We’re on a drive to encourage women space-tech entrepreneurs

The Africa Earth Observation Challenge is on a drive to encourage female entries in the African space sector.

The global space sector is currently on an exciting trajectory. Earlier this year Citigroup, a multinational investment bank, said that the global space industry was anticipated to reach USD 1 trillion in annual revenue by 2040, with launch costs dropping 95% to unlock more services from orbit. Africa’s space sector, albeit lagging behind global powers, also mirrors this growth as evidenced in 2021 when cumulative space budget allocations reached USD 548.6 million, according to website Space in Africa.

Space and space applications, particularly earth observation data that is captured via satellite, are being eyed as a potential game changer when it comes to solving some of Africa’s most pressing challenges like climate change and food security.

The Africa Earth Observation Challenge 2022 is an initiative poised to highlight and create awareness around African space-tech entrepreneurs who are developing innovative solutions using earth observation data. The Challenge, established in 2016, has grown into a pan-African event that provides winning finalists with free mentorship and incubation, and cash and data prizes. There is also the possibility for finalists who have completed the incubation programme to have exposure to early-stage investors. 

One of the goals of the Challenge is to encourage women entrants in the space sector. Imraan Saloojee, an executive at RIIS (Research Institute for Innovation and Sustainability) which is the coordinating partner of the challenge, says that it is critical for women space-tech entrepreneurs to have access to the emerging opportunities that the space sector presents. According to the United Nations, says Saloojee, women make up just 20- to 22% of the international space industry. “This figure has remained unchanged for thirty years. We might assume that Africa’s much smaller sector holds a significantly lower proportion of women stakeholders. If we are to change the status quo, then there is urgency in creating awareness of opportunities such as the Africa Earth Observation Challenge – which can give women entrants a boost into the sector,” he says.

To drive the uptake of Africa’s women space-tech entrepreneurs, the Africa Earth Observation Challenge hosted a webinar on Thursday, 15 September entitled, “Inspire. Inform. Engage. Women in Space”. The webinar was hosted in partnership with one of the Challenge’s 18 strategic partners, Kenyan-based company LeoSky Africa. The webinar gathered a group of active women contributors to Africa’s space sector who shared their insights and knowledge of working in the sector, with webinar participants. 

The webinar speaker line-up included Malkia Kelelue, an astrophysicist at the Kenya Space Agency and an IAF Emerging Space Leader 2022; Sara Sabry, founder, and CEO of Founder Deep Space Initiative in Egypt; and Bethelhem Girma, an assistant researcher at the Space Science and Geospatial Institute of Ethiopia.

The webinar was aimed to inspire attendees through the dedication and motivation of the three panellists, while also raising the issues that challenge women in what is a male-dominated sector. Sara Sabry said that while society had doubted her capabilities as a woman in the space sector, this had spurred her on to empower herself. She said, “As women we should always remember to stand in our own power, and not let anything shake us.”

Bethelhem, who aims to be an entrepreneur in the near future, shared some advice to all female start-ups who have the same vision. She said “Be welcoming to challenges and do not be afraid of facing them. Take all those challenges and turn them into opportunities. Dare to challenge yourself!” 

Lastly, Malkia believes the AEO challenge is such a great opportunity for women, she mentioned how there is such a great gap in the space sector, and encourages women to be assertive, whatever their dream is or whatever sector they want to be a part of.

The Earth Observation Challenge hopes to see an improvement in the African space sector over the years and we applaud the women in space already making a difference.

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