In 2021, a plethora of Nigerian startups secured funding worth $1.37 billion.

You know what’s interesting?

Aside from the heavy-weight startups like Flutterwave, Opay, Andela, a handful of female-led startups like Reelfruit, Okra, Edukoya, Shuttlers, Bankly, and a host of others got a good slice of those funding.

E shock you?

However, that would not have been possible without their background in STEM.

Importance of STEM

STEM is an acronym that stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. STEM fields are important for sustainable growth and development. The importance of STEM cannot be overemphasised as its role in technological advancement is becoming increasingly significant now and in the future. A peek at the Fortune 500 companies, which mostly comprise tech and tech-dependent companies, tells you that tech is the new gold.

Tech startups, powered by knowledge of STEM, are altering people’s lives and disrupting the status quo at a rate faster than ever before. More importantly, they are proffering real-world solutions to real-world problems.

In the heat of the pandemic, Neto Ikpeme, CEO and Founder of Wella Health, initiated a solution that provides a nearly real-time view of COVID-19 case management resource availability and utilisation. Olamide Orekunrin founded ‘Flying Doctors Nigeria’ after losing her sister, who could not be quickly airlifted from the country for prompt medical attention abroad. Temie Giwa-Tubosun founded  ‘LifeBank’ to institutionalise blood donation in Nigeria after delivering a premature baby in the United States. Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola initiated ‘WeCyclers’ to recycle the heaps of wastes on the streets of Lagos. Odunayo Eweniyi co-founded PiggyVest to help people to save more. The list is inexhaustible.

On the economic front, the solutions afforded by STEM fields provide jobs to the teeming unemployed populace, improve living standards, alleviate poverty, and increase the country’s Gross Domestic Products (GDP).

In healthcare, advances in STEM have facilitated breakthroughs that have led to the development of vaccines and treatments of sicknesses and diseases that were once thought to be deadly, thereby relieving the global death toll, especially in developing countries. Telemedicine, remote patient monitoring, robotic surgery, telehealth, nanomedicine, smarter pacemakers etc., are some of the more recent technological developments in medicine.

Talk of engineering; it only gets better. STEM is the foundation on which engineers can design, create, build and maintain infrastructures, facilities and systems. Everything that constitutes a smart city per se, from self-driven cars, electric cars, kinetic roads, 3D Modelling, 5G network, smart buildings, connected homes, smart grids, and what-have-you, were developed based on the knowledge STEM affords.

Scarcity of Stem Talent.

Despite the promises STEM careers hold, especially for a developing country like Nigeria, it is rather a surprise that only a small fraction of the youth populace is interested in STEM fields.

This is a huge problem.

If the trajectory continues, it could lead to the meltdown of the innovations and digital disruptions that have been established, stagnated economic growth or worse.

Given that women constitute about half of the population in Nigeria, it is a bigger problem if their potential in STEM is not harnessed. Women are important to the future of technology, and they bring diversity and are naturally detailed, empathic and drawn to problems. Not providing opportunities for women in STEM could mean losing stellar innovations and creative solutions from a woman’s perspective.

Having more women in STEM will also increase women’s financial independence, potentially closing the gender pay gap and offering them an opportunity to shape the world.

Why many women are not in STEM in Nigeria

However, before we can close the gender gap in STEM, it is important to understand why fewer women are in STEM fields.

The first reason is the age-long stereotype that STEM is more suited for boys than girls. This myth is reinforced by exclusionary, recalcitrant, male-dominated cultures that are not attractive or supportive. As a result, not many women opt-in to STEM fields, and ultimately there are fewer role models for girls who even have the slightest interest in STEM to look up to in admiration and for inspiration.

Poverty is also another challenge that deters women from pursuing careers in STEM. STEM courses are more expensive to study and take longer years. To lessen the financial burden on their parents, girls would rather pick a low-cost course to finish school on time and help their parents.

An inhibitive environment also plays a major role in deterring girls from pursuing a career in STEM. Aside from girls born in high-end urban cities like Lagos, it is particularly uncommon for girls born and bred in villages to see the wonders and opportunities STEM offers.

What can be done?

To inspire girls to take STEM fields, there should be concerted efforts to shortchange the prevalent mentality of boys’ superior intelligence in STEM fields as compared to girls. Gender equity initiatives like She STEM, Dare to STEM, Girls Can Code etc., should be adopted in schools in grassroots communities to show girls the possibilities and opportunities in STEM and offer mentorship to those interested. STEM fairs, expos, trips and bootcamps should be organised to put girls in STEM immersive environments that will pique their curiosity and spark their interest.

The She STEM project by DO is centred on changing the outdated stereotypes and gender barriers that restrict the female folk from participating in STEM and gaining job opportunities where they can earn almost double per hour on average because 80% of future jobs require a STEM Education. The project aims to motivate and empower young girls and women of grassroots communities to take up career opportunities and positions in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics fields.

Join DO-Take Action and become a Grassroots Development Champion (GDC) to carry out She STEM project in your community and communities around you.

To become a GDC, click here.

You can also partner with us to sponsor a She STEM project. To become a DO partner, click here.