There’s a Kiswahili phrase I have often heard from my boss that goes “Kua uyaone”, which translates to “grow and see”. As I sat down with Svetlana Nyameyo, I kept hearing this phrase play over and over in my head as she shared her journey into tech.
Svetlana is the Head-Africa Program for Xergy SusTech Powerhouse, a launchpad for SusTech (sustainable tech) startups to valuate, validate, and optimise business ideas through a lean assessment, demonstration, practical application, and evaluation cycle.
She is also a lawyer and an active mentor for young girls. Her journey into tech began during her law years, specifically during her internship.
“I majored in Human Rights Law at the University of Dar es Salaam after which, I interned with Amnesty International. During my time at Amnesty, I interacted directly with data protection and data privacy as a human rights campaigner,” Svetlana begins to share.
For her internship, Svetlana worked at The Hague in the Netherlands and upon completion, she came back with a specific passion to advance the right to be forgotten alongside the right for data privacy as well as protection for Africa.
It is not unusual to see scorned lovers share information that they had received in confidence and trust from their former partner or overly excited parents who share everything there is to share about their children.
In the future, some of the information we share may come back and bite us. “The internet never forgets and there is permanency of information on the net,” Svetlana explains. “The right to be forgotten means that you can request that your personal information on the net be removed, amended or deleted.”
Why would anyone even wish to be forgotten? Isn’t virality the trend right now?
The right to be forgotten is the right to silence past events that are no longer occurring. There is a difference between data privacy and the right to be forgotten. Data privacy applies to information not already publicly known. The right to be forgotten refers to information already in the public domain.
The right to be forgotten is recognised in laws and judgements in countries around the world, like Argentina, US, India, and countries in the EU.
In Tanzania, the right to be forgotten is operational under the Personal Data Protection Act of May 2023.
However, Svetlana also warns that the right to be forgotten is not free from criticism. “The right to be forgotten is said to infringe on the right to know and based on the biased or patchy information available on the net, the right to be forgotten could allow for misleading information about an individual,” she explains.
Unfortunately, society often thinks that when one amends a past event, they are trying to rewrite history but this is crucial for information that is no longer relevant or recurring to an individual. “Coming back home, this then was my passion and in my space of work, I maximised the flexibility that technology afforded me,” she shares.
With the onset of Covid-19, virtual and remote working became the norm and during that period, Svetlana began to volunteer with the Tanzania Development Trust as a social media manager, using technology to create awareness and raise funds to enable girls in rural Tanzania to stay in school, get their education and help put an end to female genital mutilation (FGM) and gender-based violence (GBV).
“Having come from a community that still believes in FGM and early marriages, I became very passionate about women empowerment. I come from Musoma and I was surrounded by communities that practiced FGM and early child marriages,” she shares.
Her father, a medical doctor, understood the power of education and equal academic opportunities for all his children and no daughter of his was kept from school. This, according to Svetlana, had her mother queried by local busy-bodies on why they insisted on sending girls, who were clearly ready for marriage and child-bearing, to school.
So in a community that saw girls married off at the tender age of 13, Svetlana learnt early on to appreciate and use the opportunities presented to her because she understood that she was no different from the girls she grew up with.
Seeing the adverse effects that these early child marriages and FGM practices had on these young girls like the social exclusion, domestic violence, depression and stress; her drive and resolve to do her part in empowering women only grew fiercer.
“When I studied law, I comprehended that the laws in Tanzania, though not perfect, were good enough to be acted on for the beneﬁt of society. Law needs to be propped up to work out, this is where tech comes in to corroborate transparency, integrity and accountability,” Svetlana says.
While she was working to figure out what aspect of tech spoke to her, she also did some digital marketing work, teaching herself how algorithms worked and how to optimise search engines in marketing.
In the process, she then understood that with issues of data privacy, comes data protection and if you have sensitive information about someone, you need to know how to store it and protect it. She eventually transitioned to more advanced tech and began holding webinars and connecting people across the globe.
Once again, she found herself headed towards empowering women and chose to fully transition to women in tech, supporting women from around the world who are in tech. “Most times with women in technology, I saw that finding accessibility to payments and jobs is a hindrance as they often don’t know much about the jobs that are out there or are sometimes hindered from getting into these jobs,” she shares.
“That became my work. I began to look at digital wellbeing for women in technology because there was a time when some of the social media spaces were considered toxic for women. This also extends to emerging technologies and the challenge of removing bias in emerging technologies.”
“Looking at digital well-being also includes cultural sensitivity in emerging technologies, the ethics associated with them as well as their governance,” Svetlana explains.
“Who does what? Who gets to govern what? Who gets to say this is going way out of hand beyond what the scope that we intended for it to be?”
“Now that I am in a leadership role in technology, I am nurturing start-ups to be more powerful, profitable, as well as planet friendly, we’ll be looking at women in sustainability, supporting women founders connecting them to investors, and especially for Tanzania, looking for women in blue economy and those who are in aquaculture.”
“What motivates me with tech is the value accrued for work input. Tech obtains justice by guaranteeing that societies that would otherwise be left out of decision making, policy making and social development are emancipated and that they make the most of rising opportunities,” Svetlana explains
Technology is a tool that we all can use to reach our goals but according to Svetlana, for many women, accessibility to information is still lacking as well as the misinformation that is already in abundance. Technology is a levelling field, a place where you don’t necessarily need an inside man or a godfather to get you in.
Armed with experience and knowledge from The Hague, coming back home was a chance for her to put it all to work to the best of her ability. She does attest that it was not easy and challenges that come with lack of access, misinformation, being unmatched with the current market requirements make it harder for women to break through in tech.
She encourages women and girls to actively seek out courses and training online, attend webinars to build networks beyond the comfortable worlds they know, and use their social media platforms wisely to network and learn. She also encourages adaptability and resilience.
For Tanzania, the tech ecosystem is growing organically, which according to her is good as it creates long-term sustainability. “This is an edge that many start-ups can use to their advantage and create solutions that are curated specifically for the Tanzanian market before scaling up,” she explains.
“Pitting Tanzania’s ecosystem against those of developed countries does play a role in boosting confidence levels, it is prudent to keep in mind that our country has so many advantages in terms of geography, land mass, a uniting language, one of the most stable political environment in the region as well as on-going projects that are unique to Tanzania’s needs.”
Keeping all this in mind and then using technology to our advantage, Svetlana is of the firm belief that we are headed in the right direction.