Young Black teens Margaret Akano, Rachael Akano, and Joy Njekwe just won the Technovation Girls competition, shaking stereotypes about who belongs in STEM.
Margaret Akano, Rachael Akano, and Joy Njekwe are 17, 16, and 17, respectively. Recently, they were crowned champions by Technovation Girls for their app Memory Haven, a tool to help folks with dementia, NPR reports. Technovation Girls is an international competition that challenges young women to develop an app that can solve a problem in their community. It is hosted every year by Technovation, a nonprofit organization that empowers girls to become leaders in tech. The victory is particularly important as the three app creators are Nigerian-Irish, which is rare to see in the STEM field. They were guided by their mentor Evelyn Nomayo, an Afro-Irish developer and the founder of Phase Innovate, an organization that trains and mentors underrepresented minorities and women in tech.
Rachel, Margaret and Joy were worried about how people with dementia were coping during lockdown, so they decided to design and code Memory Haven: https://t.co/yuyRE1HphX #ADL2020 #AdaLovelaceDay pic.twitter.com/K2gHRncQOs— Nesta Challenges (@NestaChallenges) October 13, 2020
She was the one who inspired the teens' app. When she told them about her mother, who experienced dementia, the young girls were inspired to create an app that could help with the disorder. Thus, they developed Memory Haven, which went on to beat more than 1,500 submissions from 62 countries. The app can be used by both patients and caregivers. There are six different features that target three problems faced by those with dementia, namely, memory loss, difficulty with recognition, and speech impairment.
Three Nigerian girls, Rachel Akano, Margaret Akano, and Joy Njekwe, have built an app called Memory Haven.— Legit.ng (@legitngnews) October 6, 2020
The app defeated over 1000 entries from 62 countries in an international competition.https://t.co/hm2AfVofix
In an interview with NPR, the winning team shared some insights about their app as well as their experiences as young Black women in STEM. Nomayo explained that she wished to mentor the team because she has experienced isolation herself. "I'm currently doing a Ph.D. [in computer science and statistics]," she said. "During this process, I found that most of the time, I was either the only girl in class or the only black person or person of color. Whether I'm working or being educated, it's so obvious that there's a shortage of women in this space. So I just felt it: There was a need to bring more girls and people of color into that space."
Need some good news? Check out this @NPR story about the Nigerian-Irish teens who won this year’s Technovation Girls competition with Memory Haven, an app designed to support dementia patients & caregivers via @nadiamacias https://t.co/mIDdFeG2nO— Technovation (@technovation) October 9, 2020
The teens, too, sadly had similar experiences. According to Rachael Akano, the popularity she gained from the competition was not always so positive. She shared, "I think the most negative reaction we received was when the Irish Times announced that we made it to the finals [on Twitter]. We got amazing comments, but the negative ones just naturally stick with you. People said we weren't Irish and that we didn't deserve to represent the country. They put a monkey face [to represent a black girl's face]. Just crazy, crazy oceans of racism for absolutely no reason." Thankfully, the team did not let the haters get them down. Now, they are each preparing for their academic and professional careers. Rachael Akano hopes to go into international business and IT; Margaret Akano is currently in medical school; and Njekwe is a senior in high school and getting ready for college, where she plans to major in computer science and engineering.