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Youthful Mirembe determined to change women, youths’ mindset

A recent chilly Wednesday morning found me at Kafeero foundation in Muyenga for a symposium on youth empowerment through digital innovations.

The foundation is a network of more than 20,000 members connecting to champion innovation and sharing. Here, the hub setting is quite heart-warming and has several youths engaged in various activities such as hands-on trainings, mentorships as well as concept trials.

Angella Mirembe

 At the centre of coordinating everything is Angela Mirembe, a bubbly general manager of the foundation. With her background in Information Technology, she works with the youth to enhance their ideas on various digital platforms.

A moment with her is like a lecture or motivational speech of sorts; she has so much burning in her brain you cannot exhaust her talk. Yet, Angie is not just about talk; she is a pragmatist and my first impression about her is that she lives in the future, far from the daily routines most Ugandans are used to.

START OF THE DREAM

“One morning in 2018, my mind was spinning as I tried to figure out; how can I really do something that will impact my country?” she says.

“History has made known to me very many personalities who somehow managed to do something that let me know decades – and even centuries later – that they lived. How will the future generation know I lived? Or will I fade out of history’s memory?”

Mirembe (L) with US ambassador Deborah Malac at Kafeero foundation

You may wonder what stimulated all these thoughts but, it is the urge to make a difference because of what she has witnessed.

In an age when women and youths are on the periphery in terms of skills and positions of influence, Mirembe seeks to change the narrative. For eight years, she had worked in the corporate world of information technology (IT) and telecommunications for companies such as Warid Telecom, Comtel, Airtel and Techno Brain.

BREAKING FREE

Yet, Angie felt she didn’t offer the hands-on approach to fulfil her career destiny.

“One day I had had enough and I quit my job with no plan in place. But something I was very certain of was my love for children. So, I started to create themed parties and somehow – without planning to start a business – Angel Wings UG was born in the world of digitization through Facebook posts,”she recalls.

Through the use of social media, she was getting calls from UK, Italy and the US, all wanting to know if she could offer her services.

“Our friends in the diaspora had already caught on the realization of the convenience of digital entrepreneurship.I actually got overwhelmed by the amount of service requests that were coming in and started avoiding the business.”

Facebook advertising introduced her to a world where your business can run smoothly, whether you are paying attention or not. But because Angie was not one with a major interest in entrepreneurship, she decided to pursue other dreams.

STIFF CHALLENGE

The opportunity popped up in March, 2017 when a friend obtained a partnership to implement a project called‘Google Digital Skills for Africa.’The venture was to provide Ugandan youth with digital skills, its benefits and relevance.

“I was very excited because I was to preach something I had experienced first-hand,” she says.“And the cherry on top was that we were going to be offering the training for free. You can imagine my joy; it was the perfect job.”

Angie had finally found comfort in technology; after all, her tertiary education was in the field of IT.

“I was going to train about technology, provide guidance on starting to pursue goals and provide encouragement based on my previous experiences.” I had found my Place with Kafeero Foundation.

To kick-start the project, they began to approach individuals, companies, organizations, education institutions, churches, you name it.

Some welcomed the idea with open arms but Angie and the organization quickly realized there were more no-thank-yous to the trainings than the yes-pleases. She couldn’t fathom how several people in leadership positions couldn’t understand technology, how it is in everything we are doing and using and how the world is operating on being digitally-connected.

“What we thought would be a five-minute pitch of the program and its benefits soon turned into sometimes being an hour’s debate why smartphones and the internet are evil and not fit for the students, flock or staff,” she says.

“Those particular individuals still believe their children can get a job as bank teller three years from now and have no idea that automation has taken over the jobs they are excitedly paying tuition for,” she says.

As she experienced more and more turnoffs, the more questions started to arise for Mirembe.

“Uganda’s population currently shows that 50 per cent of this nation is under the age of 15 while 80 per cent are under 30. But what shocked me the most is that those in the age bracket of 65 and over are just two per cent and, if memory serves me right, the age bracket of 55-year-olds to 65-year-olds is also another two per cent,” she says.

“I choose not to state the obvious but I believe the younger population may be able to relate to technology a lot more and possibly be able to make more informed decisions because they interact with it much more that the older generation.”

To take this contention further, Mirembe acknowledges the drawbacks of technology such as hackers, kidnappers and cyber bullying but incisively puts forward her perspective.

“When you hear a debate going on whether mobile phones should be allowed in schools and more than five adults stating ‘No’ because the children will ‘get spoilt,’ I can’t help but shake my head,” she says.

“It is because while our simple minds divert to pornography, another parent in the West is thinking my child can use their tab to study for that geography exam and actually get an aerial view of the globe using Google Earth and can actually zoom into Uganda and have a look at Lake Victoria as our children learn about Mt Rwenzori from the teachers’ chalk drawings.”

For the record, Uganda currently has the second-youngest population in the world. And with a population growth rate of three per cent per annum, it is estimated that by 2040, we will be approximately 80 million from the roughly 38 million today. To emphasise her point, Mirembe draws a distinct line of technological exposure.

“Children as young as four years are learning coding while our youth think of coding classes at the average age of 18 years; will they really have a level starting ground?” she wonders.

“At the age of 18, both would be preparing for their careers, only that one will already have 14 years of experience in using technology while one is only beginning to learn. Can they both really compete in the global market?”

HOPE FOR WOMEN

What stands out in all this is that Mirembe is self-driven and personally oversees her ventures. Recently, she initiated a project at Kafeero Foundation called “Coding In Heels” which aims at getting girls and Women introduced and educated in Coding and Digital Literacy in a very non threatening way.

It is also a platform aimed at uplifting women through encouragement to become entrepreneurs while sharing experiences, ideas and innovations.

“The responsibility of the world is landing more and more on women’s shoulders.Women are struggling to pay rent, look after their children and they are facing domestic violence, having to work twice as hard to get a managerial position, they are helping with the homework, they are at the hospital beds in the middle of the night, and the list goes on,” she says.

“And if the jobs are not coming easy and automation has taken over most of the jobs women looked forward to having, the next best thing is to become digitally and technologically literate and become great entrepreneurs.”

Notably, Jack Ma [the billionaire behind Alibaba] said recently that the reason Alibaba is doing so well is because 49 per cent of its workforce are women. He said when men shop, they shop for themselves but when women shop, they shop for husbands, children and friends.

To this, Mirembe believes it is in women’s DNA and that’s why she wants to have a network of women, who will help one another because it makes no sense to have only one succeed in the whole community.

LOOKING AHEAD

There is hardly any free time in Mirembe’s life. If she is not mentoring youth at Kafeero foundation, chances are high she is updating her projects on various social media platforms, or even giving guest lectures at various universities. 

“I love talking to young people because they can change the country with their actions. Unfortunately, we have a mind-set problem in Uganda where youth aim for a university degree as a measure of success.”

Mirembe has work cut out to realise her dream but she is determined to make it and acknowledges that the challenge starts with changing the mindset.

Who is Angela Mirembe Semwogerere?

Mirembe is indeed a gifted orator and exudes the confidence of a professor. It took an inquiry about her background that the fiery lady opened up that she is the daughter of Joseph Mulwanyammuli Semwogerere, the former Buganda katikkiro.

On that backdrop, you would expect her to feel self-respect or privilege but she is not the type. “Many people have asked me that question throughout my life but I want to be my own self without getting any favours because of my father,” she says. “He actually doesn’t even know what I exactly do even though we are regularly in touch.”

Born in Nairobi, she moved to Lesotho at a young age before going to South Africa, from where she attained part of her high school education. She later returned to Uganda to attend Namasagali college and joined St Lawrence Academy Creamland for her A- level.

“I grew up as a confused child who didn’t know what I actually wanted to be,” she recalls. “Luckily, my mum had exposed me to the computer at a tender age and that opened my eyes to several opportunities.”

Indeed, while many of her peers joined university, Mirembe followed her passion and instead opted for a Diploma in Information Systems Management course at Aptech Worldwide Computer Education before going to the UK to further her studies.

Upon return in 2005, she was exposed to the harsh reality of the Ugandan job market. “I applied to become a secretary at one of the prominent law firms but was eliminated even before the interviews because I didn’t have a degree,” she recalls. “That galvanised me to be my own job creator.”

And whereas Mirembe later got employed at various companies for eight years, her dream remained creating a job she would have a passion for.

She achieved that in 2014 with the creation of Angel Wings before joining Kafeero foundation, where she imparts digital skills to youth.

She also recently began a project at Kafeero Foundation called “Coding in Heels” which aims at getting girls and Women introduced and educated in Coding and Digital Literacy in a very non threatening way.

It is also a platform aimed at uplifting women through encouragement to become entrepreneurs while sharing experiences, ideas and innovations. 

“There are few things more satisfying than making someone’s dream a reality,” she says.

On a personal note, Mirembe says she hardly has time for hanging out and this is due to spending most of her time on researching and reading.

“I take an occasional glass of wine maybe once in a year but I don’t club or go out for fun-filled nights,” she says. “The lifestyle of many Ugandan youths is detrimental, fueled by gossip and this is mainly fuelled by a media obsessed with crime and entertainment.”

dlumu@observer.ug

Comments

0 #1 Empayippayi 2018-03-21 14:43
A very inspring young lady. Keep it up.
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