PROFILE: Janet Leparteleg, opening up the tech space for girls in Samburu


Janet Leparteleg. PHOTO | COURTESY
Janet Leparteleg. PHOTO | COURTESY

Janet Leparteleg is the brains behind Butterfly Techies, a community-based organization in Samburu which trains girls to take up Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) related subjects and eventually careers.

Janet is among 100 emerging leaders recognized four years ago for her contributions in mentoring young girls from marginalized communities to join the STEM field.

She is also a 2018 Mandela Washington Fellow for Young African Leaders (YALI) and a TechWomen Fellow.

Tech Women is an exchange program initiated by the U.S Department of State’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs and administered by the Institute of International Education (IIE).

Janet spoke to Citizen Digital about Butterfly Techies which is currently training 12 students in Samburu with digital literacy skills:

Participants of the Loosuk digital literacy, online safety and entrepreneurship training.
Participants of the Loosuk digital literacy, online safety and entrepreneurship training, an initiative of Butterfly Techies. PHOTO | COURTESY

 

Tell us a little bit about yourself?

I am a proud woman in tech with over six years of work experience in difference roles, both in the public and private sector in Kenya.

I have a degree in Bachelor of Business Information Technology from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) and a a Master of Science in Cyber Security from Lancaster University in the UK, courtesy of the Chevening Scholarship program by the UK government.

I am also a certified incident handler, a mentor and a mother of two awesome babies.

Did you always know that you wanted to work in the tech industry? What was that journey like for you through school and into your first job after university?

Growing up, my dream career was dentistry; cosmetic dentistry to be exact but this didn’t work out as planned. However, I always had an interest in tech: I liked how it was setting the pace for all other sectors.

We had computer lessons in high school which came at an extra cost but I did not want to burden my parents with this so my first interaction with a computer was after high school when my sister — who was on scholarship in Russia — came home with a laptop.

I was completely fascinated and I knew a tech course would be ideal in as much as all the advice I was getting then was to pursue teaching or nursing. I guess those were the ‘ideal female courses.’

I however decided to do a degree in BBIT which I enjoyed since it was a good blend. We were only a handful of girls in class and this made me wonder why. This trend continued into work which is how Butterfly Techies came to be: I wanted to make a small contribution to changing this narrative.

Why did you choose Samburu?

Participants of the Loosuk digital literacy, online safety and entrepreneurship training.
Participants of the Loosuk digital literacy, online safety and entrepreneurship training. PHOTO | COURTESY

 

Seeing the small number of women taking up STEM courses and eventually careers bothered me. The scenario is worse in marginalized communities such as Samburu where I come from. The girls from this region are already disadvantaged due to harmful cultural practices, so my thought was to create an avenue to expose the girls in high school to STEM concepts and get them interested in STEM subjects and eventually careers. You cannot be what you cannot see, so being a positive role model backed with the skills and the knowledge I could transfer is all I needed to start.

What does this initiative mean for you and the young girls in Samburu and other counties?

This has been a desire in my heart for over 2 years now, since I always wondered what happens to the girls once they leave high school. Our main area of focus was school outreach programs. I always thought of ways to advance the skills they learnt. The pandemic accelerated our plans since the schools were closed for the longest time and there was a real need to have the space so that the community can have access to computers and internet especially with the demand of online studies. I was in the UK in 2019 and this gave me time to plan how to execute the project once I returned home, since I felt this was the right time to expand our scope.

2020 had its challenges with the onset of the pandemic especially for young girls. How do you see your program contributing to alleviation of education for girls whose lives have been disrupted?

I have witnessed first-hand the struggles that girls have faced in accessing higher education The beauty with tech is that in most cases the skill is what matters and with hands-on skills, girls are able to take up individual projects (self-employed) or acquire employable skills that will enable them to be economically empowered. GIG economy is one of the key areas we are focusing on and the skills for future work. We are also advocating for technology inclusion.

(A GIG economy is one that is based on flexible, temporary, or freelance jobs, often involving connecting with clients or customers through an online platform.)

What do you intend to achieve with the program within the next 5-10 years?

Change the tech narrative in Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASAL) counties in Kenya. These communities have been marginalized since time in memorial and I believe tech is the only equalizer: the only tool that can be used to change the narrative in these regions. Youth — especially women and girls — need to be upskilled to ensure they are ready for the changing job market. There is also need to create awareness on the GIG economy and the economic empowerment that comes with that.

What is your mantra? What makes you excited to get up every morning?

My mantra is working smart not hard. What excites me is seeing that I can make a positive contribution to the lives of those around me. To whom much is given, much is required. I have benefitted a lot from exchange programs both from the U.S Embassy (Tech Women and MWF) and British Council (Chevening) and paying forward has been my goal so as to impact my community.

What would you say are your greatest achievements both personal and professional?

My greatest achievement is being able to attain a Master of Science degree in cyber security — a field that I am passionate about — from a university in the UK courtesy of the Chevening scholarship which is highly competitive. Secondly, the fact I am able to raise my children, advance my studies and career as well as manage a nonprofit all at the same time. This has been a true blessing and I am grateful for my support system.

What do you see as the general role of STEM for young women in Kenya?

Diversity in STEM can not be over emphasized: a diverse workforce is more likely to outperform a more homogenous team as proved by research since diversity brings in new ideas, experiences, and perspectives. Young women and girls should be encouraged to take up some of these ‘male dominated’ spaces since they have a lot to contribute.

Your advice to those seeking to emulate your journey?

Believe in your purpose and staying true to your calling. Starting is never easy and working with the community has its own share of challenges but the trick is to never give up: keep going. The power of networks and collaborations should also not be undermined.

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