Founder and Executive Director Girls In STEM Trust
WiredUp had a Q & A session with Victoria Nxumalo
Who is Victoria Nxumalo? What is your background?
Victoria has been an ICT professional specialising in digital transformation, an ICT professional trainer, women in tech advocate, mentor and speaker for close to 15 years. She is the founder and Executive Director of the Girls In STEM Trust, an educational non-profit organisation geared towards educating and empowering young women and girls in Africa to confidently take up STEM studies, occupations, start-ups and business enterprises. Her work also focuses on collaborations with organisations that support social and business entrepreneurship and youth development. Victoria is also the founder of the Digital Learning Centre, a centre that promotes advanced digital and professional development skills for 21st century digital natives in Zimbabwe.
Victoria currently serves as the country lead for Zimbabwe for the SAP Africa Code Week, the largest digital literacy skills initiative on the African continent, which also incorporates the Africa Code Week Women’s Empowerment Programme, of which she is a co-moderator. She has also spearheaded the formation of the Women’s Empowerment Programme Zimbabwe Chapter for female educators to gain professional development skills in technology education. She is a Women in Technology Network Global Ambassador and Associate Member of the Computer Society of Zimbabwe, where she has served in the Bulawayo Chapter Executive, steering the ICT Education portfolio and being part of the organising team spearheading tech conferences and events across Zimbabwe. She sits on several education and technology boards across the globe, which enables her to have a fuller share in advancing technology education.
As the founder and Executive Director of Girls In STEM, what is your mission for this initiative, and why?
The Girls In STEM Trust is on a mission to get one million girls across Zimbabwe and Africa into STEM by 2030 using a plethora of exciting ways. Continuous professional development and technology education are at the core of my vision for women and girls to successfully compete on the global market, achieve successful economic participation and feed into the work talent pipeline. The programmes and activities of the Girls In STEM Trust continue to remain relevant to global trends by focusing on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) and digital literacy skills. This is particularly important in the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) to ensure that young women and girls are equipped to be 21st century relevant, job-ready and have the necessary skills to compete in the ever-evolving and fast-growing technology job and business markets.
What challenges have you faced being in the STEM field, and how have you overcome some of these challenges?
Being an African woman, the pre-conceived ideas of what or who a STEM professional should look like based on the assumptions of gender roles were definitely quite daunting. In the beginning of my career, it was a constant uphill battle having to work twice as hard to prove myself and get my counterparts to gain confidence that I was not only capable of completing the work that I was assigned, but that I was also quite capable of exceeding their expectations! Overcoming the challenges? Resilience for the most part, not being afraid to “fail forward” and hit the reset button, constantly keeping abreast with technology trends on how to become a better ICT professional, diversifying and picking up new skills in the field, drawing strength from being part of and finding my place in a vibrant STEM community that had other female STEM professionals who were navigating the same space as I was, helped me to grow tremendously as a professional. In hindsight, lack of adequate mentorship at the time made it that much harder for a lot of women to stay in the STEM field. Fast forward to today, a lot of initiatives to mentor and offer opportunities for STEM to be demystified to young Africans have sprouted up around the continent and achieved a lot of positive impact.
How do you think we can start to get more young Africans into the field of STEM?
We can’t be what we can’t see. Shining the spotlight on both early stage and accomplished STEM professionals of African descent allows upcoming STEM professionals to feel confident in their resolve to pursue STEM careers. Creating strong synergies that provide adequate access to relevant, up-to-date information on opportunities available to them to pursue further education, internships and fellowships across the continent will nurture and support young Africans to “find their space” in whatever STEM career they endeavour to pursue regardless of gender. This will also serve as a stepping stone for them to explore various STEM initiatives and communities across the continent and beyond that will afford them the opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way. The responsibility for paving the way for the next generation of young Africans who will feel confident to get into the STEM field lies with their predecessors becoming active torch bearers and creating the necessary channels for them to follow through on successfully. This may include a wide array of interventions such as advocating for more inclusive work and education policies and creating equal opportunity job and education environments across the continent.
What achievement are you most proud of?
In 2021, Victoria was named by CIO Africa Magazine as one of the 35 Most Influential Women In Tech In Africa, recognised in the Mentor of the Year category at the Global Women Tech Network Awards and the Girls In STEM Trust was recognised at the Global Women Tech Network Awards as finalists for the Upskill and Reskill Programme of the Year. To date, through the initiatives of the Girls In STEM Trust and the Digital Learning Centre, over 4 000 people have been introduced to new technology and professional development skills that have helped to transform their lives.
What is your message to upcoming young Africans who are passionate about STEM?
Passion without purpose is dead. Fuel your passion by doing the research and discovering what your purpose and best fit in STEM is. Use that to help propel you and the lives of others in ways you never thought possible! Pursuing a career or business in STEM means committing to a life of continuous learning, being mentally and physically prepared to stay the course, daring to dream and innovate along your journey and being prepared to embrace the surprising opportunities that will present themselves along the way. Birds of a feather flock together. Networking and collaboration are pivotal to your success. There is a huge community of STEM professionals across the globe just waiting to welcome you and your brilliant ideas – find your tribe and grow with them!