On January 14, Technovation celebrated the official start of the 2020 Technovation Girls Challenge. The annual competition teaches teams of girls and nonbinary-identifying young people the basics of coding as they work together to build a mobile app that solves a problem within their communities.
Over twelve weeks, students will study Technovation’s coding-focused curriculum as they combine their efforts to imagine, design, and build a functional mobile app that targets common issues like domestic violence, assault, climate change, and bullying. At the end of the program, an online panel of judges selects 50 Finalists to present at the annual Technovation World Summit, held this year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in August.
The goal of the program is to present young girls and gender-nonconforming individuals with a safe, collaborative space to present their ideas and work toward a shared victory. Teams in the Junior Division (ages 10-14) work on ideation, technical function and complexity, and their ability to pitch their own product. In the Senior Division (Ages 15-18), girls also take on an entrepreneurship category, where they must create a feasible business and marketing plan with strong evidence of financial sustainability.
At its heart, the program seeks to connect one of the most underserved communities in technology–people who are not assigned male at birth or identify as male–with the resources, training, and mentorship they need to build their confidence in a traditionally male-dominated industry.
“Since 2010, more than 23,000 young people from 100+ countries have participated in Technovation Girls,” reads the competition’s mission statement. “With the help of volunteer mentors, they’ve produced mobile app startups that have helped address problems in local and global communities the world over. And while each year more and more teams take up the challenge, we know that there are always more problems to solve … and that there are people from every part of the world ready to solve them.”
The program works through volunteer-staffed events around the world. Women, trans, and non-binary individuals can sign up as mentors for teams of up to five students. Technovation Girls upholds a “NO BOYS ALLOWED” rule in the interest of providing a safe space for unheard voices.
“Anyone can use Technovation Girls’ free online curriculum, but the Technovation Girls competition is only for participants who identify as female, trans, non-binary, or gender nonconforming,” writes Ophelie Horsley in the Technovation Girls FAQ. “Why? Women and nonbinary individuals are underrepresented in technology fields. With increased stressors for women in STEM fields, including sexual harassment and discrimination, research shows that when women participate in gender-reaffirming environments, it can increase their sense of belonging and therefore help keep them in STEM fields. Our Technovation Girls program aims to provide this safe, reaffirming environment, so our eligibility condition remains that students who are assigned male at birth and self-identify as male cannot enter the competition. Additionally, Technovation Girls is proud to provide girls and students with identity-reaffirming role models so they can see themselves in technology careers.”
(Boys shouldn’t fret–the organization offers a similar program called Technovation Families, which gets entire families involved in coding-based challenges, and also offers partnerships with all-gender, all-ages programs like FIRST, SMASH, and BUILD.)
Participation and access to curriculum are completely free, made possible by the participation of a wide range of corporate funders. Technovation’s Platinum and Gold sponsors include a roster of familiar tech giants, like Adobe, Google, and NVIDIA, along with Salesforce, HSBC, the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation, and Uber.
The program is also made possible through the support of volunteer mentors. A mentor is not a requirement for a team, but these volunteers help guide students through the 30+ hours of study and hard work, answering questions that come up and offering guidance through the coding process.
When their apps are functional, teams submit their projects in April, to be pitched at regional events and judged by panels of online participants. Throughout the summer, semi-finalists will have the opportunity to pitch their products and business plans to regional judges, and teams that make it through the semi-finals receive Technovation’s highest honor: an invitation to present and pitch their apps at MIT during the Technovation Global Summit.
“After months of hard work by girls and families around the world, the World Summit is an extended learning opportunity and celebration of the potential for technology to do good in the world,” says Technovation’s CEO, Tara Chklovski. “As a well-respected, global institution driven to make a better world through education, research, and innovation, MIT is the perfect location for our World Summit and support our mission to empower everyone – regardless of age, gender, race or country of origin — to believe themselves capable of learning and using new skills to solve global problems facing all of us.”
To learn more about Technovation, Technovation Girls, and Technovation Families, visit https://technovationchallenge.org/.
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