GirlCode: Women Using Technology to Create Meaningful Solutions

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GirlCode bootcamp attendees. Photo: GirlCode GirlCode bootcamp attendees. Photo: GirlCode

Ahead of International Women’s Day, I caught up with Zandile Mkwanazi, the Chief Executive Officer of GirlCode, based in South Africa. I was curious to hear about her journey into technology and what motivates her to act on behalf of women and digital technology. Here is a summary of our conversation!

Q. Eisa: I’m curious to hear about your journey into digital technology and what motivates you?

A. Zandile: In school, I studied computational and applied mathematics and, whilst I was doing my Masters, I had an opportunity to be part of an internship program where we built software for different companies. After graduation, I looked for a quantitative analyst position at a bank but then realized I wanted to be in the tech world. I was fascinated with using technology for good, and I liked using it to create meaningful solutions. So, I looked for a job in a tech company and started working in 2014.

Q. How did GirlCode start? 

A. In the company I joined, there weren't many women. It became more and more apparent as I went to tech conferences and hackathons. I thought, “Something is wrong with this picture. Where are all the women?” So, I organized an all-women's hackathon for female university graduates. I felt it would be a safe space for them to come and showcase their talent to potential employers looking for software developers. What initially started as a hackathon has evolved into a social enterprise aimed at empowering young girls and women through technology. We believe that the more women get involved with technology and its design, development, and leadership, the more successful and diverse companies and their products will be.  

Q. What does it do?

A. Today, GirlCode runs two main programs, the first being our three-month, online bootcamp, which provides full-time coding classes for young, adult, unemployed women from 18 to 35 years old. Within this, our trainees can choose between four curricula: Python development, AWS Cloud Practitioner, Python for data analysis, and web development. We also have a 10-month program that allows young people from 9 to 16-years-old to explore technology and develop their skills through hands-on projects. They are taught how to create their own interactive stories, games, and animations, and how to use code from scratch with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. We organize the annual hackathon on Women’s Day, and we host career days in schools to present GirlCode and raise awareness of it.

Zandile Mkwanazi, founder and CEO of GirlCode, South Africa
Zandile Mkwanazi, founder and CEO of GirlCode, South Africa

Q. How many girls and women have you trained so far?

A. Firstly, let me tell you about our vision and mission, which is to reach 10 million women by 2030. Over the past eight years, we have reached more than 70,000 young girls and women. COVID-19 slowed us down a bit, but we are growing our reach, and last year about 500 unemployed women went through our bootcamp.

Q. And how many women have found work in the tech sector thanks to your training? 

A. We have facilitated 170 of those 500 to get permanent jobs as software developers. We are working on strengthening our monitoring and evaluation processes to be able to keep track of all our lumni.

Q. Can you share examples of success stories?

A. Yesterday, I met one of the women we’ve trained, who started her first job as a junior software developer at one of our partner companies. She reached out to me in 2013 and attended numerous hackathons and career days, and last year, she officially joined our bootcamp. Now she has moved from Pretoria to Cape Town and is working in a tech company using the skills and talent we helped her discover. Moving for her job was the first time she’d traveled to another province.

Also, in 2019 we partnered with a company in the United Kingdom, and eight women who trained with us were hired and moved to the UK. One of them was even able to bring her mom and her son to come to live with her, showing the generational impact that technology can have on improving women’s lives and that of their families.

Q. The upcoming 2023 World Bank Africa Digital Report says a simple data plan costs about one third of the income of the poorest Africans. What are the main obstacles your beneficiaries face when it comes to technology? 

A. I think there are two main obstacles, the first being the cost of data. Many of our beneficiaries can't afford to be online. And the second is access to a device such as a laptop.  Overall, Africa faces a problem of lack of infrastructure. Being able to access online learning is still something that is not possible for many young people, and it's something that, hopefully, in coming years, can be addressed, so that more people, especially women, can access opportunities available over the Internet.

Q. Tell us what’s needed to increase the ability of digital technologies to transform women's lives?

A. We need multi-stakeholder engagement. We need governments, companies, and foundations to get involved. Access to educational platforms needs to expand and be available to all. Service providers can help with more availability and zero-rate educational platforms.  And lastly, more community centers would have a positive impact. All of this could add up to success with a woman’s ability to obtain a good, higher paying job, improve the life of her family and community, and help the economic growth of her country.


Eisa Gouredou

External Affairs Consultant

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