TechWomen, an initiative of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), aims to empower, connect, and support the next generation of women leaders in STEM. Twitter has been involved since the inception of the program six years ago, hosting women from 20 different countries.Through this program, women around the world spent six weeks in a mentorship and exchange program with their professional counterparts in the United States.
"TechWomen is a community of women professionals bonded by the desire to share our life experiences and the responsibility we all feel to pay it forward. We develop and discover life long relationships and connections, across the globe, that we didn't know existed. In my case, I met Amy, my long lost sister from Kenya, and last year, I found a daughter in Nargiza from Kyrgyzstan. As a member of TechWomen, we have family all over the world."
This year, a team of one impact coach, three cultural mentors, and 11 professional mentors supported the following 5 Emerging Leaders (ELs) at Twitter: Imen Ammar from Tunisia, Ala’a Agha Karss from Jordan, Sara Hassan from Pakistan, Razan Qraini from Palestinian Territories, and Meriem Touami from Algeria.
Weeks before they even arrived in San Francisco, ELs and their professional mentors worked together to develop individual projects. When they stepped into Twitter HQ on September 25, they hit the ground running and made big strides on projects ranging from investigating the Arabic user experience on Twitter to planning a coding bootcamp program. Not to be left out, Twitter employees from as far as London met with the ELs in order to support these amazing women.
"Through the TechWomen program, I spent four weeks at Twitter, working to define a strategy to adopt agile methodologies within Algerian teams. I was amazed by the Twitter spirit and mindset. Everyone is always trying to help everyone in every possible way. I was also introduced to their feedback culture, sharing constructive information on a daily basis. This really motivates me and gives me hope to create a similar environment in Algeria."
TechWomen is also focused on making an impact in each EL’s home country. This is why groups of women from each country also worked together to formulate an action plan -- a venture to address a socio-economic challenge in their community. On October 13, 2017, 21 groups presented their plan to compete for 5 seed grants. Our very own Ala’a Agha Karss was part of a winning team with their plan to increase university enrollment for orphans in Jordan.
In your action plan, you have to work for your home country, touch the pain of it, and try to find the cure. The atmosphere of the challenging spirit of all participants encourages you to implement your action plan, whether you win funding or not.
It would have been a shame to spend weeks in the Bay Area and miss out on local attractions. Our cultural mentors made sure that ELs were able to relax and enjoy their temporary home by organizing activities. Trips to the Exploratorium, Golden Gate Bridge, and a hackathon at Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley provided a welcome break to the nonstop work on individual projects and action plans.
I had the privilege of spending time with our ELs both at work and at my group’s events. I also had the opportunity to connect with mentors and ELs from other companies at the cultural events. It was a wonderful experience exploring the Bay Area with the ELs and learning about their lives, work, and passions.
The San Francisco portion of the program culminated in the Community Celebration. Twitter HQ transformed into a party worthy of 100 global women technologists, complete with an action plan gallery and a processional of 20 flags. We even had a surprise appearance from Twitter-hosted 2015 TechWomen Alumna Raghd Magdy from Egypt and her mentor, Jen Fraser.
“The impact of the program is recognized over the years following the exchange, where the women return to their home countries and inspire the next generation with investments in their communities, scaling the program’s influence.”
The weeks in San Francisco flew by in an instant, and off we went to the Washington D.C. delegation trip. ELs and mentors spent time at the Department of State and World Bank, and Dr. Gale Allen was inspirational as she spoke about her nearly 15 years at NASA. After a final night of reminiscing about the last six weeks together, we had to say our goodbyes -- the newest class of TechWomen Fellows was ready to go home and change the world, starting with their own communities.
Did someone say … cookies?