STEM

Empowering diverse voices in STEM: Inspirefest conference lives up to its name

How many tech conferences place diversity and inclusion at the heart of their programme?

Last week, Dublin’s Inspirefest - “a unique international festival of technology, science, design and the arts” - brought a packed, two-day schedule of keynote speeches, talks and panels to Ireland’s ‘Silicon Docks.’ With a lineup of over 70% female founders, creators, coders, venture capitalists and leaders, Inspirefest managed turned the traditional 9:1 male-to-female tech conference ratio on its head, and lived up to its mission.

Ashoka Fellow Jamila Abass (founder of M-Farm) addresses an audience of over 1,500 at Inspirefest

Ashoka Fellow Jamila Abass (founder of M-Farm) addresses an audience of over 1,500 at Inspirefest

Speaking to The Irish Times in advance of the festival, founder Ann O’Dea cited the social benefits of challenging traditional spaces and workplaces. “It just so happens that men and women tend to have quite different backgrounds but it’s the same thing with people of different ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientation, you name it. Often their circles are a little bit different and you just end up with a conversation that’s a little bit richer,” she said.

In a welcoming address on June 30th, An Taoiseach, the Prime Minister Enda Kenny, praised O’Dea’s commitment to celebrating STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) skills and jobs, citing that, “the world needs curiosity, understanding, innovation and knowledge. A scientifically-educated society is essential to solving the challenges we face now and in the future.” He also extolled the crucial importance of diverse perspectives in tackling social challenges, saying that, “if we can for an instant see the world through others’ eyes, we have the opportunity to change things.”

Ashoka Fellow Alex Bernadotte (founder of Beyond12) speaks at Inspirefest

Ashoka Fellow Alex Bernadotte (founder of Beyond12) speaks at Inspirefest

Much of Inspirefest’s programme highlighted companies and leaders from the STEM sectors, with a mix of executives from major global companies joining founders from smaller startups, to provide insights on trends. Judith Williams, (Dropbox), gave an electrifying talk on the economic benefits of a diverse workforce, while Claire Calmejane, (Lloyds Bank) emphasised the importance of innovative thinking in the financial sector. Ashoka Fellow and founder of the Kenya-based tech company M-Farm, Jamila Abass, described how her mobile app helps farmers across Africa access new markets, share information on price transparency, and collaborate together via a simple tech platform. Scientist and founder of Nuritas, Nora Khaldi, spoke about the challenges and rewards of running a business in a sector “with very few women.”

Other speakers shared perspectives from the intersection at which STEM, social enterprise and the arts collide. Ashoka Fellow and founder of Beyond 12, Alexandra Bernadotte, told the story of how, “born in the wrong zip code to achieve higher education,” her experience of gaining two degrees motivated her to build a data-driven tech platform that empowers first-generation college students to complete their degrees, creating a more inclusive education system and workforce. Blogger and academic Sinead Burke shared her story of forging a path in the fashion world: She founded fashion website Minnie Melange to document the ‘sartorial challenge’ of finding fashionable outfits for her 3’5” frame, and with it, has created a community of diverse voices, fashion-lovers and activists alike.

Blogger Sinead Burke (Minnie Melange) tells her story at Inspirefest

Blogger Sinead Burke (Minnie Melange) tells her story at Inspirefest

Many more examples of Inspirefest’s stellar programme can be found in Silicon Republic’s coverage of the conference, and one need only glance through the live social media feeds (follow #Inspirefest on Twitter and Facebook) to see that the conference left many audience members not only inspired, but actively motivated, by the stories, role models and ideas that were shared at Inspirefest.

Ultra-earlybird tickets for Inspirefest 2017 are now available at www.inspirefest.comRead special feature profiles on Ashoka Fellow & Inspirefest speakers Alexandra Bernadotte and Jamila Abass on Silicon Republic.

Teaching coding: Europe is making progress, but more can be done.

CoderDojo is a global movement of voluntary coding clubs for kids.

CoderDojo is a global movement of voluntary coding clubs for kids.

Coding is a skill for the future. Ashoka Fellow James Whelton's organisation CoderDojo is a global, volunteer-led network of coding clubs, which is spread through the CoderDojo Foundation. Below, Global Development Lead Giustina Mizzoni describes the challenges and opportunities ahead.

To date, 15 European countries have introduced coding into their schools’ curriculums with many other countries in the process of doing so. However, more could be done to support informal coding activities as well as in schools from both governments and European institutions.

October saw the end of another successful Europe Code Week, during which thousands of CoderDojo volunteers, parents, and ninjas took part in events around Europe.

The initiative which began three years ago, by Neelie Kroes of Young Advisors, aims to expose individuals, both young and old, from all across Europe to develop a greater understanding of coding and its importance in today’s digitally connected world.

All new Champions who get in touch about starting a Dojo are asked, how did you hear about CoderDojo? For a month or two following Code Week a number from not just in Europe cite Code Week as their reason for wanting to join the community!

CoderDojo continues to grow massively throughout Europe. From the beginning of this year to October 2015 over 160 Dojos have been verified in Europe, with many more people registering their interest in setting up Dojos in their communities as well.

Coding at school: How do EU Countries Perform?

A great achievement this past year has been the creation of the European Coding Initiative, a multi-stakeholder group whose aim is to promote coding and computational thinking throughout Europe, both inside and outside of the classroom.

A number of organisations and CoderDojo partners such as European Schoolnet, Liberty Global and Microsoft are all involved in making sure this initiative strives to empower young people and promote the importance of learning to code.

To date, 15 European countries have introduced coding into their curriculums with many other countries in the process of doing so.

National governments are beginning to realise that the introduction of coding into schools not only helps children develop computer literacy skills but also equips youth with many other valuable skills in areas such as logical thinking, problem-solving and teamwork.

Exposing youth to coding through the formal education system and outside through informal clubs like CoderDojo will also assist with closing the digital skills gap that is being experienced across Europe.

Not all children who learn coding will become software engineers and this is certainly not the aim of CoderDojo!

However, it is estimated that 90% of all jobs require candidates to have basic computer skills and CoderDojo is enabling youth to be successful, competent adults regardless of their chosen career direction.

Best Practice Project: Erasmus +

This year we were delighted to become involved in an Erasmus+ project. In conjunction with partners CIT, The Nerve Centre, WiMi and IBE, it aims to create toolkits which will be utilised by new and existing members of the CoderDojo Community.

By surveying the existing CoderDojo Community, our partners are in the process of developing a CoderDojo International Toolkit which will be a detailed set of recommendations, methodologies and guidelines covering all aspects of establishing and operating a CoderDojo Chapter.

While continued support from European programmes such as the Erasmus+ project is vital, we believe more could be done to support informal coding activities as well as in schools from [CM1] both governments and European institutions.

Introducing coding into school curriculums is a huge step in the right direction, so is making ICT training compulsory for incoming teachers.

But this is not enough. Supporting programs like CoderDojo, held outside of formal education system, give European institutions a viable avenue for ensuring more youth are exposed to coding in a meaningful and creative way.

CoderDojo provides an opportunity for children to maintain and further develop an interest in coding whether it was gained from taking part in Code Week, or from a computational thinking class in school.

Throughout our four years of existence, we at CoderDojo has learned that having Dojos outside of a classroom setting helps to encourage young people’s creativity and allows for self-led learning.

Dojos are largely unstructured and young people are given the opportunity to work on projects of their choosing which makes learning to code seem less like another subject and more like a hobby.

In order for CoderDojo to grow and reach more young people, European institutions need to:

  1. Make the development of coding skills for youth a top priority.
  2. Recognise its place not only in the formal education system but also in informal learning environment.
  3. Promote coding at a local level within their communities.
  4. Continue to highlight initiatives like CoderDojo and Europe Code week and encourage all stakeholders to get involved.
 

This article was written by Giustina Mizzoni, Global Development Lead at the CoderDojo Foundation. Read the original article here.