If you are interested or have been following the Kenyan tech space, then the name Dr. Chao Mbogho definitely rings a bell.
She is my Woman Crush Wednesday today and as a young woman in Technology, I am awed by the work Dr. Chao is doing to elevate other women and youth in the space.
She was recently featured by Vogue Magazine among other notable Kenyan Women tech makers for her work in the technology space.
Before I look at what she does, it will be good to also mention some of the other women tech makers mentioned in the article like Ory Okolloh-Mwangi who’s the vision behind Ushahidi, Linda Kamau who’s the Managing Director and co-founder of AkiraChix at the AkiraChix campus in Nairobi, Ruth Waiganjo who’s a software developer and a graduate of the KamiLimu program and Fatma Mohamed Abdulkadir who’s currently the only woman working with the WHO to build a digital platform for the Ministry of Health in Kenya.
Dr. Chao Mbogho is a social entrepreneur, trained public speaker, team leader, community leader, project manager, and currently is the Dean of the school of Computer Science at the Kenya Methodist University and the founder of KamiLimu (meaning ‘whole education’) mentorship programme for young coders across Kenya.
Apart from the recent Vogue appearance, Dr. Chao has received several recognitions for her academic achievements, demonstrated leadership skills and community involvement, among them being named as one of the 2017 Quartz Africa Innovators and a 2018 Face of Science in Kenya.
Dr. Chao is also the first-ever Kenyan to receive the prestigious OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Award in 2020. She recognizes the achievement as one of the biggest things that have ever happened to her. The award is hugely prestigious and offers confirmation that what she’s doing is valuable and has recognition and impact beyond Kenya.
KamiLimu Mentorship Program
KamiliLimu is a student mentoring program that was founded in 2018 to help students gain skill-building skills that she had identified as lacking. This program didn’t start in the old traditional way but by chance. She sent out an email to a few students offering informal mentoring, but suddenly she had forty students wanting help. It then became a group situation and grew from there. She has so far directly impacted the lives of more than 100 Kenyan students.
In the vogue feature, this is what she says about the KamiLimu program;
“KamiLimu is more than just coding,” Dr Mbogho insists. “We offer guidance and mentorship to young people interested in tech over eight months and also teach them things like public speaking, product development, project management — things that will make them employable.”
Dr. Chao Mbogho believes that one of the skillsets students need to have is how to successfully apply for a scholarship. Through her KamiliLimu foundation, she can provide Kenyan students with skills that will enable them to gain scholarships in various universities. She has identified five areas where students need to build proficiency outside the immediate curriculum of degree– scholarship application skills;
- Innovation- how to identify a ‘good problem’ and design a user-centered solution through computer programming or other tech skills
- Professional development- interview skills and CVs
- Personal development -building resilience and self-confidence
- Maintaining mental health
- Community engagement and giving back, whether locally or internationally.
How it all Began
Dr. Chao grew up in the southwestern Kenyan town of Migori where she had no access to computers. She however loved mathematics and later realized she could venture into computer programming. She studied for a degree program in Maths and Computer Science at Kenya Methodist University. And upon completion, she wanted to further enroll in a master’s program. Unfortunately or fortunately she suffered rejection from many universities apart from the Oxford University. And that is how she got into the Masters in Computer Science program at Oxford but did so with a full scholarship through the Shell Centenary Foundation.
At Oxford University she was able to work at Oxford University Press as a publications assistant extending her thesis research into a second year. During that time, she worked on a -huge tech project- software that could automate classroom scheduling within a complex university organization. From there, she moved to Cape Town for her Ph.D. and subsequently to Kenya Methodist University as faculty.
She undertook another huge tech project in late 2020. The project included the rewriting of an app that originated in her Ph.D. research that allows students with no access to a computer to learn computer programming using only a phone. Hopefully, the app will be launched soon.
The lack of exposure to a computer while at high school remains a huge problem in schools in the developing world. She believes that the app could unleash the creativity of a whole new generation of Kenyan programmers whose talents might otherwise be lost – and perhaps women especially.
One piece of advice that she gave and has truly inspired me to date is that;
‘There’s too much pressure to decide what you want to be too early. Take your time to discover the areas of real interest. They often come later and that was my experience.’
And I found that to be oddly relatable in my career path. In primary school I wanted to be a lawyer, in high school, I wanted to be a computer engineer and in campus when I studied Computer Science, then transitioned to Management Information Systems, I was even more confused because there were so many career choices that I could pursue. Over the years I have worked in different fields but now that I am into content creation and brand management, I love it. Well, I would still love to learn something about ethical hacking and cybersecurity in the future 😉
Back to Dr. Chao who has continually worked to pioneer innovative ways to invest in youth and change the future for the next generation. She also works to enable students and professionals to achieve their personal and professional goals. For that, she is a hero to me and many other women in tech.
Bridging the digital gender divide is a huge task, but it starts with small steps like what Dr. Chao is doing.
References: Oxford publication, Vogue Magazine, LinkedIn, Wikipedia and other social media networks