We're going to be at The Next Web again!
Join us in Amsterdam as we join forces with The Extra Mile Community X TNW to accelerate the power of diversity in tech! A Colorful Future! ‘Accelerating the power of Diverse Founders in the Tech Industry’ will be taking place on 14 June from 1-5pm CEST at The Extra Mile (Hessenbergweg 8 1101 BT Amsterdam Netherlands). Get your ticket for this side event here.
We will also be at The Next Web 2023 conference! The 17th annual TNW Conference is happening on June 15 & 16 in Amsterdam bringing together 10,000+ industry leaders and tech enthusiasts to reclaim the future. Equal opportunity and equal access to the tech scene is vital for a better and brighter future. Although the progress of achieving greater diversity is slow, TNW want to ensure that the voices of the underrepresented are heard. Through their Women in Tech, Under 30s and Group ticket options, they hope to facilitate access to world-class events. Get 20% off your TNW Business pass, Investor pass, Scale-up package and Bootstrap packages with our special discount code: COLORINTECH20
We can't wait to be in Amsterdam from 14-16th June 2023 with The Next Web. Let's throw it back to last year...
During our time at The Next Web Conference 2022 we had the true pleasure of speaking with Priscilla Chomba-Kinywa, Chief Technology Officer at Greenpeace International. A Ted Talks speaker, digital transformation strategist, ICT4D expert with 20 years of experience in the tech industry and a Black Tech Fest 22 speaker, Priscilla is an absolute force in the tech ecosystem. Our conversation touched on various important issues affecting the tech industry but there was a topic that came up repeatedly in the discussion - inclusivity in tech. What does that really mean and how are we working towards inclusivity in tech across communities, companies and countries? Read more below…
Why did you first want to get into the ICT4D (information and communication technology for development) industry?
I fell into it. I was 18 when I got into the industry, so I’ve been doing this for twenty years. Like a true African child I was a lawyer in my head from high school but then my dad encouraged me to get into tech.
Tech made me feel badass. I just loved the non-traditional way of work, it felt very different. But I don’t think it has changed fast enough. Twenty years later, and I am still the only black woman in most rooms. There’s more black men than women in the industry. The question we should be answering is: “is there space created to support and enable us to succeed in the industry?”
What does your day-to-day as a CTO look like?
A lot of management, a lot of dealing with personnel, partners and a lot of thinking about strategy and where we want to go in the next few years. I hope we’ll transform and I love the ambition we have. It keeps you going. The different countries we have makes things more complex, because across the world the needs are just so different.
What do you think is the biggest issue facing the ICT4D industry today?
There are many barriers. One, is different world issues eg. East and South Asia have very different needs. Another, is decolonisation of organisations. Currently there’s a lot of politics involved when trying to scale up.
What’s been the biggest challenge of your career so far?
There have been many. The biggest was when I moved from African and Asian markets to a European team. Having your credentials questioned. It’s distracting and it takes you away from why you’re actually there. It can cause you to be focussed on fighting that, instead of doing my job and delivering which then actualises their thoughts that I can’t deliver. Why am I having to prove myself? Because of this, I choose to use my challenges as my superpowers.
An example of this is when I joined WFP at 19 and a very senior director told me he didn’t think I could do my job. I told him if I don’t fulfil my job by day five, he could put me on a plane back home. On day five I showed him my results and he said he didn’t remember telling me I couldn’t do the job… of course!
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
There’s one. At UNICEF working with a bunch of young Zambians on climate change. We equipped them with basic tech and marketing skills, 250 kids from low-income rural households. They went back into their communities and completely changed their neighbourhoods. We have a cohort of 250 every year, thousands have gone through the program now. When the first cohort created their own non profit, by themselves with funding it was a joy to see.
What's your favourite piece of technology, and why?
My smartwatch. It’s basic but I am a very active person, I run races and I love my watch recording everything.
But, the tech I’m most interested in is what we can do with drones. There’s a lot of opportunity to access different communities and areas with drones in Africa, but we can’t afford it. If you could transport medical samples in rural areas you could get quicker result turnarounds and get people the medicine they need. I’m excited about that potential. Drones have become more ubiquitous, there’s so many more things we can do with them.
What would you like to see happen in the tech industry in the next three years?
I’m really excited. Aspirational-wise, I would like to see leadership teams in the tech space that have a very good balance across the board. I also want to see genuinely diverse teams, roles and decision makers need to be diverse. Power is still held in the same groups. People currently in the spaces have come through connections but we need to create more space.
What aspect of the industry excites and/or inspires you?
The potential that tech has to be a game-changer on a global scale. Africa has a lot of problems that can be solved by tech, we have a lot of tech, and we have energised communities. I’m excited to see where things will go in the next few years. We need ambition and to stop moulding our aims around the American model. We need to create contextual solutions by analysing our own data, relevant to our own context. That’s the most exciting thing. We need to start harnessing the brains we have and our leaders need to start actively identifying where the brains are.
I’m also very excited about girls in tech. They’re teaching girls how to do the basics, but it should be holistic. Teach them business as well as robotics, hard skills, marketing, communications.
How do you feel inclusivity can be improved upon in your sector and what is your company currently doing to improve diversity?
Somebody has to step down or away. At Greenpeace we have a program to increase diversity across neurodiversity, race, gender and other spaces. When advertising roles, we make deliberate moves to push it in underrepresented areas on LinkedIn, by advertising beyond the country the role is based in. Greenpeace is nowhere near the diverse ambition but there is a JEDI program in place to change that.
Context needs to be considered when hiring, everyone’s education and interpretation is different. The more diverse the people, the better the company is, because you need people who understand different markets and cultures. You need to have people knowing how to speak to different audiences.
I love having people in my team who didn’t come from a tech background as there is diversity of views. They will question things and improve your product.