This year, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs sponsored one-hundred and six women leaders in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields from Africa, the Middle East, and South and Central Asia through the 2019 TechWomen exchange program. Through mentorships with U.S. women leaders in STEM fields, the emerging leaders spent five weeks collaborating with 40 U.S. private sector companies in the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley before convening in Washington, D.C. the week of November 1.
The program began in San Francisco with the 2019 Cultural Kickoff event hosted by Airbnb. At the event the women introduced their countries to the group by showcasing their culture through performing arts, presentations, and videos. The participants also learned about U.S. tradition by participating in the first-ever TechWomen Family Dinner series. Mentors throughout the Bay Area opened their homes to the group for dinner, allowing them to experience life with American families. They cooked food from the United States and all over the world, shared cultures, and spent quality time together.
An important element of the program was 2019 Volunteer Day, where the women volunteered at one of five non-profits and initiatives throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. They were excited to make a difference in the local community by gardening, working with senior citizens, and installing solar panels in underserved neighborhoods.
In addition to their community work, a major component of the program is for the emerging leaders to develop action plans to address socioeconomic issues in their home countries. They worked closely with an American advisor, also known as an impact coach, to develop ideas, plans, and to pitch their projects with the goal of receiving seed funding to aid in implementation. A large audience of supporters gathered at Netflix headquarters to hear the women present their pitches. Teams from Jordan, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan and Zimbabwe were pronounced winners of seed funding for their projects, ranging from strengthening mental health systems in Jordan to creating green kitchens with the use of clean cook-stoves and green-friendly fuel in Nigeria.
The program closed on November 1 in Washington, D.C. with events at the U.S. Department of State, including a women’s empowerment panel and reception.