Lade Araba was born in Lagos, Nigeria. She has lived and studied abroad, doing her undergraduate studies at the Sorbonne, eventually earning an MBA and working for the FAO and UNECA, promoting intra-African trade in the agribusiness sector. But her passion has always been to support African women. Receiving the Mo Ibrahim Leadership Fellowship, among other honors, Ms Araba has returned to her homeland to create the Visiola Foundation, engaging young women in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields.
While many African development discussions view gender equity and STEM education as important but distinct arenas, Ms Araba sees them as one and the same. For her, the marginalized youth of the continent are also its greatest potential resource. By training young women in STEM, as well as helping them to cultivate communication skills, business skills, and self-confidence, the Visiola Foundation hopes to have a positive multiplier effect that goes far beyond its coding boot camps or STEM clubs. Ms Araba speaks of this in large but general terms: if you teach someone engineering skills, or bring a woman to the table of opportunity, you know you are going to make big changes. It is hard to know what they will look like.
So far, Visiola’s programs—which include summer camps, school clubs, and scholarships—have reached hundreds of young women in Nigeria and Ghana. The testimonials of the participants are well worth watching: it is clear that Visiola is playing a long game. Ms Araba always refers to the participants as “mentees,” not students. And Visiola is not simply interested in teaching their “mentees” how to code; they also want to listen to these young women’s needs, and give them every set of skills they will need to succeed.
Ms Araba is listening to the girls, but she is looking to the future. She says: “women will transform the continent; they just need to be given a platform to be able to contribute to our development.” That is a big vision, and it will take time to see if she can deliver on it; but in the meantime, the attention and accolades pouring in towards the Visiola Foundation suggest that Ms Araba is not alone in her vision.