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By Cheryl Kahla

Content Strategist

Empowering women in STEM: New EDGE centres to shape future of tech in SA

'When the playing field is equal, women excel' – New EDGE centres in Johannesburg and Cape Town to reshape the future of tech in SA.

In a move aimed at fostering women-focused entrepreneurship within the science, technology, engineering, mining, and manufacturing sectors, two new EDGE centres have been launched in South Africa.

The collaborative initiative between tech giant Cisco and South African incubator WomHub will provide access to business mentoring, incubation, and advanced training opportunities.

Supporting women in STEM

The acronym EDGE (Experience, Design, GTM [Go-to-Market], and Earn) epitomises the initiative’s goal of leveling the field for women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

The event was also attended by Heather Merrit, the Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) at the United States Embassy.

In Washington, Merrit served as the office director for Africa and Middle East programmes, and was previously the US Consulate General in Johannesburg.

She said one of the key objectives of the US government is promoting South Africa’s prosperity through economic growth and investment.

Changing lives’ in South Africa

Merrit addressed South Africa’s unemployment challenges, saying digital transformation within Africa is the way forward, as announced by President Joe Biden at the US-Africa Leaders Summit in December 2022.

“The importance of empowering women in innovation cannot be overstated, in a world where we are still striving for equality, diversity and inclusivity.

“The opening today marks another important step towards a more equitable future, a future in which every woman’s voice is heard, every idea is valued and every opportunity is within reach”, Merrit said.

edge centre launch
Heather Merrit, the Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) at the United States Embassy. Image: Cheryl Kahla

She said initiatives such as these demonstrate that women are, and can continue to become, unstoppable forces of change with access to resources, mentorship and opportunities.

Women have potential to ‘reshape industries’

To the women about to embark on this journey, Merrit said: “Your journey represents your strength and your resilience.

“Your ideas have the potential to reshape industries, improve communities, and change people’s lives”.

Merrit said the launch of these centres is a declaration that “innovation knows no boundaries”.

She said it is “affirming the creativity of women as a force to be reckoned with, and one that will boost economic growth, enhance technological advance and bild a more inclusive society”.

“When the playing field is equal, we excel”, she concluded.

What EDGE centres offer to women in STEM

Local innovators and entrepreneurs will have access to essential tools and resources, as well as Cisco’s collaboration technologies.

Speaking at the launch, Chief People, Policy & Purpose Officer, Francine Katsoudas, expressed enthusiasm at nurturing innovation and backing local businesses, especially women in the tech sector.

Katsoudas said the collaboration was a tangible step in influencing the industry and propelling South Africa’s digital economy forward.

The partnership between digital skills development training, cutting-edge technologies, and WomHub’s network of aspiring entrepreneurs in STEM, the EDGE centres will make a “tangible difference”, Katsoudas concluded.

Taking women-led startups to next level

WomHub’s CEO, Anjani Harjeven said everything the incubator does “is about building the entire ecosystem to support women in STEM”.

“With the help of a global tech leader like Cisco, we hope to give female business founders the skills, technology, and confidence they need to take their tech start-ups to the next level,” Harjeven said.

The EDGE centre is part of Cisco’s Country Digital Acceleration (CDA) programme, which was founded in 2015 and has since evolved into programmes in 49 countries.

To date, it boasts over 1 500 active or completed projects – spanning more than two-thirds of the world’s population and 75% of global GDP.

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