The Change Agent ABIE Award honors an outstanding international woman who has created or expanded opportunities for girls and women in technology, especially those in developing countries. Winners are honored for building technology or initiatives that create social change or empower women and increase their influence. Rwandan social entrepreneur Marie Claire Murekatete is this year’s Change Agent ABIE Award winner, and will accept her award as part of the 2017 Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC), October 4–7 in Orlando, Florida.
In 2014, Marie Claire founded Refugee Girls Need You, an organization that teaches ICT (Information and Communication Technology) skills to teenage refugees in Rwanda. Each year, at least 400 young refugee girls learn basic computer programming, web design, ICT support, and graphic design. After their training, these girls meet to work on ICT solutions to raise standards of living of refugees as a whole.
We spoke with Marie Claire recently to talk about the award and the path that brought her here.
What led you to a career in software development?
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a medical doctor, because doctors have very high social status in my society. I studied math and physics in high school, and my teacher said “You have to continue to learn math.” So I applied to study computer science at university. I didn’t have a good idea of what computer engineering was all about; in my community, mostly men or boys studied it. But based on my performance in math, my teacher encouraged me down that path.
After university, I completed post-graduate studies in software development and was hired as an IT intern. After just 3 months, I was promoted to software engineer, and then after 2 years I was promoted to software developer. Now I am managing a team.
What makes Refugee Girls Need You important for you, personally?
Refugee Girls Need You focuses on teaching ICT to teenage refugees in 2 different camps. These young women refugees are disconnected from our local community and they live in tents. They are often depressed, they don’t have a vision; early pregnancy is a problem.
Before I founded Refugee Girls Need You, my efforts focused on empowering our local young girls. So when I saw what was happening in the camps, I thought “Why can’t I support the refugees, too?” I did a feasibility study, and began running ICT training for refugees. And then I organized a STEM camp to invite local girls to spend a week together with refugee girls learning skills. They become friends at the end of the week: The refugees will come visit the local girls and vice-versa.
How does it feel to be recognized for this ABIE Award?
Being recognized by the Anita Borg Institute on the international stage helps me to think beyond limits and think globally. It also helps me being heard by so many level. And the honor gives me courage. Most of the activity that I do is volunteering, but when I get an award like this one, I am empowered to keep up with what I am doing, and to reach and impact as many women and girls as possible. Practically speaking, coming to GHC means that I’m looking forward to meeting different people at Grace Hopper Celebration, especially other people who work with other displaced community.
Who inspires you?
My mom was a single mother who worked very hard to make sure my education was right.
What advice would you give to young girls interested in STEM careers?
I would love for young girls and women to trust themselves. We have to be willing to seek help, and give help to one another, and to dream big and work hard. Make sure you do something you’re passionate about, because that passion will give you the motivation to persist when you meet with with a challenge along the way.
Meet Marie Claire during GHC at Change Agent and Leadership ABIE Award Winners 2017 — A Panel Discourse on Thursday, October 5, 2017 from 11:30 am to 12:30 pm in OCCC W300.
Thank you to Google, sponsor of the 2017 Change Agent ABIE Award.