEM Expo, Taungana’s flagship programme, is the first regionally integrated approach to tackling socio-economic and gender hindrances to STEM engagement for rural girls. The Expo model leverages existing networks to expose rural communities to multiple STEM disciplines making them receptive to STEM progress,
empowers rural youth change-agents to champion community development through entrepreneurship while nurturing them into the larger pipeline of STEM experts needed for large scale sustainable development globally. 30 girls are selected annually as Ambassadors of their communities and countries to attend the STEM Expo. Currently, Ambassadors
are selected from South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The STEM Expo is an intensive 7 day residential programme that exposes Taungana Ambassadors to some of South Africa’s best performing STEM companies in a bid to give them a practical appreciation of the application of science and technology in the real world and a chance to
meet with highly established female mentors in these fields. Industry hosts include AngloAmerican, Intel, BMW, Nestle and The Innovation Hub to mention but a few. The Ambassadors also go through a rigorous entrepreneurship curriculum, delivered by business experts, as they each develop their projects through the stages of ideation, proof of
concept, finance right through to marketing culminating into a pitch night. The STEM Expo is an intensive 7 day residential programme that exposes Taungana Ambassadors to some of South Africa’s best performing STEM companies in a bid to give them a practical appreciation of the application of science and technology in the real world and a
chance to meet with highly established female mentors in these fields. Industry hosts include AngloAmerican, Intel, BMW, Nestle and The Innovation Hub to mention but a few. The Ambassadors also go through a rigorous entrepreneurship curriculum, delivered by business experts, as they each develop their projects through the stages of ideation, proof
of concept, finance right through to marketing culminating into a pitch night.
Q: In your opinion how can we increase STEM participation for girls and boys in Africa?
Tererai: While Taungana focuses primarily on the girl child on its core programs, I would say the actions to increase STEM participation for girls and boys, more so in rural communities, are similar. Beyond the infrastructural challenges of teaching STEM subjects in remote schools; It is important that our education system evolves to
become more practical to the actual application of STEM in the real world and that educators also become equipped to teach science and math in a way that has relevance to the need of such skills in communities and industry. For example, if a community has a challenge of clean water – why are science projects from the local school not applied
to these problems, if the local clinic has challenges with monitoring patients on different medical schemes, why aren’t the school computer clubs stepping in to test basic technological solutions? Making science real in the day to day lives of girls and boys is vital to increasing their understanding and participation in the STEM fields and
also spurring innovative solutions for their communities that breed young entrepreneurs and leaders.
Q: Where do you see Taungana in the future?
Tererai: I see Taungana being the home of young African trailblazers on the road to success in STEM, bridging them to tertiary and career opportunities as they go on to further their impact after our high school fellowship. It is thus important that we focus strongly on sustainability of the movement as it grows. We are working on building
Taungana into a financially independent sustainable movement that can employ top administrative talent to take existing programs to the next level of growth. This complements ongoing efforts to develop a robust supply chain for the programme that further reduces the largest operational costs by securing long term partnerships with strategic service providers.
My ultimate dream and vision for Taungana though, is the day the conversation around female underrepresentation in STEM and lack of the right STEM skills for our context is obsolete. Then we can look back and laugh about why the need for such a movement as ours existed and we can truly say our day is done.
Q: Please share a few words of wisdom and advice for students and entrepreneurs, young and old, who aspire to study and enter the field of STEM or related STEM disciplines such as business, economics, or medicine, just to mention a few?
Tererai: Go for it. Challenge your limits. The solutions to life’s biggest problems are lying in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics domains. Entrepreneurship is critical piece of the puzzle in bringing feasible solutions to life in this space. I always say STEM gives you an unfair advantage :-) the ability to apply those fundamental skills across just about any discipline as you explore new frontiers. Find what you love and allow yourself to explore it.
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