A new international exchange program that aims to give women in the Middle East and North Africa an upper hand in technology recently graduated its first class. TechWomen is a U.S. Department of State initiative that pairs women from Muslim-majority countries and territories with female mentors from leading U.S. tech companies. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke to the class of 37 graduates:
"We’re excited about the role of technology, and we want to help facilitate your use of it. We are trying to use technology to open up doors that are otherwise closed."
Women from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, the West Bank and Gaza, who have two to five years experience in the field of technology, were paired with their American counterparts who work for established tech firms in the San Francisco Bay area.
TechWomen answers President Barack Obama's call for more collaborative efforts between the U.S. and the Middle East that harness the power of global business, technology, and education. Secretary Clinton first announced the program on April 28th, 2010 during the Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship. Since then, said Secretary Clinton, the importance of technological access in the Middle East has become even more clear:
"What we believe is that technology can be a great facilitator. It can also be used by governments and others to prevent people from being able to communicate. So we have to stay a step ahead so that people are never deprived of their opportunity, as we saw how important that was in both Tunisia and Egypt over the last months."
During her speech, Secretary Clinton announced a new sister initiative called TechGirls. The program will bring teenage girls from the Middle East and North Africa for an intensive month of educational activities in the United States:
"Since it seems like technology is evolving so fast, we actually think having this opportunity for young women is as important as having it for more mature women, because I think there’s a creativity that can be generated by doing that."
Applications for the 2012 program will be accepted this fall. For more information, log on to www.techwomen.org