Binita Shrestha is currently studying for a bachelor degree in engineering in Information Technology and Software in Kathmandu, Nepal, with a particular interest for Android development.
But that is not all, after noticing a very low representation of women in technology and science she went on to found the group Women In STEM Nepal, to encourage and promote young girls in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
We met during a STEM event where I was invited to share my experience in tech with a panel of participants. Hard to not see that this woman is a natural leader, and an inspiring woman. Besides, she won a award from EmpowHER 2015 as a “Young Aspiring Woman Leaders!“, for her involvement in Girls in STEM.
She is making her dreams come true, and In my eyes she represents an example to follow for all students and a role model for all women in tech.
when I joined Computer Science, I was the “only girl” among 150 students!
What is the situation of women in general, and women in IT in Nepal?
Remember the historic time when workplaces used to be male dominant? Well, sadly history hasn’t changed itself, as the situation for Nepal is still similar. Especially in the case of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) or STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) a huge gender gap can be distinctly seen in Nepal and across the world.
Giving my own example, when I joined Computer Science, I was the “only girl” among 150 students! Can you imagine how you would feel? It was scary and made me doubt my passion. My uncountable requests to my other female friends to join Computer Science were ignored as just like many others, they thought that computer field is male dominated. The irony is that today, we live in a world where we have male nurses and nannies, and we are finding the field of computers “too manly”.
However, my persistence to continue was backed up by my passion for this field, but I know this is the story or situation of every girl / women here in Nepal. Women here tend to choose a field more women centric.
women lack the right mentor, someone who could train and mentor them well on STEM subjects
Women represent between 5 and 10% of people in IT in Nepal. Why such a huge gender gap for women?
Gender gap arises from you and me. Every individual is the reason behind the so called “Gender Gap”. Women themselves are sexist and choose categories that are so called “Suitable” and “Preferable”. If one does not explore what is on the other side, how are they supposed to know if they like it or not? We live in a society where early stereotypes matter, those stereotypes which were built at a very early age from family, society and school. Studies show that 95% of young girls are interested in Science & Mathematics subjects during their primary and secondary schools. The number decreases to 35%-25% when they reach High school. Why? Possible reasons might be the fact that they lack the right mentor, someone who could train and mentor them well on STEM subjects, regardless of whether or not they succeed. So since that’s not happening at the moment women just tend to funnel themselves out.
During visits in schools and colleges, I’ve found that the first response towards this field generally was “STEM & CS is for guys”. This is also because we lack female role models from such fields in Nepal. Hence, me along with my Passionate, Skilled and Experienced Girls came up with the idea to attack the root causes of this gender difference in STEM fields.
You are the Co-Founder of the community Women In STEM in Nepal, How did you get the idea of starting this group? Can you tell us more about this initiative? Why did you get involved?
Engineering is not just about building bridges or buildings, it is about having a skill set to build anything
I have always been passionate about engineering since I was very young. Back in my school-days, my teachers used to ask me about my ambitions in life, and I used to answer “ENGINEER”, though I had very little knowledge on what exactly engineering was about. For me engineering was building bridges, buildings…
When I followed my first Computer Science class, I discovered my love for CS. Then I joined a Bachelor of Engineering in Information & Technology at the University. I hardly knew anything about programming but managed to do my first “HelloWorld” program in C. I immediately realized that “Programming is Fun”. I got to know that engineering is not just about building bridges or buildings, it is about having a skill set to build anything. It may be physical things like bridges, hardwares and machineries or something virtual like softwares, mobile applications or websites…
We believe that women have great potential and that STEM fields can provide them the essential skills and knowledge to build anything that they could imagine in their head
Then I started attending events where I usually never met any girls. Later I discovered that this issue was an issue across the world, since STEM represents only 24% of women according to WOMEN IN SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY ENGINEERING & MATHEMATICS (STEM),UNITED STATES.
I hardly knew anything about Entrepreneurship before I participated in the Startup Weekend Kathmandu 2014 edition. At this event I pitched my idea about vehicle tracking as V-Track Application, which was then selected as top 11 ideas.
My participation in this Startup Weekend with some friends had impacted me a lot: it turned me into a more confident girl, the experience of facing around 200-300 people, the networking I managed to do, and many more.
Soon after that, I decided to lead a team at the NCell App Camp 2014 with the same idea which was selected among 150 others.
Moving on into my professional career, I did an internship at Yellow Nepal Pvt Lmt on android applications development. Soon after that I along with my friends got involved in the project Girls in Technology. And during International ICT Day (April 4th,2015) I represented Girls in Technology with the theme “Expanding Horizons, Changing Attitudes”, where we talked about the present situation of ICT girls in Nepal, the boundaries, the stereotypes, what’s hindering those girls to step forward and participate and many more such issues. After a 2-day long presentations competition, we grabbed the First Runner Up award.
Winning the title of EmpowHER 2015 (challenging the status quo, empowering young women and creating the leaders of today) gave me an opportunity to initiate the community Women In STEM Nepal (WiSTEM Nepal) with an objective of impacting the Root causes of the gender gap in STEM subjects in Nepal and in the World itself. Because Unless the root causes (children from primary,secondary and high schools) are not taken care of, it will be difficult to change the statu quo. The vision of WiSTEM Nepal is to engage young girls into STEM and hopefully we can see new inventions, ideas and skills in future around 5 years down the line. We believe that women have great potential and that STEM fields can provide them the essential skills and knowledge to build anything that they could imagine in their head.
We are really thankful to our Mentors and fellow Technologists, for inspiring us in our early days. And in collaboration with Children & Youth First organization we are conducting Children Go Coding program at Life Vision Academy, a 4 months long intensive program where children of age between 6-15 years old are trained on Raspberry Pi Projects including Scratch, building legos, e-pustakalaya, and programming, helping them to think beyond the comfort zone, explore out of curriculum world of books, and expose them on technology driven world.
What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
Since I am from Madhyapur thimi, I often get the problem of getting public vehicles, as a result transportation becomes a huge barrier. My friends used to tease me as “Late Comer” though I did manage to finish everything an hour earlier than them. My idea for Startup Weekend Kathmandu 2014 was developed seeing this problem that I faced on an everyday basis. Though I have been involved into many projects and I am more attached with V-TRACK project, an application that helps you track your vehicles (private and public) in a smarter way. The project is one of my dream project and we are hopeful that along with Women in STEM, we will turn it into reality very soon. Currently we are working on collecting the infos of public vehicles to get in any corner of Kathmandu valley, and then gradually shift into tracking as well. We will be using the hardware as GPS device for the tracking system. We have started the project, listing out the available routes and vehicles system by visiting the concerned transportation services.
Since the GPS devices are costly starting with 2$ and above based on the user need, initially we will be implementing at Sajha Yatayat which is one of the luxurious transportation in Nepal.
Nepal frequently suffers from many natural calamities like floods, landslides, earthquakes… The application helps in coordination and management of relief materials supplied from different agents via sms.
I have also been involved in RELIVO mobile application development project during the destructive earthquake that rocked the country. Nepal frequently suffers from many natural calamities like floods, landslides, earthquakes and many more. The recent destructive earthquake of 7.8 magnitude, killed over 9000 people and left more than 23000 injured. The situation went so bad that the victims were not able to get the relief materials which were donated from national and international aid organizations. Therefore the idea of a natural disaster management mobile application named RELIVO was initiated, and an android app was proposed and developed for the Relief Management and Restoration and Coordination System with my team. This application can be used for immediate supply of relief items required at any affected place for the victims. The application helps in coordination and management of relief materials supplied from different agents via sms. The ICT Solutions can lead to an effective coordination and reach out to the victims across the country. Because of the easy availability of the android version this is an effective way to reach both rural and urban people. Our software will be for the officers who are working on each district/village as IT head officer. The system also validates the inputs received through its authorized sources like district or village development office. This will be an effective application to help people. We cannot eradicate natural calamities but we can help and bring some relief to those in need. The application has not launched yet.
What is your favorite programming language and why?
Mobile application development is my favorite. Especially the open source Android operating system. Being open source, developers can modify and customize the OS for each phone. Android-based phones have an attractive graphical user interface. Android applications have a great market in Nepal. In fact, most people use android smartphones because they are more user-friendly and affordable.
What is your favorite technology or tool at the moment?
I will say my smartphone, because with it, anyone can connect to the Internet and Web from virtually anywhere, anyone can look up for information, send emails, take pictures, navigate highways, and play music–often simultaneously. The smartphone is almost always within arm’s reach and capable of a diverse range of functions.
What mobile application you could not live without?
YellowApp is a restaurant app dedicated for helping users to find the best food and dining experiences at over 2000 restaurants in Nepal. It is also one of the winners of the Google Business Group(GBG) inspiring startups globally. This app is used by thousands of users here in Nepal every week to find the nearby restaurants with honest restaurant ratings and reviews by consumers and food critics. I enjoy this application because it helps me discover restaurants nearby whenever I am out for lunch with friends. So it’s my favorite.
Another application is Lishn, a music streaming platform for Nepali music only with an unlimited access via a website or the mobile app. I love this application because I love listening songs from many Nepalese artists.
Do you have role models or someone who inspires you?
My hero – my Mom. Though role models are almost non existent for the Stem field, she is definitely mine as she inspired me a lot from the very beginning when I dreamt about Engineering. I was attentive to how she made decisions, and tried to find insight of why she made any particular choice. From her, I learned to make my decisions independently, to become more self-confident and to follow my passion.
Can you say in three words, what being a developer means for you?
PROBLEM — IDEA —- DIGITAL SOLUTION
Thank you Binita! Follow WiSTEM, Nepal
And to support STEM education for girls in Nepal, please vote here.