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Global Goalscast – "They Are the Code: Girls in Tech Build a New World"

The story of a Senegalese entrepreneur is an example of how access to education and technology can provide a direct route out of poverty to self-sufficiency and prosperity, according to the latest episode of the Global Goalscast.

Senegalese activist and businesswoman Mariéme Jamme is a World Economic Forum young global leader, and a living example of how technology can help elevate young women out of dire situations. Jamme won a Gates Foundation award for her work creating "I Am the Code," a movement that hopes to empower 1 million young women and girls to become coders by 2030. But her path to those exceptional heights was anything but smooth. Her formal education didn't begin until midway through her teens.

Listen to this episode on Stitcher

Raped by a teacher at the age of 11 years old, Jamme was trafficked from her native Senegal to France at age 13 and sold into prostitution. Two years later, French police picked her off the streets. "My life started really when I was 15 years old," she said. "Fifteen years of my life was taken away from me. It was a very difficult upbringing."

She ended up in the U.K., where she began her education. "I was starting my alphabet when I was 16."

Jamme came to prominence, and found activism, when she wrote an an open and critical blog to Live Aid organizer Bob Geldof and U2 frontman Bono criticizing the way Africa was being portrayed in materials related to the famous concert's 25th anniversary. That led to her being tapped for advice on how to represent African women and girls in the media and bring balance to coverage of the continent. Her activism career was off and running.

She saw girls like herself in those Live Aid ads and wondered why the organizers never bothered to speak to anyone that they were using as imagery. The blog was picked up by the media, which led to Mariéme becoming a spokesperson for young women in developing countries.

Mariéme wanted to be more than just a voice and an adviser.  She wanted to give more women and girls the ability to speak for themselves. Her movement, "I Am the Code," brings girls together to learn life skills and equip them with the technology to do something about it.

"I wanted to use a skill I actually have and not only emphasize with young girls and women, but also teach them the skills I know, which I know that will be sustainable, will be impactful. And then I just started 'I Am the Code' and I gave myself a goal to get 1 million women and girls coding by 2030."

The movement combines hackathons, which draw in private sector individuals, with an online content curriculum and digital club, and it makes available a computer kit based on the open-source Raspberry Pi. The organization also teaches the girls life skills to help them stay healthy.

Jamme now rolls out that program to girls in slums and refugee camps in Africa, and gives her a seat at a table she couldn't have dreamed of growing up. "I can sit down at the United Nations at 44 years old, but if you asked me 1990s that I'll do that, that's not possible. I was a street kid, I was on the street eating one meal a day and not having clothes. My life was in the hands of NGOs and Oxfam and all these 'SOS villages.'"

Jamme continues to advocate for Africa to be portrayed, and thanks to her efforts and those of others like her, there are genuine stories they can point to as signs of progress.

"In 1984, when Bob Geldof went on stage to scream to the world to help Ethiopia, that Ethiopia was dying with famine, that was good because that was the time that he was educating the westerners to help the Horn of Africa and how to help Ethiopia," says Jamme. "But today, Ethiopia in 2018, Ethiopia has — 64 percent of the parliament in Ethiopia is women. They're reducing poverty."


Is it possible to change the world? Can we still make the planet a better place for us all to live? UN special adviser Claudia Romo Edelman and Hub Culture executive editor Edie Lush -- hosts of the Global Goalscast -- believe the answer is a resounding 'yes,' and that everyone can play a part. Subscribe to the podcast here.