Two girls in Ghana sat in front of a laptop smiling

Empowering Future STEM Leaders

Reading graduate Carl Asamoah shares how his not-for-profit organisation is supporting underprivileged girls in Africa to acquire the IT skills needed to be tomorrow’s STEM leaders.

Carl smiling at cameraCarl grew up in Ghana and came to the University of Reading to study Business Economics, graduating in 2019. He said: “When I came to Reading, I already held an MBA in Finance from my home country and had worked in banking for five years. But I felt the opportunity to study in the UK would be invaluable.

“The educational system in the UK was very different and the whole experience was eye-opening for me. I had to take a lot of personal responsibility in terms of managing my time and workload. I had to adjust to and learn things very quickly in an intense one-year period. And I was exposed to a lot of new knowledge and experiences that helped my self-development and helped me become more diverse in my thinking.”

Shortly after his graduation, the COVID-19 pandemic struck and Carl returned to Ghana. With time on his hands and his mind abuzz with the new knowledge and experiences he’d gained at Reading, he had the idea to launch Siscode Ghana. Carl said: “The University of Reading made a huge difference to me and gave me the confidence and the skills to pursue this venture.”

Read on to discover more about Siscode and the organisation’s mission to ensure women in Ghana are equipped with the right skillsets to purse STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) related careers.

Advocating for gender equality

Carl saw how women and girls were excluded from IT teaching and learning programmes and its related fields in underserved communities in Ghana. It was this exclusion that inspired him to found Siscode with the aim of increasing the number of females pursuing STEM subjects and careers, through exposure to IT and coding skills from a young age.

Carl with some of the girls he works with in Ghana Carl said: “Our organisation’s approach is twofold – firstly, we identify government schools which lack desirable IT infrastructure and we try to equip them with computer labs. Secondly, we work with university students who are pursuing technology subjects and we pair them with underprivileged schoolgirls. The university students then voluntarily teach these schoolgirls some form of IT and coding lessons.”

Siscode also run a Hire For Impact programme, where they find exemplary university students and segment them in terms of their skills and interests. “We then pair them with small technology businesses in the UK who need an extra hand and they work together remotely,” Carl explained.

“We also recently started a podcast where we invite female STEM university students to talk about their experiences.

Women in technology, and particularly women of colour in technology, face a lot of challenges and this podcast gives them the platform to speak up about their experiences and exchange ideas in a safe space.

“This space also enables women to offer solutions to difficulties that other women might encounter in the future.”

Personal influences

Carl’s decision to launch Siscode was heavily influenced by the unfairness of the gender equality divide in Ghana and by one inspirational lady in particular – his mother. Carl said:

“Having grown up in Ghana and lived in the UK, I could see that the gender equality divide back home is more profound. In the UK I saw a lot of initiatives, awareness and education in place to try and reduce the gap, but Africa is not moving as quickly.

“Men are given first dibs on many areas of life in Ghana. When it comes to technology it’s not seen as a female thing and there isn’t much representation out there for women in technology. So I thought, if we try to offer girls early exposure to the IT sector then they may end up developing an interest over time and it might make this career route more possible for them.”

Carl was also inspired by his mum who showed him by example what women are capable of.

He said: “My dad was in the military and away a lot while I was growing up, so my mum was the main caregiver in my life. But she was also a career woman, juggling a 9am-9pm job in banking, as well as raising myself and my three brothers.

“She instilled in me the reality that women are very capable of achieving greatness – but they deserve to be offered equal opportunities and platforms as men. It’s down to my amazing mum for showing me all of this by her own example.”

Effecting long-term change

A teacher teaching girls on a computer in GhanaCarl is now studying for a PhD at Brunel University, and continues to work in an advisory capacity for Siscode. He shares that his long-term goals are to help to achive even bigger change for gender equality.

Carl said: “After I complete my PhD I want to keep helping Siscode to grow and impacting more young girls positively. But I have also developed an interest in international development and I hope to combine that with my banking and finance skills to be able to work in organisations which effect policy change. It would be wonderful to work on some of the gender equality challenges we face in Africa on a larger scale.

“It’s also really important to me that I continue to create opportunities for others. I feel very lucky and privileged to be a part of the University of Reading community and I want to help create similar opportunities for other people.

“This desire is a strong driver which influences my day-to-day actions and decision-making in terms of how I can make the world a better place for future generations.”

Read about some of the inspiring women from our alumni community, or share your own story with us.