Dr. Unoma Okorafor is founder and Chief Executive of WAAW Foundation, a nonprofit that empowers African girls through STEM education and technology entrepreneurship. Born and raised in Nigeria, Dr. Okorafor received her Ph.D. in Computer Engineering from Texas A & M, and graduated from Stanford University Business School’s Executive Program in Social Entrepreneurship. She is passionate about African women, quality education, Science & Technology, entrepreneurship and Innovation to benefit Africa. As a serial entrepreneur she currently runs two other companies – Herbal Papaya, a manufacturer of health and wellness products and Radicube Technologies – a big data analytics company. Unoma also serves as a visiting professor at the Computer Science Department of African University of Science and Technology Abuja Nigeria, and is co-founder of the Anita Borg African Women in Computing Network. She serves on various boards, is widely published and has received numerous awards and recognition for her work.
Women’s Forum: Why did you choose to be a speaker at the Women’s Forum Mauritius 2016?
I chose to speak at the Women’s Forum in Mauritius 2016 because I am passionate about working with organizations that brings together leaders from around the world – women and men – to consider new perspectives on key issues impacting women, science and technology, and Africa. In particular discussions around climate change, climate variability and sea level rise, that greatly impact the lives of women in Small Islands States and Africa; who unfortunately are the most vulnerable to the effects of global warming. At this forum I hope to help draw attention of the international community to the critical role African women play in sustainable development, decision making process and long-term success of the agenda to address these climate change issues as it concerns Africa and SIDS. I also hope to deliberate on necessary next steps and provide a strong call to action that will help move women forward with regards to these issues. I look forward to joining other global leaders to plan, adopt and implement innovative strategies to creatively mitigate and sustainably deal with environmental changes, and improve the lives of people and in particular women in Africa and Small Island States.
Women’s Forum: In your opinion, what more is needed to improve women’s advancement in Small Island Developing Countries like Mauritius and Africa?
- Robust international policies and strategies that address the cause of pollution and amplify the impact of global warming and climate change on the livelihoods and quality of living for women in Small Island Developing Countries and Africa.
- Training programs for girls and women in critical aspects of Science and Technology with special focus on areas that will help achieve rapid innovation towards green energy, sustainable food security and advanced agricultural practices in an era of continued climate disruption.
- Funding allocation and technical assistance expertise to promote women owned businesses, and entrepreneurship, innovation programs, digital literacy and leadership training for women. Also advancing women in leadership, advocacy and governance.
Women’s Forum: Tell us more about your Foundation Working to Advance African Women and its mission.
WAAW Foundation is an international nonprofit organization with a mission to empower girls in Africa (Aged 11 – 30 years) through Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education, Technology innovation and Entrepreneurship. Headquartered in Lagos, Nigeria, WAAW provides College Scholarships, organizes secondary STEM summer camps, after school clubs and weekend workshops. WAAW also provides STEM teacher training, STEM-in-a-bag portable computer labs and Science kits for secondary schools. Through its annual regional summit, WAAW trains and mentors over 120 University fellows each year, and operates 17 STEM outreach and mentoring chapters in University campuses across 10 African countries (including Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Togo, Kenya, Uganda, Malawi and South Africa) impacting over 10,000 African girls each year. Learn more about WAAW Foundation at www.waawfoundation.org and at www.facebook.com/waawfoundation
Women’s Forum: What advice would you give to aspiring women leaders?
I would advise aspiring women leaders to find mentors who support them, and find a way to lean in and connect with the right people within and outside their fields of endeavor. Recognizing that no one can achieve greatness alone, Women in particular benefit significantly from mentorship and having advocates as they aspire to advance into leadership. I advocate that women become intentional about getting involved with inspiring communities because the easiest way to be successful is to hang around people who are successful. Also grab leadership opportunities whenever they come. Never turn down an opportunity to stand out, or lead even when feeling inadequate. Engage with a mission that is bigger than yourself and attempt things beyond your perceived capability so that you can stretch yourself. Finally, recognize that failure is part of success and embracing it as an important step to learning valuable lessons.