Women in Tech conference in Mauritius

October 8, 2016

Women in Tech conference happened yesterday at L’Aventure du Sucre and the Africa Leadership College. Shelly was invited as panelist for the discussion on “how technology is driving rising Africa?”. The event was divided in two parts, opening speeches in the morning happened at the Paul Eynaud conference room of L’Aventure du Sucre and presentations in the afternoon were done at the Africa Leadership College.

I picked up Shelly in the morning and we waited for the MSP (Microsoft Student Partner) girls Hamna, Dipshika and Kooshboo at St. Pierre. As they arrived we left for L’Aventure du Sucre which is less than 30 mins drive from St. Pierre using the Terre-Rouge/Verdun road.

We reached L’Aventure du Sucre around 09h00 and a security guard guided us to the conference room. A couple of folks were setting up and testing their video equipment while Marie-Noelle (the organiser) was chatting with a few people. She greeted us and introduced Shelly to the guests. Meanwhile I looked for a 4G signal… there was none! Neither anybody had the code to WiFi. That was bad for me, meaning there wouldn’t be any video live-stream as I had planned.

Attendees as well as participants were pouring in and Marie-Noelle informed us that there are provisions for tea/coffee at the Africa Leadership College. I thought since we’re ahead of time, we surely can have some coffee. Then as we were heading to the coffee-room, we met Elizabeth from Turbine Mauritius. We went for coffee while having this chat about whether or not is it appropriate to associate gender when talking about technology. It was a quick but nice chat and I had a strong black coffee w/o sugar.

We headed back to the conference room as time for the “ceremony” was approaching. I was able to get a weak Emtel signal but that wasn’t sufficient to even send a tweet.

The President of Mauritius, Mrs Ameenah Gurib-Fakim entered the conference room at 10h05. The room filled up gradually. A couple of minutes till all the guests were seated and then Marie-Noelle welcomed everybody, followed by an opening speech by the Managing Director of L’Aventure du Sucre. She was happy to host the Women in Tech conference and told the audience about the story of her sister who is an engineer and specialist in space radar systems. She mentioned the president as a role-model for women of Mauritius.

Then Ms Verna Pillay, Director of Public Affairs at the Africa Leadership College, gave a speech. She related the story of her cousin Padma who was very interested in “building stuff” and today she writes standards and protocols with the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force). She briefly told us about the experience of Padma while she worked for Cisco. Padma Pillay-Esnault is currently an engineer at Huawei Technologies and her RFCs and Drafts are published at this IETF page.

Verna Pillay - Women in Tech conference Mauritius

A lady from the Sate Bank of Mauritius spoke about entrepreneurship, financing and assisting SMEs. SBM was one of the sponsors of the workshop.

The president spoke at 10h27. She mentioned that the world needs more “science”. She talked about poor access to education in Africa while mentioning that fortunately that is not the case in Mauritius. According to UNESCO there should be 31 million girls in schools but they are not. She related about her experience in 1979 when she talked to a career guidance officer about her wish to study Chemistry after her A levels; and how the officer discouraged her saying science does not have prospect in Mauritius. She thanked her father for the trust he had in her and for believing and encouraging her. She concluded her speech by saying we need more scientists and engineers.

Ameenah Gurib-Fakim Women in Tech conference Mauritius

The next item on the agenda was the panel discussion in which Shelly participated. It was a quick one, strangely. Not naming anyone, I heard this comment about the panel discussion “that was short and sweet”.

Shelly Hermia Bhujun - Women in Tech conference, Mauritius

Although the discussion was short, Shelly managed to highlight the existence of several tech groups in Mauritius and the presence of girls/women participating. She briefly mentioned the Mauritius Software Craftsmanship Community, the Mauritius Internet Users, the Linux User Group of Mauritius and the Microsoft Student Partners. I sincerely wish more time was allocated and panelists could express a lot more about the tech scenery of Mauritius.

There was an interesting presentation on the ALC Learning Model by a lecturer of the Africa Leadership College. A few students of the college also participated in the presentation, relating their experiences and answering questions.

ALC - WIT Conference Mauritius

When asked about their experience in Mauritius, one student answered that they often get the reaction like “oh you’re African” from Mauritians that poorly realize that even Mauritius is part of Africa and yes we’re African too.

Around noon we had lunch and the second part of the conference, comprising of presentations happened at the Africa Leadership College. There were two conference rooms and each hosted presentations at the same time. My colleagues from LSL Digital had a presentation about new trends in digital marketing. The room also hosted the presentation of the DigiGirlz of the Microsoft Student Partners. That was good for me, I attended both.

Shaleenta and Gael from LSL Digital presented the digital products of LSL Digital and answered the few questions that were shot at them.

The last presentation I attended was that of the MSPs and I particularly liked the line by Hamna when she said “as you know, at the university we code on paper”; while describing the hands-on practice with coding that they get at Microsoft.

MSPs at the WIT Conference Mauritius

Shelly with the MSP DigiGirlz after the conference