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Khadija

CAMFED Association member and tech expert, Ghana

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I'm Khadija, a tech game changer from Ghana!

From saving up my lunch money to access the internet café, to becoming an award-winning Machine Intelligence expert — I am living out my dreams as a trailblazing young woman in STEM.

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I grew up in a big family with financial difficulties in the northern region of Ghana during a time when the importance of girls’ education was not well-known. I was a bright child who enjoyed learning and my passion for technology in particular shone through.

From a young age, I took any opportunity I could to study. I carried my books wherever I went and read whenever I could, even when helping my mom

At school I discovered my love for technology, and that I was adept at using it. I was even selected (along with two other students) to represent my school in a series of IT competitions between junior high schools in my region. I didn’t have my own computer, but I would often go to the school computer lab or an internet café to study. Our classmates and teachers were very proud when we won two desktop computers and a printer for our school. Our win was broadcast live on the radio and printed in the newspaper – elevating the reputation of our school.

Although I was excelling in school, at home my family faced financial difficulties, leaving my future in education uncertain. My father lost his job before I started high school and my mother’s income as a seamstress was insufficient to support the entire family. 

At times it felt like my story was predetermined — societal expectations meant I was to drop out of school and enter into an early marriage in order to support myself and my family

My impressive academic performance stood out to my teachers, who encouraged my parents to continue investing their time and effort in my education. My parents’ willingness to go above and beyond to support me, despite having no formal education themselves, has always been a source of encouragement.

As one of the few girls in my class, I was determined to prove that girls could thrive in any field despite all the odds stacked against us.

At school there were very few women role models or female teachers. Every day I attended class, I felt like I had to prove myself over and over again. 

With my family struggling to afford to keep me in school, I had never dared to consider pursuing tertiary education. But everything changed when CAMFED stepped in to support me with school fees and essential school supplies for my entire time at senior high school. With CAMFED’s support, I had hope of making it to university.

With the support of CAMFED, I had a great support system that would always remind me that I was in school for a purpose.

After graduating from high school, I joined the CAMFED Association – the network of young women leaders educated with CAMFED’s support. Joining the network has allowed me to connect with likeminded young women whom I have grown together with. 

The CAMFED Association to me is not just a sisterhood but a support system. Their dedication to supporting other members, as well as improving themselves is something that inspires me to be the best version of myself. Together we participate in giveback projects including tutoring school students, donating essential supplies to vulnerable community members and conducting cleanup exercises in the community.

Being part of the CAMFED Association means being part of a support system that inspires me to be the best version of myself.

In 2016, I secured full funding to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science at the University for Development Studies in Tamale, through the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program at CAMFED Ghana. My curiosity and passion for technology developed even further during my degree, and for two years running I achieved the university’s award for the top female student in Computer Science!

Determine your strengths and passions and let them take the lead. With hard work and perseverance, everything falls into place.

I discovered my interest in machine learning — a subfield of artificial intelligence (AI) that gives computers the ability to learn without explicitly being programmed —  when I took part in a 6-week intense AI training program through the Ghana Tech Lab. As part of this exciting program, I worked on detecting poultry diseases with computer vision. This sparked my newfound passion for machine learning, and the realization that my research could lead to advancements in healthcare and other industries.

With my sights firmly set on conducting research in this field, I successfully applied for a Master’s degree in Mathematical Sciences at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) Ghana. 

For my thesis project, I researched the use of AI and machine learning in a medical context — to detect cerebrovascular disease much earlier and provide better outcomes for patients. The prospect of devising solutions for real-world problems is the most rewarding aspect of my work, and drives me to ensure that my research is accessible to a broad audience.

By applying my technical and research skills to real-world problems, I am confident that I can help improve lives and make a lasting impact on society.

I also managed to secure a place on the prestigious African Masters in Machine Intelligence (AMMI) program sponsored by Google and Facebook (now Meta). The graduate training program greatly improved my skills, and I even got the opportunity to present my thesis project.

Khadija, a CAMFED Association member and tech expert, holding an award for Best Female Data Analyst/Engineer.

In recognition of my expertise and for my dedication to closing the gender gap in technology and education, I was honored to be awarded Best Female Data Analyst/Engineer at the Ghana Ladies in Tech Awards, 2022. (Photo Credit: Salifu Wumpini OJ)

I have been invited to attend many events to motivate and inspire young women around the world. In 2022, I represented Ghana at Africa’s largest machine learning conference held in Tunisia, and I attended the biennial Diverse Intelligence Summer Institute in St. Andrews, Scotland. I was also proud to present my research at the inaugural African Women in AI Summit organized by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change.

To get to where I am today, I’ve remained determined in the face of challenges. A significant barrier to my career progression has been the lack of opportunities in the technology field in Ghana’s Northern Region, where I live. With events largely held outside my region, I have been forced to turn down several conference invites due to the high cost of transportation. 

Navigating a male-dominated field as a young woman has also been challenging at times. I‘ve encountered situations where my abilities have been discredited due to my gender. These experiences have shaped me into the resilient young woman I am today.

I’m proud of myself and the other young women succeeding in this field, owing not to privilege but to pure determination and self-belief.

I am active online, volunteering my time and knowledge to encourage other young women to pursue careers in IT and data science. I produce machine learning content on Instagram to help demystify the subject and make it more accessible to the general public. I’m a co-organizer at the ‘Women in Machine Learning and Data Science’ Accra Chapter — where our mission is to support and promote women and gender minorities who are practicing, studying or are interested in the field. In this role, I organize programs and mentoring sessions for girls interested in pursuing careers in STEM. 

I embrace opportunities to use my personal experiences to inspire young women who are interested in pursuing similar career paths. As part of the AIMS ‘Girls in Math’ program, I’ve mentored high school graduates who are now enrolled in university. My own personal experiences as a child taught me the benefits of having someone to guide you at each step of the way. Now I am that support for others.

My biggest goal in life was to be someone that girls in my community look up to. I am glad to be a role model to these girls.

It is essential to understand the needs and experiences of women in science and technology to eliminate the barriers they face. Promoting female role models and highlighting successful women in the field is key, as girls and young women need to see other successful women in STEM to know that it is possible.

I look up to other young women in STEM, including my mentors Hanifatu Mumuni and Deborah Dormah Kanubala, who are from my area and attended the same university as me. Seeing all they’ve achieved in the field so far and their incredible progress each year motivates me to work even harder. 

Currently I am taking my tech skills and knowledge to the next level by studying for a PhD in Machine Intelligence at Dublin City University. Moving to Dublin to pursue my passion was very exciting, I’ve had a great experience here so far. I met new people who share similar passions, as well as learning from experts in my field.

My motivation for pursuing a PhD is to achieve my long-term goal of leading a research laboratory in machine learning. There I will harness cutting-edge technology innovation to develop solutions that address pressing real-world problems. I am committed to making a meaningful difference to the world through my work. I also believe that it is crucial young women are provided with better opportunities in science and technology so they can fulfill their potential. 

Being a tech game changer means using technology to solve real-world problems and making a positive impact on society. It requires a strong sense of purpose and a commitment to use technology for the greater good.

10 years from now, I see myself as a successful entrepreneur, actively engaged in community activities and providing economic and social support to girls from poor backgrounds.

The support of CAMFED, CAMFED Association members and many members of my community has greatly impacted my life. I want to do the same – to use my skills and knowledge to mentor young women to pursue further education and achieve their goals. Additionally, I see the CAMFED Association the sisterhood that has inspired me so much  growing even bigger and better!

Hear from more tech game changers in our sisterhood!

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Grace

My name is Grace and I am a member of the CAMFED Association — the network of women leaders educated with CAMFED support — and the Association’s secretary for Mporokoso District in Zambia. I would like to become an ICT teacher and teach others how to use computers.

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Linda

In November 2018, Linda travelled to Lusaka, Zambia for the CAMA regional leadership summit, where she shared her expertise with CAMA members from across CAMFED’s five countries of operation. Whilst there, she also attended a special event organized by The Queen’s Commonwealth Trust, to celebrate the power of youth leadership. She was one of 70 CAMA members to warmly welcome the organization’s President, The Duke of Sussex, to the event.

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