Developers in Vogue – Tech-Bootcamps for Women in Africa
Developers in Vogue, a community of female developers who are passionate about using technology to revolutionize Africa.
Ivy Barley started Developers in Vogue in 2017 and she and her team train women in the latest technologies using a practical and project-oriented curriculum. They also connect them to real-time projects and jobs, enabling them to apply their skills and earn an income. We spoke to Ivy and her strategy Manager Tamer Shabani about the first steps of the company, the challenges and successes and next steps.
We always start with the same question. If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would they be?
Ivy: That is difficult. I would say inspiring. Can you add something Tamer?
Tamer: I would say Ivy is genuine and this is something you don’t find in entrepreneurship far too often. It is a very profit driven industry, and to have someone who is able to genuinely put others before herself, which she does constantly, is very inspiring and refreshing as well.
How did you come up with the idea and how did you start?
Ivy: I actually got interested in technology while I was growing up. I was privileged because I had access to computers and internet at home and I used to go online to learn on my own. That’s what got me interested in Technology. But the interest as fueled while was working in a school in Accra supporting young girls with math, programming and statistics. It was a great opportunity for me because usually people there say that women are afraid of computers and that girls don’t like technology and I realized the contrary while I was working in the school. The girls were always very excited and had wonderful ideas about what we need to build using technology. That really spurred my interest of not only going into tech industry but also bringing more women along.
Around that time, I was going to a lot of tech meetups and conferences and almost all the time I found myself being the only woman or one of the few in the room. I was wondering why women were not participating more in the tech industry. My co-founder and I then had the idea to start Developers in Vogue to create the ideal environment for more African women to get interested in tech and tackle that issue.
Interestingly, I always thought I would be a lecturer and I was actually working towards that goal, and then Developers in Vogue came to life. Now I am really happy because my work is mainly about the impact and knowing that we are changing lives is very inspiring.
An idea is a very theoretical concept, only if you put it into action you create an impact. You had the idea and a concept, but how did you start building the business?
Ivy: Back in school, I had a small business selling popcorn and drinks at events. I always knew I would a good entrepreneur, but I didn’t really know in what. And I also always thought I was going to be a lecturer.
When I was in school, I heard about a programme for women who had an idea to start a business. The concept was simple: You apply, get funding and start a business. I applied for that programme and through the programme I actually met my co-founder. We discussed the idea and decided to start.
Also, in the early stages I heard the Impact Hub Accra had a programme for women who had ideas to help support other women. We applied for that programme back in Ghana and we won the pitch and the prize was to come to Berlin. In 2017 we came to Berlin and we won the competition here, too. That’s how we got to meet the German chancellor and that was a huge push for us because we were just starting. Meeting Angela Merkel gave us lots of press back home even before we went back to Ghana people reached out to us for interviews. We did two BBC interviews and that really helped us with credibility and the exposure really helped. We had to leverage that exposure we had from coming here to Berlin in getting more partnerships and job placements. It was a programme that helped us to get the idea to action.
When you look back now, what was the biggest challenge so far and how did you overcome them?
Ivy: So far one of the biggest challenges for us has been building the community. Existing programs back at home – trying to get more women into technology – had gaps in terms of how they were operating, especially regarding the end of training. Once the women get trained, they go back home, there is no supportive community that helps them actually succeed.
Based on this knowledge, we decided to take it a step further and support the women beyond the actual training. For those who don’t have laptops, we provide loans for them to be able to purchase a laptop. That is obviously risky as we never know if they can pay us back. We also provide them access to internet.
And then building a community takes time, so we hired full time staff to build it. Developers in Vogue is still in the initial phase. We are growing really fast, but we don’t want to lose the core of what we do which is really about the community.
Another issue is my availability. Initially, I was really responsive when the women in our network were sending messages. But now that we have grown so much, I cannot respond to every WhatsApp message immediately because there are a lot of them.
What is one of the greatest successes you’ve had so far?
Tamer: One of the greatest successes was finding our own community space. In the past four months we’ve been able to find a space that helped reduce our long-term costs because we’ve always had to rent out space. If we went to event spaces or different corporates in Ghana, the rates were very high for us. This space not only helped reduce costs but has also helped truly create a sustainable community, where women who went through the programme can just come and share an idea or if they have a bad day they can ask for support. Linking that into our loop of not just providing technology ideas, but also a true fellowship or a sisterhood for the girls has been a big success for us. We very proud of the space.
Taking it one level back to personal highlights that you’ve had as a female entrepreneur, Ivy, is there a moment you will forever remember?
Ivy: For me, everything I do is about the impact. I am not building Developers in Vogue for the personal gain. When we started, we could already see the impact, those are my highlights, also as a person.
One example I can share is about a woman we placed in a company. She had been unemployed since finishing school and she didn’t have money to take care of her family. And she was the only one taking care of it. She came to our programme and after she finished the programme, she got a full-time job in a tech company in Ghana. Now, she is being paid a significant salary and she is able to provide for her family. I remember when she called me, and she was crying as she didn’t expect that would happen to her.
Even in my low moments, because of course entrepreneurship is hard, and when things are not going well, I reflect on the stories from the women and that is what really keeps me pushing and keeps me going forward. Also, sometimes opportunities to travel come along. Sometimes, I go but mostly I encourage the women in my programme to go, because I don’t want to be the sole face of the company. One of our ladies has been in 5 different countries while doing the programme. And this is also an inspiration to the other women, because they see one of them is doing really well and if they can put a lot of effort in this, they can also do it.
You said you don’t want to be the only face of the company, and you have a strong focus on the community, but what would you say is your role as a role model?
Ivy: I know the importance of having role models from personal experience. I almost didn’t complete University, because I had lots of emotional moments and depression. It was a very difficult time for me. Having two female scientists as my role models and mentors, giving me advice and hugging me when I was crying, that was really fundamental. In June this year my school invited me back to be a speaker at the graduation as one of the youngest in that school. Sharing my story and seeing my two mentors got me crying.
I also know about the importance of giving role models visibility. I am open to opportunities to speak in front of younger girls, to share my story and inspire them. So far, I have been featured in a number of books, one by the German government featuring women in tech. When we go to schools, I sometimes see the girls reading about it and getting inspired, and that is a way how I am becoming a role model.
Furthermore, I also try to share our story on Facebook and LinkedIn, not only the good sides of being an entrepreneur, but also the challenging ones. And many women are reaching out to me commenting how I have inspired them a lot and wanting to be like me.
What is your personal vision?
Ivy: I see myself being one of the top 10 influential women in Africa when it comes to technology. I want African women to see me and know that anything is possible, and they can achieve everything they want to.
Where are Developers in Vogue going to be in 5 years?
Tamer: I think we will have a global outreach. I think we will be much more innovative in how we connect students and potentials to new jobs, meaning we will incorporate technology using platforms and moving a little bit from physical hard labor. I would say much more innovative, bigger outreach and hopefully a lot more stories and lives that are changed as a result of this.
Do you think that future of women in business is in tech?
Ivy: I think so, for a number of reasons. I am not being biased, but I see African women have so much potential. There is so much we can achieve in the next few years.
Considering the fact that women are the majority of the population, and giving women the opportunity, not to just be the consumers of technology, but also the producers of it, is very important. That’s what my outlook is, especially for African women. Seeing them starting successful tech companies, joining tech companies, coming up with innovative projects.
Something we highlight initially for the women in our programme is, we encourage them to identify a problem in their community and use technology to help solve it. We had some of our ladies building projects in healthcare or transportation and seeing them at the forefront of innovation is something that is already happening, but with organizations like ours and people like us we feel we can do so much more.
What are the next steps for Developers in Vogue?
Ivy: Currently we are present in Ghana. In five years, we see ourselves scaling in other African countries. We are currently building a job platform and we are looking into launching it in the second part of next year. But most importantly, the impact and the stories about the women will grow. It is not just about the numbers per se, it is about the impact on the lives of each woman, that is what matters to us.