#13: Web Summit 2023: Interview with Anie Akpe, Founder of African Women In Tech

December 11, 2023 / 6 min. read

Grilled by TechBBQ #13

Exclusive interview with Anie Akpe,
Founder of African Women in Tech

Web Summit connects people & ideas that change the world.

I attended Web Summit, one of the world’s largest tech conferences, representing TechBBQ and Danish media.

Thanks to its size and profile, Web Summit attracts some of the biggest names in the technology sphere. I had the opportunity to interview some of these speakers, who kindly took time from their busy schedules to share insights from their lives and experiences.

In 2023, November 13-16, the conference had over 70,000 attendees from 153 countries.

"GRILLED by TechBBQ" aims to inspire and connect Nordic audiences with voices from the global tech scene.

Anie Akpe on stage to talk about "African Women in Tech, which she founded in 2007. Photo: Web Summit / PR

Exclusive interview with Anie Akpe:

»We have trained 8.000 girls and young women directly, and we currently have 25.000 women within our communities in the African region, including Uganda, Nigeria, Mozambique, Kenya, and Ghana.«

Interview with Anie Akpe:

Keyvan Thomsen Bamdej:
»Thank you for taking time. How are you?«

Anie Akpe:
»I'm good, thank you, ready for another Web Summit.«

Keyvan:
»Can you introduce yourself, please?«

Anie:
»Well, I'm Anie Akpe. I started "African Women In Technology" because I work in the banking sector in the U.S., and I live in Brooklyn, New York City. However, I was originally born and raised in Nigeria.«

Keyvan:
»How did it all start?«

Anie:
»15 years ago, in 2007, the CEO of a company I was working at promoted me and said: "You can't have more people on your team, but you can have all the technology you need to succeed." So, I said: "Okay!" and thought, Let me go and create an RFP (Request For Proposal, a business document that announces a project, describes it, and solicits bids from qualified contractors to complete it) and see which company I can work with to see one that would give us the convenience of not having the people but also be able to create efficiency at the same time.«

Keyvan:
»How did that work for you?«

Anie:
»I went back to the CEO who promoted me and asked if there was a budget for this? He said, "No, not really, so don't go crazy".«

Keyvan:
»So, you were very bootstrapped in a sense?«

Anie:
»Pretty much! So, I did a lot of research and found all the solutions regarding what could be customer-facing and what we could work with in the back-end. You know, a solution that could send out notifications to our customers and be able to communicate as if we, the team behind, were the ones communicating.«

Anie Akpe talking about how she is genuinely interested in growing the "African Women in Tech" community across the African continent. Photo: Web Summit / PR

Keyvan:
»That sounds smart. How did it go?«

Anie:
»Well, I found a solution I was happy with - and implemented it. Fast forward, I managed to grow the company portfolio from 300 million to 1,4 billion in no time.«

Keyvan:
»What did that teach you?«

Anie:
»Well, I proved to myself that I understood the business aspect of the work itself. Finding the relevant solution to the problem and helping create that efficiency was key. So, with that experience and knowledge, in mind, I asked myself, what would I do next? Am I going to make an impact, or will I sit still?«

Keyvan:
»Interesting dilemma! What did you decide?«

Anie:
»Well, in 2010, I first participated in many diaspora community events in New York City, where I live. I would go to events like "Face2Face Africa" and many others. People would then approach me and start talking about business just because I was in the banking industry.«

Keyvan:
»Did they know you?«

Anie:
»They knew I was in banking, so they didn't know me personally. But I knew everything about mortgage, origination, sales, etc. And since my parents were always entrepreneurs, I was always familiar with all the banking products. Through all of these meetings with the diaspora community, I thought: "How about I teach other African women how tech can support them in their business careers? Let me create the first and only 'African Women in Tech" initiative!«

Keyvan:
»Why is the initiative exclusively for African women - and not inclusive to men too?«

Anie:
»Well, as I frequented events in New York and Africa, particularly Nigeria, from 2007 - 2010 as a part of my mental preparation to launch my own initiative, I noticed that there were mostly men at the events, while panels were exclusively men-infused. That's why I decided to balance it all out by helping and advocating for African women in tech.«

Keyvan:
»You live in the U.S. Why not just stay in New York City and help women in tech in that region?«

Anie:
»Well, even though there is still a lot of work to be done to push for more women in tech in the U.S., I felt that I could create a bigger impact on the African continent because women in that region have far less access to resources and people, and less entrepreneurial programs and initiatives.«

Anie Akpe at Web Summit to talk about "African Women in Tech" on Stage 4, Pavilion 1 at the "Creatiff" stage. Photo: Web Summit / PR

Keyvan:
»Very clever. What is it exactly that your organization does, then?«

Anie:
»We educate young women and girls throughout the African continent.«

Keyvan:
»Which countries specifically?«

Anie:
»Uganda, Nigeria, Mozambique, Kenya, and Ghana.«

Keyvan:
»How does it work exactly?«

Anie:
»We typically spend three weeks on the continent, physically - not digitally! In two of the weeks, we are doing an entrepreneurship series. Here, we train girls and young women in business plans, fundraising, evaluating their market potential, reviewing their technology platforms, upskilling their pitching, assessing the right staffing, how to better position yourself, design thinking, etc. For us, the focus is on educating the community.«

Keyvan:
»So, in a way, you are building a community for African girls and young women?«

Anie:
»Yes, and the community aspect is very vital because we know that by educating the community, they will also turn around and build up other girls within their specific communities. We do not only focus on women in the bigger cities, but we also do field research and source women from the rural areas to join.«

Keyvan:
»That's a constructive, positive spiral.«

Anie:
»Yes, we'd like to bring in subject matter experts within technology, AI, VR, Metaverse, etc., as mentors to ensure we sustain a constructive mindset, keep growing the community, and substantially impact our society in tech and more broadly. We've deliberately chosen to have 20-30 % of our speakers from outside of the continent, while 70-80 % of the speakers are African women.«

Keyvan:
»Can you say a few things about Africa as an entrepreneurial hub?«

Anie:
»Yes. Africa has the youngest population of entrepreneurs and young people in general. So, we must let go of our parents' mindset and keep developing ourselves and our communities within tech and startups so that the new generation can build on top of this. There are no legacy systems, so we are building what's to come! We need to build it in a way, so it allows the community to progress forward in the future.«

Anie Akpe, Founder of African Women in Tech, on stage as a host at Web Summit, to talk about her community work on the African continent.

Keyvan:
»Who do you collaborate with?«

Anie:
»We work with universities, co-working spaces, organisations, tech partners, African Business Angel Network and other investors, and individuals who want to create an impact within that community.«

Keyvan:
»How many have you helped so far?«

Anie:
»We have trained 8.000 girls and young women directly, and we currently have 25.000 women within our communities in the African region.«

Keyvan:
»Who helped you get this far? Other women?«

Anie:
»Actually, not. It's never been other women. It might be a paradox, but it's always been men who have asked me what I needed to grow the community. They've said that I can't force women into tech, but with the community, I might be able to inspire more and more women to choose that path, so they've supported me in building it.«

Keyvan:
»Why have they helped you, you think?«

Anie:
»Because my intentions have been genuine from the start. I like to help other African women in tech succeed in business! I wanted to create a safe space for women to share challenges, ask questions openly, and not feel intimated or shy because of some unnecessary reason.«

Keyvan:
»Any negative voices in all of this?«

Anie:
»Well, yes, some think we are turning women into feminists, but the reality is that it's just a safe environment for women in tech to meet and share knowledge, contacts, ups, and downs, and generally speaking, helping each other in any way.«

Keyvan:
»Can you mention any success stories spinning out from the community?«

Anie:
»Yes! Forbes did an article with Muthoni Wanyoike and Jade Abbott, two women surging from the African tech ecosystem who are at the forefront of Africa's growing AI ecosystem. They are some of the faces behind our community who have taken their venture very far. You can read about them HERE.

Web Summit 2023:

Anie Akpe was on the Creatiff stage with opening remarks.

About African Women in Tech:

African Women in Tech is embarking on an ambitious journey with their 2024 programs, aiming to harness the power of technology to empower African women. Their primary goal is to raise USD 1 million, enabling the organisation to launch and sustain the transformative programs of training 10.000 girls throughout Africa.

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