On a mission to help create 1 million girl coders
At university Felipe Resck’s IT class of 80 had only seven girls. This gender imbalance in STEM remains. To help tackle it for the next generation, he rolled out ‘iamtheCODE’, an initiative to empower teenage girls.
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Only 16% of young people in Brazil go on to university, according to the OECD – a figure below some of its South American neighbors.
And at university girls are under-represented in science and maths. Felipe Resck, Go to Market Technology Manager, Brazil, recalls his own education. “In the university where I graduated, there was were 80 people [in my class],” he says. “Out of the 80 people, only seven were girls.”
Better job prospects come with education, and girls from deprived communities are generally at a disadvantage as they take their place in the workforce.
Bringing ‘iamtheCODE’ to Brazil
Felipe realized he had a part to play to redress the balance. His involvement stemmed from conversations with Mariéme Jamme, founder of the global movement, ‘iamtheCODE’, which teaches girls coding and other work-related skills. Felipe linked up with Mariéme at a hackathon event in Recife – developed with the aim of evaluating local skills – and was inspired to take a stand and work towards a more inclusive workplace in his own country.
‘IamtheCODE’ was set up to achieve four of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, including quality education, gender equality, decent work and innovation. It has declared the impressive ambition of reaching more than 1 million girls with training and mentoring by 2030. The movement had already run educational projects in a number of countries, notably in Africa, but this was a first in Brazil.
Felipe took a pioneering role. He brought Unilever personal care brand Sedel (Sunsilk) on board. With its purpose of opening up possibilities for girls everywhere, Sedel provided an excellent fit with the initiative. Local NGO Plano de Menina, Sedel’s existing partner, also joined the project. Contact was made with a secondary school in São Paulo and Felipe worked with them to ensure that the content of the ‘iamtheCODE’ classes aligned with the Brazilian educational system.
And so the São Paulo Digital Club was set up. The girls who enrolled were taught about coding. “We teach girls the basics of programming logic,” explains Felipe. “And then we show, in real life, how to code.” But the classes covered much more than that.
“The core of the program is about empowerment,” he adds.
The classes included elements of confidence-building and other soft skills, and harnessed non-traditional techniques such as acting to facilitate learning. The girls were even encouraged to debate the Sustainable Development Goals.
Forty volunteers, drawn from Unilever and the community, helped Felipe in rolling out the project. Over three months he managed the teams of volunteers and ensured that the course content was correctly followed. The students were well supported and no one got left behind.
This holistic approach helped the girls to prepare themselves to join the workforce or undertake further education.
“This is perhaps one of their first opportunities to have a better job,” says Felipe, who participated in every class. “It’s changing not only the lives of the girls but also the lives of the volunteers.”
In all, 90 girls took part in the activities in São Paulo and Recife. Felipe liaised with his Unilever HR team about recruiting some of ‘iamtheCODE’ participants as apprentices and one of the girls has since been hired.
And now plans are being made to scale up the project, with mayoral support in two cities and three more companies willing to join the movement. More than 200 girls are on the waiting list for the next round.
Felipe is conscious of the need to give back to society. “I am where I am because other people helped me,” he says. “There is a moment in life where you should be returning that back to society.”