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Thursday, December 1, 2016

Using Technology to Change the Lives of Girls in Ghana: Introducing Regina Honu

For this month we interview Regina Honu Founder of Soronko Solutions, Tech Needs Girls and 2016 Vlisco Ambassador.  It was a pleasure to talk with a woman who is leading in the tech and social entrepreneurial field in Africa. With her calm, confident charisma we had a great time learning about her work and her plan for the future, which by the way are massive and we can't wait to see them all unfold. We hope you enjoy as much as we did. 



We begin the interview by asking Regina to describe herself to us and she shares some powerful insights on how she sees herself. This already sets the tone for the rest of the interview which we consider one word, POWERFUL.  Regina begins by stating that 

 "I think I am innovative and the reason why I think innovation describes me is I consider myself an outside the box thinker and I believe I am able to adapt to whatever situation but I make sure I pick the most innovative way to solving any problem or challenge as I come across. Whether it is n my personal life, business or attainment of my dreams. I am always thinking of how can I push myself to do things more innovative." 


She also shares her upbringing which shows us why Regina is such a trailblazer, from the day she could remember she has always stood up for herself and spoke out.  She shares some of her challenges of being silenced in her community.  Regina was  was born and raised in Ghana and had a  very interesting childhood. When she was younger,  she was told  a good girl is supposed to be seen and not heard and even now this is the case in her society. She explains to WCA that  "As a child I used to talk a lot and  people would say why don’t you tell your daughter to keep quiet and my  mom would say "let her talk!". She would explain that she didn’t now when I  would say anything important so she always allowed me to be myself. There were several attempts to silence me. I lost my voice, and when I found it I regretted that I had ever let anyone do that to me and  I said I would never let anyone take my voice. I  also promised myself that I will make sure those who don’t have a voice  will get one." 

Regina mentions to us in the interview that she knew there was something different about her. She had a  strength of  in the fact that she always thought in  patterns and numbers. She defied the stereotype of the day  that women and girls were supposed to be interested  the arts and crafts, and she chuckles when she shares " I couldn’t even do a hemline properly!". 

 Regina explains to us how she came to her field of work presently "I was good at math and calculations. When I decided to become a computer scientist, it was met with opposition, because tech was for boys and it seemed like a path not to be traveled." She explains her love for her Ghanain culture is the fact that there is a strong sense of community "One of the things I have enjoyed being a Ghanaian depending on the family you’re born into, if you have a very supportive parents you can do anything you want. The environment was really about you as an individual challenging yourself. I consider myself blessed to be in a space where choice was not taken away from me. As part of our culture we embrace community work and working together, I realized that no matter what I wanted to do, I knew I was not an island myself. This also helped me in who I am today because I rely on different stakeholders and different partnerships to bring impact into the community."


We always want to know how the Bosschiques we interview take care of themselves and balance work and life balance and Ms. Honu was no exception.  She shares with candor that she has had to master the idea of balancing her work and life, In the beginning that was one thing I wasn’t doing very well. I was 90 percent about work and I began to fear this whole point of burnout. Nowadays I think I am doing better,  I like watching movies, I like eating and tasting different foods. I like spending time with my husband and I enjoy doing fun and adventurous things together with him, such as boxing etc. Doing new things is always an opportunity for us to spend more together."


We asked Regina to tell us about both of her ventures Soronko Solutions and Tech Needs Girls and the driving force for her starting up both ventures. 

She shares that "I had always thought about how I could give back. When I worked in corporate Ghana I thought it would be a linear progression. But I realized things weren’t as black and white. I realized that my life long dream is giving back to the community. In 2012 I quit my job I was working at a bank. There were two things I wanted to do; I wanted to use Science and technology to change Africa, even without knowing what a social enterprise was, I knew I didn’t want to be an NGO and I had seen several NGOS relying on Donors to dictate their work etc. I wanted the freedom to be able to explore and do what I felt was the best approach to solving a particular problem in the community. I thought I would start a software company that I would be self sustained. I started both at the same time, one was a way to fund my passion using science and technology I also wanted to make sure ."


She then shares why she started up this amazing initiative to empower girls in technology "The first project was called Going stems, we would go into rural communities to teach kids, every time we brought out the laptop the boys will be into it and the girls wont participate. One defining moment was during the workshop one of the boy said this is not for girls and the girls said but I am a girl. So we realized that for girls to do something they needed mentors. We started it as a mentorship program with women and science and tech who teach coding, we started with 50 girls and now  we have over 3000 girls in 8 regions. We teach girls not to just consume tech but create it. Computer science is in high demand and is one of the well paid job in 10 years. It comes to economic independence for these young girls. "  

She passionately shares her passion for doing the work is that women need to be at the forefront of technology  "We cant leave women behind with tech revolution that’s happening. Women can gain a lot of skills in this industry and can use it even beyond the tech industry. Learning to code teaches you about creativity, problem solving, critical thinking so no matter what field you get into there will always be a digital component due to this skill you have acquired, the confidence for the young girls to have the confidence to be in the field, and you have the confidence to say yes that is a male dominated pathway."

Regina shares her business challenges with us her two main being Mindset and getting the appropriate support for the work. 

She explains that when it comes to mindset, due to the fact that at times low income familiies may not understand the value of technology, a lot of the work involves changing mindset of parents and families. She gives us a vivid example of where they were able to get community leaders to understand the importance of her work " We worked at an urban slum we connected with the chief and were successful in getting to parents. We had to do a lot of print outs , do radio and TV interviews to create awareness that look there can be a woman who is successful. It is important for people to see that women are visible. Because girls are busy parents think they should invest in their boys. We are changing that narrative to make sure girls are part of the support."
She shares that getting the appropriate support is necessary "We get a lot of recognition and support internationally, what will be helpful is to get more local support. I feel like we should take charge of the problem ourselves. One thing that I would like is to get more support from different stakeholders, to show that it really does take a village. We are trying to see how we can engage more within the local communities. There are the minor ones as discrimination etc.." She emphasizes the importance of human resources by mentioning a key solution " One of the things we have been able to do is we rely on social capital and social good we ask for in kind services and this is how we grow in what we are doing."


What do you love about your brand and the work you do? And what do  you believe has contributed to the growth of your work?
Regina shares what most social entrepreneurs see as the most impact which is change she shares "I love the change that I see with the girls. First from when they walk in they can hardly establish eye contact. For most of them they haven’t really. To when they have actually built a website which is transformational. It gives me hope for the next generation. When I interact with the girls I am always filled with hope."

She mentions that one of the main things that has contributed to the growth of the work is the support of community.

With her recently launched tech school for girls, there is nothing stopping Regina and of course we have to know what this young mogul is working on and where her vision will take her in 10 years. 

She shares that  "The future for the tech company we work with smaller medium enterprises we want to be the backbone for them. So if you hear of a tech provider for any sme it should be us. For tech needs girls we want the really cool tech solutions to have been built by girls in our program. We would have bridge the gender gap, women owning tech companies, see a cool app build by girls in our programs. Changing the next generation of problem solvers and critical thinkers. It is about lets see what happens when women lead." 

She confidently shares one of our favorite parts of the conversations being "The next Facebook will be built by a 12 year Ghanaian girl. We are also working on  building the first all girls coding and human centered design school in West Africa (which has recently launched)" 


Regina shares with other women three things they need to be successful in the tech world
1. Passion: It is not going to be easy without passion you would probably give up
2. Resilence: By resilient I mean you need to be the kind of individual that can adapt and change
3. See failing as a learning experience: If you are afraid to fail you will never try anything different. If you don’t fail you don’t grow you don’t learn.

We ask her what does Sisterhood mean to her and why is it critical to our success as African women?  
Regina shares that she believes in sisterhood " because no  matter what you want to do in life there are ups and downs. You need people who can support, advice guide you and people that can help you move to the next level. Without a sisterhood what happens is that you will have women repeating the same mistakes over and over again. I think a sisterhood is very important and it is necessary for us to achieve real change and achieve gender parity to make sure all women are able to reach their full potential . When women come together magical things happen. There is a safe space, we can learn from others who have gone before us, we can impact the next generation of women. I always say women made a lot of sacrifices for us to be able to vote and speak our mind. It is important that we come together. I may do something amazing, it is like tiny, tiny, tiny it can never light anything, if we come together then there can be a bright light to shine the way for us now."

She gracefully finishes out interview as we ask her to complete the sentence  “Women Change Africa because…?”
 They are passionate, creative and resilient.

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