“The Internet needs to be treated as an ‘infrastructure’. It’s as core, as critical as electricity, water or roads in terms of growing the economy.” Ory Okolloh, Google’s policy adviser for Africa
When I saw a copy of the latest edition of Forbes Africa magazine, it was the heading “Africa’s Top 20 Women” which caught my eye.
Many of them we have heard a lot about already but an in depth article on one of them made interesting reading.
It was on Kenyan Ory Okolloh quoted above, whose insights highlight the important role which the Internet can play in shaping women’s businesses or their careers.
On a personal level, she started blogging while studying at Harvard Law School and this formed the foundation for other initiatives which she has been recognised for.
According to the article, one was a parliamentary watchdog website called Mzalendo (Swahili for patriot), whose aim was to increase the Kenyan government’s accountability by publishing official documents, recording bills and speeches.
Another website she created a year later was called Ushahidi (Swahili for witness) and this collected eyewitness accounts of violence following the disputed presidential elections.
It is reported that the software created for that site has been used to track violence and monitor elections in four other countries.
She is quoted as saying that only 10 percent of Africa is online and this makes it a development issue, given the economic benefits that can come from Internet connectivity.
This is where she is making a difference at a professional level, as Policy Adviser for Google, based in Johannesburg.
She travels all over Africa, lobbying governments and the private sector to improve Internet access for everyone.
Her own Internet presence is a lesson on how women can make it work for their businesses or careers.
She has about 33 000 followers on Twitter and a blog www.kenyanpundit.com.
This made me realise how much more we can be doing with our Internet connections in addition to the popular Facebook or LinkedIn.
Blogging is one of them. A blog is a website where the author writes on a topic of their choice and readers can immediately post their comments.
Some women maintain blogs to support another ventures such as that of South African, Milisuthando Bongela who co-owns a boutique, Mememe.
She has a popular blog www.missmillib.blogspot.com.
Others have been able to generate income by placing advertisements on their blogs but this is not easy.
The blog has to be popular enough to attract visitors on a daily basis because this is the only way to attract advertisers.
Linda Ikeji, also featured in Forbes Africa is said to be one of the most popular bloggers in Nigeria with her blog www.lindaikeji.blosgpot.com.
She writes about fashion, entertainment, current affairs and gossip.
She denied reports she is a millionaire but admitted she is “doing very well”.
I took a quick tour on her blog; there are a lot of corporate advertisements, its well laid out and easy to read.
Her blog averages about 150 000 hits a day.
But as mentioned before it takes hard work to build a reputation.
Ikeji mentions that she blogged for five years before she started making any real money from it.
Locally there is a lot we can learn about this trend.
Private sector companies, particularly those in communications could do more with regard to training women on how to use the Internet and its many tools.
It needs to start with the basics such as how to use email, Internet banking and browsing websites.
This can then move on to blogging and tweeting.
All this will work if more women have access to the Internet, not just on their cellphones but on laptops and desktop computers at work, home and in their businesses.
This is the opportune time for women to innovate online in our part of the world and those who do will have first mover advantage.
Okolloh emphasises the benefits of Internet for women, when she says: “The Internet is a key enabler for women because it gives them mobility, flexibility and connectivity wherever they are.
“It helps them juggle multiple roles, work from home and be more efficient.”