Regina Mbodj Brown: Director of the CTIC start-up incubator, Senegal
Regina has high hopes of tech start-ups and their ability to drive the economy, improve health care, and combat poverty. For years she worked as a programmer all over Africa, and today heads the CTIC IT incubator and accelerator in Senegal.
Senegal was on school holiday when Regina sat down in front of a CRT monitor for the very first time. The secondary school student had registered for a programming course at a small computer school during the break. The year was 1995 and Senegal’s IT sector was still in its infancy. Microsoft Windows was completely unknown. Small, white numbers flickered over the otherwise black screen. Regina had a lot to learn before the bulky machine would respond to her commands. Still, in that moment she knew she no longer wanted to be a veterinarian.
Regina attended university and majored in software engineering. She was one of the few female students in the programme, and also one of the best. She never felt at a disadvantage. If anything, being a woman raised her profile. “I never felt like I was doing a man’s job.”
She is sympathetic to the many young women who shy away from a career in tech, but sees no reason for hesitation: “In some roles you only see men, which could seem discouraging. But I am doing it too, and I’m no smarter than anyone else!”
After completing her degree, Regina travelled extensively in Africa, the USA and Europe working as an IT manager for an oil company. Today she heads up CTIC, a Senegalese IT incubator and accelerator, and has helped many other African incubators get off the ground as well. She finds her work inspiring: “I am always impressed by how often entrepreneurs fail and still refuse to give up. Sometimes even I have lost faith in their project, but they keep going until they have made it work. And I feel a great sense of pride when I see a start-up become a big player a few years down the road, with dozens of employees and millions in turnover.”
“A woman can do any job a man can do.”
For Regina, digitalisation represents progress and opportunity. Entrepreneurs have to solve problems, she insists, and not just keep writing new software for the same old purpose. “A digital entrepreneur has to create change – in agriculture, in fishing, in tourism. We have to ask how IT can help drive the economy, improve health care, and combat poverty.”
These days just under 40 percent of the entrepreneurs at the CTIC are female, in part because the incubator addresses women directly. “We need more women in leading roles. If you want to achieve something as a woman, you have to go out and grab it with both hands. We have got to get out there and show you what we can do.”
This article has originally been published as part of the publication “Women in Tech: Inspiration, no fairytales” by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). You can download the publication or order a print edition of the book on the BMZ’s website.