Interventions, partnerships to bridge STEM gender gap vital

The Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi, Ghana, is keen to bridge the gender gap in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) with targeted policy interventions and partnerships to draw in more girls to the sector, Vice-chancellor Professor Rita Akosua Dickson said.

Addressing a forum organised by the KNUST Engineering and Education Project (KEEP) to inspire the next generation of women innovators on 14 July 2023, Dickson said the university was committed to addressing the STEM issue through proactive measures. She mentioned KNUST’s strategic plan as the potential for driving positive change.

She said universities had the mandate to work towards the attainment of the sustainable development goals to achieve SDG 5 and SDG 9, which are based on industry, innovation, and infrastructure as well as gender equality. Dickson added that this means women have to be inspired to explore and contribute to science, technology, and development in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The project leader of KEEP, Professor Jerry John Kponyo, said the purpose of the programme is to provide women leaders in innovation with a platform to share their rich experiences and inspire the next generation of female innovators.

Innovation no longer a choice

Kponyo said the project was important. It promotes innovation for Africa to secure its place among the world’s leading economies. He said young female innovators will be encouraged to persevere in the face of challenges in their quest to become successful innovators, transforming the economies of Ghana and the world.

Professor Kwabena Biritwum Nyarko, the provost of the College of Engineering at KNUST, highlighted the inspiring nature of the programme and its aim to empower and ignite the next generation of women innovators. He said innovation plays a catalytic role across various sectors, including healthcare, education and agriculture.

He cited recent data released by the government indicating a rise in annual inflation from 42.2% in May 2023 to 42.5% in June 2023. This is largely driven by surging food prices and means that innovation is no longer a choice but a requirement for human survival.

He said the College of Engineering, recognising the urgent need for innovators, is committed to spearheading discourse through its innovation and research centres to meet the demands of society.

Women must take advantage of opportunities

Professor Ibok Oduro, president of Women in STEM, or WiSTEM Gh, said the programme inspires young women with fresh energy, new ideas and valuable partnerships in sustaining innovation.

She said that innovators’ minds have the capacity to transform society and stressed the importance of understanding the true meaning of innovation for future success. Accordingly, she asked young women to take advantage of the programme to network and share knowledge and interests.

Professor Melissa Nobles, chancellor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US, said there must be a conscious effort to create institutional structures that support innovators, highlighting that “innovators are not merely born but created”. She shared how MIT had instituted support for students with innovative ideas over the past 23 years.

Nobles urged young women students to seize structured opportunities to become successful future innovators. She also shared her personal journey of rising to the top and emphasised the significance of self-belief, even in the face of potential failure. She stressed the importance of collaborating with individuals who share similar goals.

Nobles urged young women to be eager to study to build their self-confidence and entrepreneurial spirit and foster their intellectual abilities to become the innovators and entrepreneurs of tomorrow. “The world of today, and certainly of tomorrow, will need innovators, creators – competent and committed people – and many of these people will come from Africa,” she said.

During a panel discussion, Patricia Obo-Nai, the CEO of Vodafone Ghana, shared her personal challenges during the early years of her life and career. She said to succeed as a female innovator and reach greater heights, sacrifices must be made. She added that discipline and effective time management are crucial.