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​​​UJ and the ICRD Group challenge young girls to programme outside the box​

UJ partnered with the ICRD Group for the Technovation Challenge 2015 Mini Hackathon. The event challenged girls from across Gauteng to design, build and pitch a socially-conscious app. The challenge encourages female learners to learn more about programming and simultaneously benefit their community.​

The IT world is known for being male-dominated, and although women like Marissa Mayer, current president and CEO of Yahoo!, are challenging these gender-defined boundaries, many young girls feel excluded from a future in the world of technology. In order to help young girls to unlock their programming potential in a tangible way, Dr Anuranjita Tewary founded Technovation Challenge in 2009.

Technovation – a portmanteau of technology and innovation – gives girls the training and support to develop a cellphone app and a real-world business model. The event has grown since its first year, to over 4200 girls from 28 countries developing 650 mobile phone apps and learning to launch startup companies in 2014. The challenge takes place from February to May, getting teams of high school girls to identify a problem in their community, design and create an app to solve it, code the app, build a company to launch the app in the market and pitch their plan to experts.

To give local students an opportunity to experience the challenge, UJ hosted a Mini Hackathon at its Soweto Campus. Fifteen experts, including software developers and programmers, guided 75 learners from school across the province as they took the plunge into becoming fully-fledged app creators. The programme was facilitated by the Inspired Community Research and Development (ICRD) Group Foundation, in cooperation with the Innovation Hub Management Company. The event was made possible through a partnership between ICRD founder Lucky Litelu and the UJ Alumni Department. In addition to exposing girls to programming and helping them to maximise their use of the internet and other digital tools, the event also provided an opportunity to introduce prospective UJ students to the university and its facilities.

Such events are particularly valuable in South Africa, where there is a need for the implementation of technology at an earlier level of education to provide learners with the skills they will need to live and work in the modern techno-savvy world. Some of the learners came into the hackathon without some of the basic skills and understanding of operating computers and navigating through the internet – and left as the proud creators of a useful and viable app.

By hosting the event, UJ was able to give back to the community by providing a facility and resources that could be used toward enhancing education for less privileged learners in schools that lack resources. The hackathon is ultimately about empowering these young girls, giving them the confidence to navigate the tech-heavy world in which we live and broadening their career horizons by showing them that they can achieve way beyond gender stereotypes.