Global tech firm Microsoft has appointed Kenya’s Mary Mwende as a special advisor on use of ICT to bridge skills gaps among the youth.
Ms Mwende, a tech enthusiast, was in September selected as a Microsoft YouthSpark advisor to guide the software giant to roll out programmes to enhance young peoples’ access to IT and develop their entrepreneurship skills.
The 23-year-old Business Administration and Finance degree holder from the American University in Dubai (AUD) was the only Kenyan who made the list of 21 YouthSpark advisors.
The programme, launched in September 2012, is the brainchild of Microsoft Corporation to empower the youth by providing technology, skills and training to help them access greater opportunities in education, employment, and entrepreneurship.
Its goal is to create opportunities for 300 million young people around the world over three years.
Ms Mwende is passionate about technology, women health and education, governance and peer mentorship. She has strutted across numerous global forums as a speaker and panelist and has held various leadership positions.
“Because of your experience as a youth who has benefited from some of the opportunities, your voice would be very important in this conversation as we continue to grow and scale this effort and help close the ‘opportunity divide’ among young people around the world,” reads her appointment letter signed by Akhtar Badshah, senior director of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Microsoft.
Ms Mwende’s nomination makes her the fourth Kenyan techie to be awarded a global leadership role this year.
In February Nivi Mukherjee, founder of educational app eLimu, and Simeon Oriko, co-founder of tech platform Jamlab, were named pioneer fellows of the African Diaspora Fellowship programme.
Dorcas Muthoni Gachari, a software developer, was in March honoured by the World Economic Forum (WEF) as a Young Global Leader.
These triumphs highlight Kenya’s growing stature as Africa’s tech hub.
Her streak of successes started with her days at Starehe Girls’ Centre where she sat for KCSE in 2009 and bagged the Clinton Scholarship to proceed to AUD for further studies.
Ms Mwende, who graduated in May, said she was excited to be part of the Microsoft YouthSpark initiative and plans to design projects that will help impart college graduates with IT skills to boost their employability and sharpen their entrepreneurial skills.
“I plan to research as much as I can so that I can give informed advice for any decisions and projects implemented pertaining to the youth,” said in an interview with the Business Daily.
Microsoft said that it had turned to youth advisors to remain well informed about the evolution of issues facing young people around the world and get their input on current and evolving trends on issues such as youth, skills and employability.
The Redmond-based multinational will involve young experts in designing, developing and executing projects that infuse science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills in its projects around the world.
Despite her humble background, Ms Mwende grew up in a slum in Mombasa, she has a knack for catching the attention of bigwigs and is a fluent public speaker.
She was first spotted by Linda Lockhart of the Global Give Back Circle (GGBC) — an innovative education and empowerment programme for disadvantaged girls in Kenya — who was visiting Starehe Girls Centre in 2009.
Ms Lockhart, the founder of the YouthSpark Advisors programme, took Ms Mwende and two of her fellow students to make a presentation at the 2009 Clinton Global Imitative meeting in New York. It was after performing a choral poem on the plight of disadvantaged girls in the developing world that doors started opening for Ms Mwende.
She was awarded a full scholarship to AUD as a Clinton scholar, and many opportunities have been knocking at her door since then.
“Mary has experienced what empowerment feels like when youth are given access to resources that help them prosper in life and navigate their way in the commercial community,” Ms Lockhart said.
She made it onto the Dean’s List, receiving three distinguished honours including The Student Leadership Award.
In November 2011, Ms Mwende was chosen to facilitate a knowledge transfer programme in Haiti.
Come September the following year, Ms Mwende shared the stage with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer as a panelist and speaker at the launch of the YouthSpark programme.
In the same month, she was also invited to speak at the 2012 Social Good Summit hosted by social-media blog Mashable in New York.
Ms Mwende serves as contributing editor and author of Hey Sister, Get Clued-Up; a peer-to-peer portal for young women to share experiences and arm them with information on human rights, health, financial empowerment and social media intelligence.
“It leverages on technology as an information bridge that is critical to successfully transitioning women out of poverty and into prosperity,” she said.
In her senior year at university, Ms Mwende won the election for president of the student body at AUD, becoming the first African woman to hold the position.
100 young leaders
As AUD president, she met former US President Bill Clinton in April this year and recited a solo verse titled Hope and Thank You to thank him for helping her access higher education.
She was in May selected as one of the 100 young leaders around the world to attend the Women Deliver conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to rally governments to improve access to maternal health.
Ms Mwende was among 43 leaders chosen to attend the Women in Public Service Institute at Bryn Mawr College in July, where she gained insight into challenges and opportunities for women leaders in post-conflict countries.
She lives in Dubai and works with the External Relations department at AUD. Ms Mwende is also the partnership manager for the Global Give Back Circle. She plans to pursue a master’s degree in public policy in the US.