Inspiring female innovators breaking boundaries on International Women's Day

Inspiring innovators, left - right: Aline, Aleli, Tran, Esther

(clockwise, from top left)

  • Dr Aline Okello, Mozambique. Inventor of Rainwater Harvesting app and post-Doctoral researcher in rainwater harvesting at the University of Zululand, South Africa.
  • Dr Aleli Osorio, Chile. Co-founder of SGPUC (Urban Road Management System) and Assistant Professor, Universidad Técnica Federico Santa María.
  • Esther Gacicio, Kenya. Co-founder of eLearning Solutions and Senior Assistant Director at Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development.
  • Dr Tran Thi Ngoc Dung, Vietnam. Head of Department, Institute of Environmental Technology, Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology.

 

What is your innovation and what problem inspired you to create it?

Aline - My innovation and research focus on rainwater harvesting as a means to cope with drought and water scarcity, which affects millions of people worldwide, particularly in Africa.

Aline with children in front of a rainwater harvester

Aleli - My innovation helps road agencies better maintain streets, at lower cost. SGPUC is an urban road management system that comprises software tools and support services for road maintenance personnel. I was inspired by the often poor quality of roads in Chile, which results in high maintenance costs and many accidents.

Esther - eLearning Solutions is a National Industrial Training Authority (Nita) accredited eLearning provider.

Over 75% of Kenyan young people graduate from high school without opportunities to progress to university or other forms of tertiary training. eLearning Solutions aims to solve the challenges of unemployment and uncertainty by providing affordable on-demand courses, accessible anywhere, anytime, for young people to gain the skills they need to progress onto work, tertiary education or entrepreneurship.

Tran - My innovation is the patented Nanosilver water filtration device. In Vietnam, frequent typhoons cause a lot of flooding, which disrupts water supplies. We invented this device to give people access to clean water. Previously, our Nanosilver solution spray and Nanosilver facemasks helped people avoid breathing in harmful microorganisms during the 2008 H5NI avian influenza outbreak.

(Tran received the UNESCO-L'Oreal Women in Science Award for her innovation in 2017).

 

What impact did the Africa Prize or Leaders in Innovation Fellowships training have on your innovation?

Aleli with her LIF certificate at the end of trainingAline - The Africa Prize training was crucial for visibility and raising awareness of my project. I established many key connections, and expanded the scope of my research. I had the opportunity to join the UNLEASH Lab 2017 afterwards, and contribute towards the development of solutions for Sustainable Development Goal 6 – clean water and sanitation for all.

Aleli - Before LIF I was involved in different research projects trying to develop innovative technology solutions to problems in society, but focusing only on the scientific perspective. LIF introduced me to the world of business and entrepreneurship for technology innovation.

I found that with these two perspectives (science and business) I would have more chance to impact society with the results of my research.

Esther - The Africa Prize training helped us to repurpose our business and gave us the skills we need to scale-up. It provided us with a network of potential partners as well opening a space for critical thinking and decision making in business. 

Tran - LIF gave me more motivation and belief in my innovation to help me continue the journey and commercialise my product. I learned a lot from the experiences of professionals and other practitioners.

 

What has been the most challenging aspect of your career?

Aline - I have faced several challenges because of being a woman. I had to forego opportunities to further my career, network and experiences, because I have three small children and my priority (and societal expectation) was to take care of them. Many conferences and training opportunities require travel, and without a strong support system it was difficult for me to attend. 

Using the eLearning Solution platform

Still, I have managed to join a few key conferences and workshops, with the help of family caring for my children. For men, this is not the case, as most African societies expect women to bear the responsibility of primary care for children.

Esther - I have always faced difficulties when I try to introduce new ideas that disrupt the norm. Because of my nature of not doing things the expected way, I have had a run-in with some of my managers and once had to resign due to differences with my immediate boss.

 

Name one woman who inspires you, and why

Aline - Michelle Obama is one of the women that inspire me. She managed to raise a family and progress in her career, while supporting her husband’s ambitions. She now inspires millions of women and girls all over the world to reach their dreams and potential. She came from humble beginnings, but made it to one of the most powerful positions in the world, by working hard, being honest and diligent, and pursuing her dreams.

Tran - The woman who has inspired me most is Professor Nguyen Thi Hoe, President and founder of Kova Paint Group in Vietnam. She came from a poor family and has overcome many obstacles. Through her effort and determination, she managed to build up the Kova Paint Group, which now sells paint and coating across Southeast Asia.

 

What tips for success would you give other women in your field of work?

Tran at an exhibition of her productsAline - I would encourage other women in my field to have perseverance, set long-term goals, and keep taking steps towards these. It is important to surround yourself with supportive, positive people and inspiring mentors. We have to break the stereotypes of our society, and promote equal opportunities for men and women.

Esther - Do not fear to venture into areas that seem reserved for men. As women, you can do equally well (if not better!). All you need to have is a clear vision and purpose, then prepare and plan well.

Aleli - The best advice I think for scientists (both women or men), is to think and see outside of the box.

Tran - You should dare to think, dare to try and dare to accept when something is wrong, and try to fix it.