When historians write Africa’s digital story, Kenya will likely assume its place as the cradle of the internet revolution on the continent.
“With so much creativity and innovation going on, the nation is witnessing a revolution of a kind that is empowering ordinary citizens and reshaping their communities and lifestyles,” declared Bitange Ndemo, one-time permanent secretary for Kenya’s Ministry of Communications.
Now, five teenage girls from Kenya’s western city of Kisumu are the latest standouts in that revolution. Calling themselves “The Restorers,” they’ve made it to the final round of a competitive IT competition with an “app” that offers girls a defense against the practice known as female genital mutilation, or FGM.
The five high school students overcame great obstacles, including limited access to computers and internet connections. With their standout application, they are being flown to Silicon Valley to compete as finalists in the 2017 Technovation World Pitch Summit.
The Kenyan teens’ app uses a simple interface of five buttons—help, rescue, report, information on FGM, donate and feedback—providing an African solution to the persistence of circumcision, a dangerous cultural activity, said Purity Christine, one of the five high school girls explaining the app “iCut” in a YouTube video. Despite laws against the practice, “FGM is a big problem affecting girls worldwide and it is a problem we want to solve,” said Stacy Owino, another member of The Restorers.
“If you’re from West Pokot and 13 years old, you’d be preparing for circumcision,” says Purity. “After the procedure, you’d be crying, screaming with pain. But with iCut you can prevent this.”
Although the girls’ Luo community does not practice FGM, they have friends who have been cut.
All finalist teams will attend the World Pitch Summit hosted by Google, at Google HQ in Mountain View, Calif., Aug. 7-11, where they’ll have the chance to meet each other, pitch live and visit tech companies.
Prizes range from $2,500 for junior runners-up to $10,000 for grand prize winning teams.
Omoju Miller, a technologist, educator and startup adviser from Oakland, Calif., reflected on the Technovation experience. “I see people who will go in there with an idea, without a technical background, leave school, create a company,” said Miller. “And then they can employ women and minorities, thereby changing the perception of computer science.”