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Encouraging Girls in Science to Bring Fresh Perspective to Problem-Solving

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Tolu Oyekan Inclusive Economic Recovery

By Tolu Oyekan

Over the years, the study of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) has increasingly gained grounds across the world.

Nigeria is not left out as many young people are becoming more interested in studying science subjects at secondary and tertiary levels of education.

This is no surprise as our world today is largely driven by technology. Technology encompasses practically every facet of our lives.  Life has become easier through the application of technology.

For instance, Information and communication technology (ICT) has proven to be invaluable as the world tries to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic challenges. The application of ICT tools kept people connected made essential services accessible and sustained businesses.

The 21st century brought about lots of scientific innovations which have propelled the need for students at different levels to become more proficient in the knowledge of STEM. Besides Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Mathematics; other STEM subjects include Actuarial Science, Statistics, Psychology, Robotics, Information Science, Atmospheric Sciences and Educational Research.

Experts have discovered that early exposure of students to STEM and technology-related subjects will help young people develop a passion for technological pursuits and eventually help them pursue a job in a STEM field.

Right now, the fastest-growing job categories are related to STEM with recent studies indicating new jobs in areas such as data analysis, software development and data visualization, virtual reality, artificial intelligence etc.

However, girls are highly under-represented in STEM and ICT classes; globally the percentage of young girls undertaking ICT courses range from 8.9% in Switzerland to 20.0% in the United States, except for India with 50.5%. What this means is that except this trend changes, women will remain under-represented in future workplaces.

This year, the International Girls in ICT Day held on April 22 with the theme: ‘Connected Girls, Creating Brighter Futures’. On this day every year, stakeholders in the technology space and indeed all of us should seek opportunities to empower girls to develop digital skills so as to pursue careers enabled by technology.

As these young girls move on to take up various careers in the ICT sphere, they are faced with several challenges, particularly finding a perfect work-life balance. Conditions like pregnancy, breastfeeding and child care pitched against rigorous work hours put many women in disadvantaged positions. In many cases, childcare centres are not found close to places of work resulting in women working part-time or accepting lower-paying jobs to focus on their homes or quitting their career early.

There is also the glass ceiling issue affecting females in ICT such as gender biases during appointments, promotion and career improvement opportunities as well as harassment, biased evaluation by peers along familial responsibilities, which could cause increased stress.

There could be several factors that account for the under-representation of girls in STEM. One which is quite obvious, is the issue of the environment, culture as well as the emphasis on gender equality and encouragement of growth mindset. A report from the American Association of University Women (AAUW) shows that the learning environment and social belief system affect girls’ interest and achievements in STEM/ICT subjects.

Another study showed that in countries like Sweden and Iceland where gender parity prevails, girls perform better than boys on Math tests. On the other hand, girls from countries like Turkey where gender discrimination is greater don’t do well in math tests.

Research also shows that majority of people view STEM fields as which should be ideally dominated by men; a view which still holds sway to this day. Society views women in science and engineering jobs as less competent than men unless they are exhibiting success tendencies.

No doubt, there are many women who are excelling in science and ICT-related fields.  Some examples of women excelling in ICT globally include Sheryl Kara Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer, Facebook and founder of LeanIn.org; Ruth Porat, Chief Financial Officer of Alphabet Inc and its subsidiary, Google and Ginni Rometty, Former Chairman, President and CEO of IBM, In Nigeria, worthy role models for girls are Funke Opeke, founder, Main One Technologies; Omobola Johnson, former Nigerian Minister for Communication Technology; Juliet Ehimuan, Country Manager Nigeria, Google; and Cherry Eromosele Group Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at Interswitch, to name a few.

The beautiful thing is that girls definitely bring a fresh sense of perspective to problem-solving in the classrooms and workplaces as professionals. One of such ways is using her ‘voice’; by this, I don’t just mean talking. It is when a girl challenges the status quo, excels at her studies, contributes to making policies or suggests an idea that moves their schools or organisation towards a new course of action.

Some studies have shown that teams with women as leaders were more successful when facing tasks that are more mentally challenging and required complex problem-solving abilities.

But this good performance only showed if the women spoke up if the men believed that women were capable contributors, and if the team acted on the women’s suggestions.

To ensure girls are more interested in STEM and ICT careers, women already in these fields should get more involved in the development of STEM policies that will favour and encourage girls to develop an interest in these subjects. These will include exposing girls to STEM fields, encouraging participation in STEM programmes, providing scholarships, as well as supporting learning opportunities in communities.

And men can be effective allies in gender equality conversations. They can start with listening to their female counterparts and taking their concerns seriously. Men in a position of authority can bring their influence to bear by amplifying women’s voices, educating other men against stereotype, credit women’s work and ideas fairly, advocate for policies that remove bias and advance equality. More importantly, men should show their support, at home, the workplace and in other social circles.

At Boston Consulting Group (BCG), the education and encouragement of girls to fit adequately into the future of jobs is a core aspect of our ‘Back to The Future’ agenda. Currently, there are more women in the BCG workforce in Lagos, than there are men. Working with this crop of brilliant women has brought interesting and insightful perspectives to problem-solving. So, I know first-hand that women bring a fresh perspective to problem-solving.

I hope that more girls will begin to have an affinity for STEM subjects and capacity will be built in ICT-based endeavours to gain new skills and enhance problem-solving.

Tolu Oyekan is a partner at BCG

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Okowa’s Financial Aid to Mission Schools

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Ifeanyi Okowa Delta State

By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi

The recent decision by the Governor of Delta State, Ifeanyi Okowa, to provide financial aid to 40 schools it returned to religious missions in 2011 again underscores the time-honoured belief that leaders must learn the art of management, an art of engineering and skill to absorb and mater success in their mission. As there is no hard and fast rule but involves a lot of practical wisdom and prudence in one’s functioning style and performance.

Speaking at the thanksgiving service to mark the end of the 16th Synod of Asaba Diocese, Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), held at the Cathedral Church of St. Peter, Asaba, Okowa, who read the first lesson, congratulated the new Bishop of the diocese, the Rt. Rev. Kingsley Obuh, on his consecration and enthronement.

Acknowledging that the running of mission schools is difficult given the current economic condition of the nation, the governor commended the church for drawing his attention to the plight of the schools, especially his promise to ensure that grants were given to missions to assist them in giving a firm standing to the schools that had been returned to them. This, he explained, became necessary to assist the schools in running effectively, particularly in view of the prevailing harsh economic situation in the country.

Indeed, from the above comment by the Governor, it is evident that he is not taking success in leadership for granted or attributing the same to a function of luck and destiny but achievable through effective planning, genuine efforts and technique followed sincerely and scrupulously in their mission.

By his latest action, it is now evident that the Governor considers education as the bedrock of development. More than anything else, his promise to ensure that grants were given to missions to assist them in giving a firm standing to the schools demonstrates a leader with an understanding that with sound educational institutions, a country is as good as made -as the institutions will turn out all rounded manpower to continue with the development of the society driven by well thought out ideas, policies, programmes.

Secondly, it is a sign that he recognizes the challenges of perennial underfunding bedevilling the education sector not just in missionary schools in Delta State but across all the privately and government-owned schools across all the states of the federation.

This challenge has as a consequence brought upon the nation an astronomical increase in the rate of out of school children, especially in the northern part of Nigeria, to swell in number, even when it is obvious that the streets are known for breeding all forms of criminals and other social misfits who constitute the real threat in the forms of armed robbers; thugs, drunkards, prostitutes and all other social ills that give a bad name to the society. This underfunding challenge has also visited the sector with a state of affairs where a number of Nigerians are in school but are learning nothing; as schooling, according to UNICEF, does not always lead to learning.

“In Nigeria, there are more non-learners in school than out of school,” UNICEF concluded.

More specifically, aside from being in the best interest of the state government that those schools returned to the missions are supported to stand because they provide a space for study for some of our children across the state, Okowa’s current gesture reinforces the belief that we all have reasons not only to feel worried but collectively work hard to deliver the nation’s education sector in ways that will bring to an end the reign of thoughtless demand for fees of varying amounts/ proposed by the school authorities-a development that is financially squeezing the life out of the innocent students and their parents.

There exist more concrete reasons as to why Governor Okowa’s present move needs to be applauded.

At the most fundamental levels, it refreshes the minds of Nigerians of the passionate plea by the United Nations for government-private sector collaboration for sustainable development.

For instance, there was a veiled agreement among stakeholders at a recent gathering in Lagos that the government at all levels in Nigeria is shirking the traditional but universal responsibility of provision of educational, economic and infrastructural succour to the citizenry which the instrumentality of participatory democracy and election of leaders confers on them.

Essentially, participants at that event were unanimous that the 2030 sustainable agenda has partnership and collaboration at its centre. It was clearly stated that the scale and ambition of this agenda call for smart partnerships, collaborations, ecosystem thinking, co-creation and alignment of various intervention efforts by the public and private sectors and civil society.

The conference, which had as a theme Partnership for Sustainable Development and Innovation, was among other goals aimed at finding an ‘urgent need for creative and innovative thinking by all strata of the society-public and private sector and civil society-to promoting sustained and inclusive economic growth, social development and environmental protection’.

To further buttress the imperativeness of this needed commitment from all the parties in tackling the agenda, the conference stressed that the partnership is at the very centre of the sustainable development agenda as it is both a means to an end since it is a crucial enabler for the attainment of the other goals and an end to in itself since Goal 17 is a means of implementation and revitalised global partnership’.

Very instructive also, finding a solution to the societal problems, particularly providing access to adequate and quality education for the youths of this nation will in some ways help solve the youth unemployment challenge and develop a climate of sustainable future and innovation among our youths.

Talking about youth unemployment in Nigeria, a report recently put it this way: “We are in a dire state of strait because unemployment has diverse implications. Security wise, the large unemployed youth population is a threat to the security of the few that are employed. Any transformation agenda that does not have job creation at the centre of its programme will take us nowhere”

Youths’ challenge cuts across, regions, religions, and tribes, and has led to the proliferation of ethnic militia as well as youth restiveness across the country. This may, in turn, hamper the peace needed if handled with levity.  But this threat has become more pronounced in the oil-rich region of the country with the chunk of the proponents spearheaded by the large army of professionally trained ex-militants currently without a job. Proper management of these teaming youth is the panacea for determining the success or otherwise of the 2030 sustainable agenda, it is only by engaging these teeming youths through employment creation that the incessant youth restiveness can be abated.

One fact we must acknowledge is that the 2030 Sustainable Development Goal was formulated to among other aims promote and carter for people, peace, the planet, and poverty but nurturing to bear the premeditated result will depend on not just the private sector but our government.

To, therefore, move this nation forward, we need to like Governor Okowa, recognize that a sound educational sector and sustained infrastructural development remain the spine. We must learn that nations such as the Jews progressed because they possessed a tradition of education combined with social and political action. They enthroned education and sacrificed to get it.

We must as a nation make quality but subsidized education a human right that will be accessible to all Nigerians irrespective of tribe/ethnicity, sex, religion or creed. And develop the political will to fund education in compliance with the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) budgetary recommendation.

Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He can be reached via jeromeutomi@yahoo.com/08032725374

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Tips for Building a Low-code Strategy

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Low-code Development

By Hyther Nizam

Over the last few years, businesses have been racing to digitise their processes and offerings. Whether you’re working from home, banking online, or doing a quick grocery order, you’ve likely noticed a significant rate of transformation. Given that every aspect of a consumer’s daily life is connected to the digital world, the challenge of digital transformation may be daunting. Traditional ways of developing consumer and internal applications are time-consuming and usually require a large number of development resources.

Fortunately, low-code/no-code (LCNC) development platforms empower businesses to quickly create cross-platform applications without writing thousands of lines of code. Low-code/no-code not only simplifies development but also saves time and money. Low-code is not a new concept, but demand for it has increased as a result of the pandemic and the necessity for businesses to speed up their digital transformation initiatives.

The advantages of low-code/no-code 

LCNC platforms provide a visual environment for building applications. As they provide snippets of pre-built code in a simple drag-and-drop user interface, people with little to no programming experience can also build custom web/mobile applications. However, it’s crucial to take the time to identify the most effective LCNC platform for your business before diving headfirst into app building.

The LCNC platforms help teams develop applications faster and with fewer errors than traditional coding. Because the platforms provide standard components such as forms, report templates, and ready-to-use code snippets, months of development time can be saved. By eliminating some of the more complex aspects of the application development process (such as creating frameworks and linking databases), these platforms empower people across the organisation to get involved in application development and bring their business ideas to fruition, without having to depend on IT assistance.

Zoho Creator, Zoho’s low-code platform, aims to facilitate efficient app development and effective collaboration. It uses pre-built integrations to connect with hundreds of systems and cloud services to make app development quicker and easier. Organisations can seamlessly integrate Creator with other Zoho applications and third-party platforms like QuickBooks, Zapier, and PayPal. To facilitate effective collaboration, Creator gives organisations the power to assign roles to users and grant them access to information relevant to their jobs. Role-based access controls help ensure the application development process is both streamlined and secure.

Now that digital transformation is an ongoing imperative for most businesses, agility and collaboration are critical. Our research shows that 40% of organisations are involving their business teams in their digital transformation processes. This indicates a growing understanding that digital transformation affects the whole business—not just IT teams.

Considerations for using LCNC strategies

First, and potentially most important, your business must know what to look for in LCNC platforms. Besides the visual modelling and drag-and-drop interfaces that make these platforms easier to use, your LCNC platform should be secure. It should have the required security framework certifications in place and espouse data confidentiality measures. It’s important to avoid using software that potentially opens the door to hackers.

Your LCNC platform should be equipped for multi-device deployment (meaning that you only have to create an app once for it to be accessible on any device), and scalability so you can add more users to your application as your organisation grows.

Once you’ve identified the right platform, it’s time to start cross-organisational planning for the digital experiences your organisation will provide, and the ways low-code can be leveraged to create those experiences. Remember, one of the major strengths of a good low-code platform is that it allows for collaboration. People across the organisation need to be exposed to the platform to understand what it can do for them.

The time is now

There has never been a better time for your business to embrace an LCNC strategy, as the world is undergoing an unprecedented rate of digital transformation. It is essential, however, to combine the correct platform with a strategy that enables your entire company to realise the benefits of low-code development. This is the most effective way to put your business ahead of the competition.

Hyther Nizam is the President of MEA at Zoho Corp

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B2B e-Commerce: Fostering Sales, Distribution with Data Analytics

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Data Analytics

The informal sector is a major source of economic growth and productivity globally. According to both the World Bank and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) statistics, more than 2 billion people representing 61% of the world’s employed population work in the informal sector.

Of the number, 93% are reportedly in emerging and developing countries. Around 86% of employment in Sub-Saharan Africa is in the informal sector, while 80% of household retail distribution is said to be delivered via informal retailers.

Nigeria is reputed to have a huge informal sector that makes up 50% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and accounts for over 90% of employment. The informal retail market value is estimated at US$100bn out of which the food and consumer goods retail segment is worth over $40bn.

B2B e-commerce firm Alerzo’s CEO, Adewale Opaleye, described the informal sector as a major source of economic growth, productivity and competitiveness.

Despite the importance of the sector, informal retailers face complex challenges that impede their business growth, financial and income stability and service quality. The challenges include limited inventory due to high demands, meaning the market is underserved; and limited access to funding which sometimes leads them to stock low-quality products.

The retail market is also clustered; products are often overpriced because prices are largely unregulated. Distance to market especially those in hard-to-reach locations; opportunity costs; dangers of travel; inadequate logistics such as transport to move purchased goods also impact informal retailers adversely. The unstructured nature of most retail businesses is another setback.

The challenges faced by consumers at the base of the pyramid also represent another key issue in the retail market. Often, lack of access to reliable product information, quality products and services, and low purchasing power deny consumers access to everyday essentials such as food, medicine, hygiene and household products.

The fallout of the challenges in the retail market segment is that manufacturers and distributors are often unable to track data on informal retail sales, regulate quality or access BoP customers for research, marketing or the delivery of social mission goals.

As a strategic pivot for national GDP growth, reforming Nigeria’s informal trade is a key to unlocking socio-economic prosperity for the citizens, and improving the lives of the retailers themselves including their families, and the communities in which they operate.

Hence, initiatives that remove barriers in the Factory-to-Retail distribution chain for consumer goods companies are most welcome. The role of e-Commerce, in particular tech-driven B2B e-Commerce platforms, is pivotal in this regard.

“Our mission is to empower these informal retailers through our ecosystem of digital products, so they are equipped to run profitable and sustainable businesses. We strongly believe that technology has the potential to transform the way informal retailers conduct their businesses, by using it to facilitate – with just a click of a button – fast and easy access to a wide assortment of consumer products at zero delivery cost to the retailers,” Alerzo CEO, Opaleye said.

B2B e-Commerce platforms are beneficial to manufacturers and tier one distributors as enablers of data gathering and market intelligence. By utilising an array of digital technologies to gather market intelligence and analyse data, they arm goods producers with vital information on consumer behaviour to further help them in research and product development. Distributors also use such information to scale up operational efficiency.

The use of customer data significantly fosters sales growth and enhances customer relationships. According to Statista, a 2018 survey in the United States showed that 84% of industry-wide leading firms revealed that data analytics helped to bring greater accuracy to their decision-making. That is, data utilisation and related analytics methods were reported to deliver the most value to firms by reducing expenses and creating new avenues for innovation and disruption.

Data analytics enable manufacturers and distributors to strengthen their business operations. For example, in supply chain management and customer relationship, data analytics can support the personalisation and customisation of sales and customer services to build stronger and more personal relationships with customers.

By deploying data technologies and tools, B2B e-Commerce platforms like Alerzo collect data and market intelligence to identify what customers actually expect from companies and to predict their future demands. In other words, data analytics help to create business knowledge, that is, information and understanding related to business processes and the business environment. It can additionally reveal hidden behavioural patterns.

Furthermore, B2B e-Commerce can provide manufacturers access to real-time data and instant information, creating real-time knowledge of markets, and when properly implemented, can increase sales. McKinsey’s research suggests that a healthy data culture, that is, an organisational culture that accelerates the application of data analytics, is becoming increasingly important for leading and lagging companies. Also, the deployment of data helps to provide accurate and timely information within an organisation.

B2B e-Commerce platforms by utilising their digital solutions can make the collection of data more feasible and cost-effective for manufacturers and distributors. Data analytics as one of the emerging areas in the domain of B2B marketing can even support businesses with access to big data thereby increasing access to quantitative and qualitative information beyond just transaction data such as purchase quantities.

In a nutshell, B2B e-Commerce in so many ways offers solutions that are helping to address the needs in the Factory-to-Retail distribution value chain holistically – at the supply side (manufacturers, top-tier distributors and last-mile retailers), and the consumers (demand) side.

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