Women account for 30 per cent of Sub-Saharan Africa’s researchers and innovators and face limited access to funding and skills gaps that are key to business enterprises’ formation, scale-up, and sustainability. In light of these statistics, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations (IFPMA) and Speak Up Africa held a virtual discussion at the Galien Forum Africa entitled “Women in STEM in the global health security context” focused on scientific innovation and gender equality.
The discussion addressed the status of women in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) sector, the challenge of eliminating gender imbalance from science, technology and innovation disciplines in Africa and future actions to advance women-led innovation in the continent’s healthcare entrepreneurship ecosystem.
“Despite development in the participation of women in political, economic and social spheres, we still have a long way to go to fill the gap in improved skills and bridge the gap between men and women,” Professor Awa Marie Coll-Seck, Minister of State of Senegal and President of the Scientific Committee at the Forum Galien Africa said during her keynote address.
She emphasized that African women are among the many talents in health that are developing innovative technologies to meet the social needs of African societies. “The time is now to bridge this gap of inequality. We should come up with solutions that will bring Africa to the limelight and make it possible for us to attain sustainable development goals,” she continued.
Professor Coll-Seck was one of the high-profile African health influencers, experts and business leaders including Greg Perry, Assistant Director-General of IFPMA; Yacine Djibo, Executive Director, Speak Up Africa; Mohamadou Diallo, Editor-in-Chief of CIO Mag that had gathered to address scientific innovation and gender equality in Africa’s healthcare innovation space. The discussion was in line with the overarching goal of the Women Innovators Incubator.
Launched in response to the persistent gender disparities by IFPMA and Speak Up Africa, partners of the Africa Young Innovators for Health Award, the Women Innovators Incubator focuses on providing a supportive environment for women entrepreneurs to create and grow high-impact and sustainable solutions to Africa’s most pressing healthcare needs. The first participants on the incubator are Angella Kyomugisha, Co-Founder and CFO, Kaaro Health; Nuriat Nambogo, Founder and CEO, MobiCare; and Marie Chantal Umunyana, Founder and CEO, Umubyeyi.
“We want to advance young women, and we want to promote local innovation because we know that the future of Africa lies both in the innovation and its youth,” said Greg Perry, IFPMA Assistant Director-General.
From utilizing digital media to support African mothers with evidence-based information to utilizing mobile tech to bridge the gap between patients and medical professionals and using telemedicine to drive healthcare access to remote villages, the women innovators shared the inspirations behind their innovations. They further expounded on the daily challenges they face as African women in STEM.
“Lack of access to financial support, capacity building, and going beyond the standard cultural norms around women being innovators. That’s a barrier I face every day, “said Marie Chantal Umunyana.
“I struggled to put a team together because you can’t do everything alone. As an innovator, you have the idea, but it needs support from other dedicated people,” added Nuriat Nambogo.
However, through the Women Innovators Incubator, the women entrepreneurs were looking forward to benefiting from financial support, mentorship, media training, expert advice on IP protection and access to the rich network of supporters of this Award.
“As a young female innovator, this is the first step in a long, rewarding journey. The incubator has opened the doors of hope and opportunities for women in Africa while helping me bring my idea to life,” said Marie Chantal Umunyana.
In addition to the benefits, Angella Kyomugisha continued, “As a female innovator, you find yourself learning alone along the way because the STEM field is competitive and male-dominated. Thus, I look forward to learning from a network of experts available through the incubator.”
In closing, Yacine Djibo acknowledged the three participants on the Women Innovators Incubator as shining examples of young Africans bursting with creativity and inventiveness and continuously looking for local-based solutions that work. She re-echoed how each of the entrepreneurs’ personal experiences had driven the need for innovation to be tailored not only to the environment and cultural context but also taking into account the needs of the people that need it the most.
“Through the Women Innovators Incubator, we’re trying to reduce the gap to be able to support young women and girls to develop their innovations in Africa’s healthcare space,” she said.
About the Galien Forum Africa
The Forum Galien Afrique, to be held in Dakar Senegal, will bring together many renowned scientists and some of the most deserving young students and youth to discuss their research and innovative work in health and healthcare. By ensuring that communities across Africa have access to accurate and potentially life-saving information and innovations, we will be able to continue our progress in the fight for a fairer, more prosperous society, free from the burden of diseases thanks to a resilient health system. It also supports building and strengthening resilient public health systems that can prevent, detect, and respond to infectious disease threats, reinforcing Global Health Security. The Forum Galien Afrique provides a platform for high-level scientific exchange on issues of common interest, the priorities of our continent for Africans and by Africans. This year’s theme is “Africa mobilizes for global health security.”