How this young Ghanaian woman is empowering the next generation of digital innovators

Rapid changes in technology trends are forcing humans to keep up in order to stand the chance of surviving in a competitive world. Technology has, and continues to transform every aspect of our lives – education, governance, business and even personal relationships.

A 27-year-old Ghanaian social entrepreneur, Josephine Marie Godwyll, is empowering children to develop digital solutions to conquer the world. What drives her is the belief that children are the future and the only way to reach their full potential is by bringing out the innate creativity in them, empowering them with Information Communications Technology (ICT) and setting them on to become the digital innovators of the future through consistent nurturing.

Introduced to the computer and its functionalities at an early age of five, Godwyll strongly believes that her interest and ability to creatively utilize digital tools as an engineer were harnessed right from her childhood.

As a young girl, she had the heart to share both knowledge and gifts with friends — visibly aware of the opportunities available to her while growing up. Godwyll wondered why others had little or no access to those same opportunities. She therefore took it upon herself to create opportunities for the benefit of others, or at least prepare her friends to take up opportunities.

Narrating how she got into entrepreneurship, Godwyll said: “The idea came when I partook in the annual rural development and education project organised by the International Movement of Catholic Students at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi in 2012.”As part of the education project, she was posted to Bredi; a village in the Atwima Mponua District in the Ashanti region.

“There I came face-to-face with the gap in education between rural and urban areas. It was disheartening when a child saw the picture of a computer system unit and said it was a fridge,” she said. “These are children who will sit for the same exams as those in urban areas. These children are expected to compete with others in our technologically advancing world when they have no idea what the mouse does. There I saw a need and I moved to solve that problem,” she fondly narrated with a broad smile.

Determined to stay true to her words, she embarked on her first outreach programme at Bredi in May 2012 and August 2013 with her dream company ‘Young At Heart Ghana’ (Y@H). “I set up Young At Heart Ghana to empower the next generation of digital innovators. We need digitally empowered Africans to create solutions to the many problems we face,” she says.

Currently, Godwyll runs Y@H with a team of six who all work on part-time basis and funding her company has been a bit of a challenge as most of her financing comes from personal finance, friends and family. “People not believing in your vision, difficulty in accessing finance and the system you are trying to change working against you. These are some of the greatest challenges I faced,” she says.

But despite these staffing and funding challenges, Godwyll believes Y@H is on a course to achieve its objectives. She has successfully embarked on several initiatives such as DigiClubs and #ICTSummerCamp.

“The DigiClubs evolved from our ICT clinics. We have organized over 30 ICT clinics and at these clinics, we give students the opportunity to gain practical lessons in ICT. Now, we’ve formed DigiClubs where instead of our monthly clinics, we have weekly and bi-weekly sessions with students,” she says.

The #ICTSummerCamp which is in its third year brings together volunteers from public and private universities to share intensive practical sessions for students in a selected school over a one-week period.

“Last week, we collaborated with ‘The Akaa Project’ – an NGO which has set up the Asiafo Amanfo Community School and a Community Learning resource centre in the eastern part of Ghana. We worked with about 25 volunteers to provide content and practical ICT sessions to the students of the school,” an excited Godwyll narrated.

She was optimistic that consistency will draw her closer to her ambition of empowering the next generation of digital innovators.

Godwyll’s efforts at championing digital literacy for children in Ghana have been recognized by various organizations — the ‘Future Africa Awards Project’ nominated her as one of the top 50 African young leaders championing change, while the Ghana Institution of Engineers awarded her with the Engineering Excellence Award in 2014.

Also, the Computer Society at her alma mater, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) recognised her as the Icon of Computer Society in 2013 as well as being captured by Nsesa Foundation as a Woman leading STEM education.

In 2015, she was named a co-winner of Digital Change-makers Competition, an initiative by the mobile operator Tigo Ghana and non-profit organisation, Reach for Change to support social entrepreneurs in the West African country who are using technology to improve the lives of children.

“2015 was actually the third time I applied for the Digital Change-makers Competition. The experience has been amazing for me – going through the process right up to the finals has really helped me,” Godwyll said.

Looking ahead, she hopes to launch her new App, AnanseTheTeacher by close of 2016 –the App was inspired by the Kwaku Ananse folktales with its origins from the Ashanti tribe in Ghana. The intriguing stories of Kwaku Ananse resulted in the popular 1990s television show called By the Fire Side. There is hope that this application will help children utilize information communication technology better in studying other subjects in school.

Thanks to her drive to empower children in rural Ghana with information communication technology, she has been selected for 2016 Mandela Washington Fellow in the United States.

To become the champion in empowering digital innovation across the continent, Godwyll wants Ghanaian children to become more than Bill Gates. “We want to them to begin from pioneering solutions in Ghana, then to Africa and conquering the world – we believe we can,” she said.

She was very hopeful that the future is very bright for social entrepreneurship in Ghana saying, “gradually, the youth are developing the spirit of volunteerism and seeking to solve problems in their societies.”

Godwyll succinctly advised Ghanaian youth who want to start their own business to “first learn, then set off to do. Be flexible enough and evolve your idea but stick to the fundamental of the problem you want to solve. And network, network, network and create viable partnerships, because when you get together, you go far.”

By Michael Sarpong BruceMarie Godwyll teaching kids

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