TechWomen and LinkedIn: Connecting Women for Social Entrepreneurship
May 14, 2014
Last October, Erica Lockheimer, Prachi Gupta, Shruthi Dathathri, Swasti Sharma, Veena Basavaraj and I participated in TechWomen, a mentorship and exchange program that brings emerging female leaders in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) from Africa and the Middle East, together with their professional counterparts in the United States. TechWomen is an initiative from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, to empower, connect, and support the next generation of women leaders by providing them access to the brightest minds in the Silicon Valley and opportunities to advance their careers, pursue their dreams, and become role models in their own communities.
Additionally, there are delegation trips to program countries in Africa and the Middle East for mentors to reconnect with the emerging leaders. The goal is to encourage girls and young women in these countries to pursue STEM careers, and strengthen partnerships among them. In March, Veena and I participated in the weeklong TechWomen delegation trip to Morocco and we’re excited to share our experiences and the phenomenal impact both TechWomen and LinkedIn are having on women and girls around the world. Here are a few highlights from Morocco.
Meeting future technologists at the Khalil Gibran Students
At the Khalil Gibran School, one of the topics we spoke with middle and high school students about was career planning. The young women were interested in learning more about technology, universities in the United States and career paths ranging from medicine to entrepreneurship. We encouraged them to use and engage with LinkedIn to learn more about these topics as well as reach out and follow professionals via LinkedIn Influencers and collaborate around their experiences through LinkedIn Groups.
Social entrepreneurs at INPT (National Institute of Posts and Telecommunications)
Veena and I also met with young female college students at INPT, who presented inspiring projects supported by enactus Morocco, a non-profit that supports students in the areas of social entrepreneurship. One of the projects presented to us involved technology and social media to build sustainable economic opportunities in the tourism industry for boat drivers trying to integrate back into their communities post imprisonment. Another group is working on a project to create a portal for listing and effectively matching jobs for disabled and less skilled workers. These stories help illustrate how technology can bridge the barriers and help us collaborate towards a better world.
Launching the eSTEM Morocco Initiative
We were very proud to learn that three Moroccan alumnae from the 2013 TechWomen program - Nezha Larhrissi, Salima Kaissi, and Zineb Rharrasse - launched the eSTEM Morocco initiative just four months after they returned home. eSTEM Morocco participants are given the chance to work at local technology companies during school breaks and experience one-on-one mentorships with female professionals so they can learn about the STEM field, career opportunities, and professional development. Nezha, Salima, and Zineb conceived this idea while they were here in the U.S. because they wanted to bring elements of the TechWomen program to the younger generation in Morocco.
Interacting with the students and seeing the exchange of ideas with the TechWomen group was an extremely rewarding and eye-opening experience for us. Veena and I learned a lot about other cultures and how LinkedIn as a platform can be enhanced to meet the needs of these emerging markets in the Middle East and Africa. We realized the benefits of creating more awareness of LinkedIn (i.e. LinkedIn content and the publishing platform, such as Groups and Influencers) through more involvement with programs like TechWomen in the coming years.
We cannot express how much we both have grown both professionally and personally with this experience. In Morocco, we had the opportunity to move out of our daily routine and comfort zones and gain new perspectives on giving back to the community. We met young women in Morocco who had dreams of becoming positive change agents in the world. They didn’t focus on how small or big their ideas were, but rather on taking action to make a positive social impact. We’re so inspired that we want to volunteer more of our time to give back to the community and the world around us. As a first step, I applied for LinkedIn’s Nonprofit Innovation Grant to Families without Borders - founded by a fellow TechWomen mentor Terri Khonsari - to improve education and sustainability in Sierra Leone. My TechWomen experience reinforced in me the importance of relentlessly pursuing goals that I believe in and tapping into a professional network of smart and dedicated individuals who share similar values. Having realized the benefits of mentoring and being mentored, I plan to work with my colleagues to implement a mentoring program for those of us in technical program management and leverage lessons learned from my TechWomen experience.
At LinkedIn, one of our core cultural values is Transformation - transformation of self, company, and world. Our TechWomen experience has truly allowed us to experience transformation on a whole new level.
Thank you to the amazing organizations and people who made this possible (especially Veena who contributed to this post). Since there are too many to name, I’ve described their contributions below. You know who you are :-)
- Institute of International Education (IIE): the program officers who run the TechWomen program and ensure that each of us has a meaningful experience.
- U.S. Department of State: the champions and advocates for their ongoing commitment to the TechWomen program.
- TechWomen Emerging Leaders and Mentors: the participants who shared their insights, wisdom and experience - for mutual inspiration.
- LinkedIn: our managers who supported our participation, our colleagues who shared their experience with our emerging leaders, and our fellow mentors.