Africell competition identifies outstanding women tech innovators in Angola

Image: the Women in Tech Competition involved pitches from 12 young female innovators

2 May 2024 | For a country to fulfil its economic potential, processes must exist to unearth and ignite brilliant ideas from all levels and corners of society – including traditionally under-represented or marginalised groups.

Angola is an African economic powerhouse. With a young (the median age is 16 years), dynamic and well-educated population, it has historically punched above its weight. But it is also undergoing a transition. As the world agrees on the need to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, Angola – which is a major oil and gas producer – is taking bold steps to diversify its economy and put innovation at the centre of a new, future-proofed economic model.

To help accelerate this change, Angola’s newest mobile telecoms operator Africell has launched the ‘Women in Tech competition’ (WITC). WITC aims to identify talented young Angolan women with innovative ideas in engineering, software development, fintech, sustainability and related fields, and to give them an opportunity to pursue technology-focused careers.

Working with Angola’s Telecommunications Institute (ITEL), the Industrial Medium Institute of Luanda (IMIL, or Makarenko), and by advertising for entries through social media, Africell invited a dozen finalists to present their project or product ideas to an audience of Africell experts at Africell’s Luanda head office on 19 April 2024.  

Participants represented a wide spectrum of interests, motivations and socio-economic backgrounds. Among the ideas presented at a pitch event hosted by former Miss Angola and prominent social media influencer Whitney Shikongo were an art-focused ecommerce platform, prosthetics made from recycled waste plastic, and a resource hub for education about space, astronomy and astrophysics.

“We were amazed by some of the big, bold and unconventional ideas that were brought to us”, says Brian Baltimore, Chief Projects Officer at Africell Angola. “Innovation is a key Africell theme. We are all about thinking differently and pushing boundaries. The Women in Tech competition exposed the richness and vitality of Angola’s young innovators and offered an inspiring glimpse into the dynamic future of Angola’s economy”.

Five winners received scholarships worth approximately US$1000 each, covering school or university tuition fees for a year. Some entrants were also offered internships at Africell, giving them valuable opportunities to build professional skills that, later on, will help them set up and lead their own successful businesses.

Image: winners of the competition each received a year’s worth of school or university fees

Innovation and entrepreneurship are core focus areas of the Africell Impact Foundation. In Angola, Sierra Leone and Gambia, Africell has partnered with the London School of Economics (LSE) to offer executive training in innovation and leadership to high performing Africell employees and local entrepreneurs. Dedicated learning centres established in all Africell’s operating markets offer in-person and virtual courses to employees and members of the public, on topics such as coding, digital marketing and software development. In Gambia, Africell’s ‘Geek Express’ initiative brings tech education to children in communities across the country through an interactive roadshow of gadgets and robots. And in Sierra Leone, Africell is the lead technical partner with the Internet Society Foundation and Media Matters for Women for the ‘Digitruck’, a pioneering tech education initiative directed at rural women and girls.

Back in Angola, the proposal of Samira Gomes (age 22) to create prosthetics and wheelchairs out of recycled plastics impressed the judges with its detail, the scale of its ambition, and its clear understanding of technology’s role in addressing social and environmental challenges in Angola. 

“Winning this competition was an exhilarating experience”, she said. “Young women in Angola can sometimes feel that being an innovator or an entrepreneur is an avenue closed off to them. But thanks to Africell, my fellow winners and I can now move forward confidently with our education. When we graduate, we hope to contribute to Angola’s future by putting our ideas into practice”.  

Image: ideas pitched during the competition covered a range of creative technology applications, many with a social impact or sustainability angle