Sharing a Passion for Empowering Women in STEM: A WES Trainer’s Perspective

TW Breakout

Guest post by Dalel Krichen, Director of WES Optima Syphax Center in Sfax. This post was written in response to a World Cafe breakout session she attended as a part of the TechWomen Delegation Trip to Tunisia in March 2015. Delegation members met with WES trainers during the Social Media for Women Entrepreneurs Training of Trainers (TOT).

Since my tender age, I was fascinated by bridges, highways and skyscrapers. My dream was to design, construct and operate infrastructures and buildings. As I grew up, this dream became a goal. My favorite subjects were mathematics and physics and I wanted to use what I learned to solve real world problems. Therefore, I decided to become a civil engineer. No need to say that construction in Tunisia was a male-dominated industry and I did not get much support from my friends who tried to dissuade me away from the field and talked about the barriers tech women faced!

But, I worked hard, got a scholarship and went to the U.S. to study civil engineering. When I got my first job in Tunisia, I was the only woman engineer and I had to work on sites. It was very challenging not only trying to gain acceptance by the group but mainly to make the rules, innovate and secure a leading place in the company. As I was climbing the ladder to top positions, I felt the need to support women to enroll in scientific and technical fields. Indeed, female students in Tunisia account for 60% of the overall number of students, graduate at a much higher rate and with a much higher score than their fellow male students. But, the rate of female students in STEM fields remains very low. That’s why I decided to conduct an awareness campaign among girls in high schools to urge them to choose technical fields and I organized summer camps for the outstanding students on the theme “women and technology: learn to love it.”

When I was asked to join the WES team I was thrilled. The program puts a great emphasis on specialties related to new technologies needed in the job market. As we were urged to make a special effort to involve women in technology, I was very excited to fulfill a dear dream –increase the visibility of tech women by helping them create their own enterprises and thus promote female role models in the country.

We had the pleasure to host the delegation of TechWomen. They arrived as we were undertaking a TOT about social media which unveiled to us the power of networking which allows women entrepreneurs to create more opportunities and boost their talents in a way sometimes never expected. So all of us were in the mood to really acknowledge technology and we were looking forward to the breakout discussions with the members of the guest group.

As Samia introduced the exchange program and its objectives, I was very impressed by the goals and the opportunities offered to women. I found the professional mentorship, which is part of the program,very inspiring because it offers a valuable opportunity to support women in STEM fields. In many countries, talents are not encouraged and the lack of women mentors in technical fields makes it difficult for emerging tech women to promote themselves.

The breakout discussion about e-commerce, social media, innovation and risk taking for the developing of businesses using technology and marketing engaged us in an open discussion where we shared experiences, best practices and view points.We loved having the perspective and input of the mentors and we thank them for their guidance and advice.

It is heartening to notice that even though women in the delegation are from different parts of the world with different backgrounds and walks of life, they all share the same passion for technology and for the need to empower women in STEM fields. I couldn’t help noticing the spark in their eyes when they spoke about their careers which made me relate to them on a personal level.

To conclude, I would like to say that Tunisia is in need of more scientists and engineers. The TechWomen visit was memorable because it raised our awareness, as a WES team, for the need to empower tech women start-ups. It was also a good opportunity for brainstorming to find new ways and initiatives to get more women involved in successful tech projects.

Dalel KrichenDalel Krichen is a civil engineer and graduated from Washington University in Saint Louis. She worked as a head of the Department of Civil Building in the Ministry of Equipment and Habitat in Sfax before being the general manager of a construction company. She is also a former Member of Parliament, former general secretary of the Board of Tunisian Engineers in Sfax and Deputy Mayor in charge of the Commission of Infrastructure, Management and Construction in the city of Sfax.

Dalel has championed the cause of women’s empowerment and political participation. She works to integrate gender equality in institutions, programs and laws. She set various programs to encourage female students to choose technical fields and help young women engineers to get jobs and succeed in their careers.

Dalel is also the Director of WES Optima Syphax Center, where she provides trainings in leadership, home-based business, entrepreneurship and e-commerce . She works closely with women to help them achieve economic self-sufficiency.

Dalel is married and the mother of two daughters.


E-Commerce in Tunisia: Reflections from a TechWomen Mentor

TechWomen Mentor Marie Carter leaded group discussion on e-commerce

TechWomen Mentor, Marie Carter, leading a group discussion on e-commerce during the WES Social Media for Women Entrepreneurs TOT

“In Tunisia we can’t sell our products online.” This is what I learned when leading a discussion group on e-commerce in Tunisia during the Women’s Enterprise for Sustainability (WES) Social Media for Women Entrepreneurs Training of Trainers (TOT) meeting last week. I anticipated sitting down with a group of trainers to discuss best practices on setting up an online store, branding, configuring shipping, etc., but instead the topic turned to the current challenges Tunisian entrepreneurs face in selling online. Due to the closed currency in Tunisia*, entrepreneurs will be blocked from selling goods on the internet until the government restructures its banking system and removes restrictions on the dinar. This fact made our discussion of e-commerce take a different, yet fruitful turn. There are many best practices that can be applied to e-commerce as well as to marketing a brick and mortar store, which is what many of the WES entrepreneurs are currently doing. Here are some highlights from our discussion:

  • Tell a story: Every product has a story. Whether it’s the story of how the maker crafted the product, the product’s meaning in a local culture, or a historical reference, every object tells a tale. It’s these stories that help buyers connect with products and brands. Consumers often want to understand not only what the product is, but why it has meaning. Make sure to always tell the story of your products, through your website, catalog or in personal interactions with prospective customers.
  • Photography is key: Your products are beautiful in real life, so they should look great in photos! Photograph each item individually or perhaps together in a scene showing how it’s used. Photographs help connect your audience with the product and allow them to imagine how they would use it in their lives. Photographs are an essential part of selling products online, and can be used to advertise in local media or in your store catalog.
  • Help people find you: The internet is a big place with lots of stuff to buy. You want to make sure that people can find your products easily and quickly. It’s important to host your products using an online store or website that is searchable, and preferably has filtering options so buyers can narrow down what they are looking for. Also use words in your product descriptions that you think people may use in a search. If you’re selling out of a store, organize your products in a way that helps your customers easily find what they are looking for.
  • Connect your customers: Consumers want to hear from other customers before they buy. By publicly sharing reviews from other buyers, you can help new prospects see what others love about your products. Reviews give your brand credibility and effectively help people ‘try before they buy’ online.

It’s apparent that Tunisia has work to do before local entrepreneurs can reap the full benefits of e-commerce, but it must be done. In 2014, sellers using Etsy, a popular e-commerce platform, generated sales of $1.39 billion USD, up 43.3% from 2013. The demand for Tunisian products is out there and Tunisian entrepreneurs are ready to sell. In the meantime, local business owners should begin applying these and other best practices to their physical stores so they are ready when the barriers to e-commerce are removed.

About Marie:

prof (2)Marie is a Technical Support Engineer at Yahoo in San Francisco, CA. She served as a TechWomen Professional Mentor in 2014 and attended the 2015 TechWomen Delegation trip to Tunisia. Marie has a B.A. in International Studies and is thrilled to combine her passions for new technologies and inter-cultural communication to support women across the globe. LinkedIn:

*As a closed currency, the Tunisian Dinar (TND) is not allowed to be imported or exported from the country. Additionally, there are strict limitations to its convertibility. “Tunisian Activists Launch ‘Where is Paypal” Campaign” by Jeremy Fryd, January 13, 2015.

Women in the Global Economy – Leading Social Change

IIESF Executive Director, Trish Tierney, social media expert, Beth Kanter, and Nuket Kardam and Fredric Kropp from the Monterey Institute of International Studies

IIESF Executive Director, Trish Tierney, social media expert, Beth Kanter, and Nuket Kardam and Fredric Kropp from the Monterey Institute of International Studies

Last week Institute of International Education’s San Francisco office opened its doors to our local community for an event to launch the new book Women in the Global Economy: Leading Social Change. Present in the room were former TechWomen mentors, friends launching a new network of women consultants, hospitality hosts for the International Visitors Leadership Program, champions for women’s rights, and IIE staff. This diverse network came together on Thursday March 21st to celebrate and honor the impact women make around the world and the importance of bringing voice to their contributions to social change.

This new book tells the story of women leaders in a variety of fields and makes the case for investing in women to change economies, societies, and the world. Trish Tierney, Executive Director of IIE’s San Francisco office and Editor of the book reflects on the power of sharing the stories of those who have dared to dream regardless of whether or not they are heard. Trish writes, “Secretary Clinton said, ‘some leaders are born women.’ Her words ring true now more than ever, around the world, and in a host of fields. Women leaders drive change through political movements, emerging market growth, or grassroots activism. Yet, too often, their stories are not told.”

One week after the book launch gathering, the WES team in San Francisco hosted our first Lunch and Learn on Leadership where we shared highlights from Barbara Fittipaldi’s Innovative Leadership curriculum. We asked staff across global offices at the Institute to design and declare their visions to a small group of peers. We challenged them to examine what they want to accomplish more than anything else. Despite the challenges of doing this virtually, we wanted to give our community the opportunity to be heard among peers, which we realize is a luxury many in this world do not have. What resonated about this exercise across all groups is the energy that comes when we allow ourselves to declare what matters to us, and the excitement we experience when it begins to sound real and when our voice is heard. A group from New York reflected, “when we take time to step outside our to-do lists we quickly remember what it is we care the most about and how so many of us have the same visions”.

When Barbara led the WES TOT in January she reminded us the point at which we transform as leaders is the moment we stop trying to change who we are, and commit to being more of who we already are.

Women are leading businesses, movements, families, and nations and they are boldly declaring who they are and where they are going. Despite the demands and restrictions many women confront, they are not changing who they are as leaders, but instead by stepping up as who they already are they are propelling us forward. Women in the Global Economy Leading Social Change captures only a few stories of these women, but they join the overwhelming number of stories that illustrate that investing in women’s visions is the smart choice for the global economy and lasting stability of societies.

TechWomen Entrepreneurship Workshop

Pascal Finette from @Mozilla talking about Entrepreneurship on the Open Web with #TechWomen

Pascal Finette from @Mozilla talking about Entrepreneurship on the Open Web with #TechWomen

Last week the WES team in San Francisco attended a workshop on Entrepreneurship with 41 TechWomen Emerging Leaders from eight countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

The WES team was excited to meet with four TechWomen Emerging Leaders from Tunisia.

The workshop featured Silicon Valley leaders from multiple sectors including technology and venture capital who shared their advice, tips, and resources on being an entrepreneur.

We wanted to share some useful tips and resources with the WES network.

Advice on Becoming an Entrepreneur:

1. Rules for Revolutionary Entrepreneurs (Pascal Finette of Mozilla’s Open Innovation Group – discussing what led to Mozilla’s success. @pfinette)

  • Superior Products Matter – the success of your business will depend on the quality of the products/services you offer
  • Speed Matters – key to an innovative business venture is that you implement your idea before your competitors can do it
  • Destroy the Rules – entrepreneurship flourishes when you try new things and experiment beyond the rule-book
  • You Must be Known for One Thing – your product/services should be known for offering one distince advantage among other numerous benefits.
  • Relentless Focus –  you may face hurdles in your entrepreneurial venture but one-pointed focus and commitment will lead you to success.

2. Start Up Basics (Hiten Shah of KISSmetrics- @hnshah)

Always begin with a hypothesis. Entrepreneurship targets to solves the problems in the community. Thus its helpful to frame your hypothesis that identifies your specific audience and the problem that you intend to address.

Ask the right questions about the problem your audience has accomplishing their task

  • What do they do now?
  • What other tools do they have?
  • Who else does it?
  • How painful is the problem?
  • What are the customer complaints?

3. Three characteristics of Successful Entrepreneurs (Ben Horowitz, Andreesen Horowitz-@bhorowitz)

  • Intelligence
  • Courage
  • Leadership

4. Making your Business Pitch

Four strengths that make your business pitch more attractive

  • Market (is the market appropriate for this idea?)
  • Product (do you have a quality product?)
  • Team (do you have a strong team?)
  • Deal (are the terms of your proposal attractive to investors?)

Helpful Resources:

  • Sample Powerpoint Decks for Making your Business Pitch: David Cowan – “How to Not Write a Business Plan”
  • Want to start networking with other entrepreneurs? Check out Women 2.0 to see how they structure Founder Fridays
  • More information on the Entrepreneurship Workshop will feature on the TechWomen blog soon!