South Africa is a vibrant country bursting with creative energy and ambition and Emma Dicks (29) is one of the many young pioneers changing the face of their industries.
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is at the forefront of global innovation, but this sector has a serious diversity problem. That tech remains male-dominated is as true in the offices of Silicon Valley as it is in the computer labs of Cape Town. Dicks is part of a growing movement challenging the status quo and introducing women and girls to the world of coding.
“My driving force is to be able to create opportunities for young people to fulfil their potential; to bring their ideas and creativity to life,” she says. “I interned at a tech start-up and realised that those who have the power to design and create technology have the power to change the world. I saw that the narrative around tech skills was all wrong. No one tells high school girls that tech skills allow you to create something tangible that people can interact with and that can fundamentally change society.”
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Dicks established Code for Cape Town (Code4CT), an extramural coding programme for high school girls aimed at identifying talented pupils and nurturing their interest in technology and coding skills. The Code4CT programme offers courses at various levels for girls in Grades 9-12, covering coding, social innovation and career and life skills. More than 600 girls have participated in a coding class through Code4CT, and the organisation’s latest project is called #WhyICode, which tells the stories of these inspiring young coders.
Based on the success of Code4CT, Dicks co-founded a social enterprise that seeks to bring coding courses to a broad population across SA. CodeSpace offers a range of coding courses that develop technical skills and it places graduates into internships while the future employer covers the graduate’s course fees. “I’m passionate about creating a future in which young women’s ideas and talents shape innovation in South Africa,” says Dicks.
She’s received many accolades, including the Queen’s Young Leaders Award from Queen Elizabeth II. These awards recognise young leaders working for social justice in the Commonwealth. Dicks is also an alumna of Fortune – the US Department of State Global Women’s Mentoring Programme – which links young female leaders to Fortune’s most powerful women.