Four years ago and way before Communitech bootcamps and accelerators existed for female founders, I met Stephanie Rozek when we worked to raise a national, peer-to-peer group for women in tech.
Through the years, she popped up on my radar in the intersection of Waterloo Region’s tech, art and community scene – TED talks, tech-art galleries, and as a participant of the aforementioned women’s entrepreneur bootcamp. So it’s not surprising that in the summer of 2015, Rozek issued a regional challenge: a call for digital literacy among those of all ages in our community.
This week marks the end of a year and a half long campaign in Waterloo Region aimed at demystifying and stimulating interest in coding, particularly to underserved demographics.
Going forward, Year of Code Waterloo Region (YOCWR) will become Hive Waterloo Region. I sat down with Rozek to chat about what drove her to take on a regional experiment, the lessons learned and what’s next.
Q – What’s happening with YoCWR?
A – It’s a busy, busy month as we get closer to the end of the Year of Code campaign on June 30. This Friday, we are hosting our year-end EUREKA! Gala at the Tannery Event Centre. It’s going to be a crazy art+tech party where guests can play with interactive exhibits, hear from local speakers about the difference tech is making in our community, and listen to some awesome live music.
HackerGrrlz is wrapping up. We’re hosting a grad ceremony for the participating girls on June 25. Our final learn-to-code session under the YOCWR banner is also June 25 at Kitchener Public Library.
Then we might get some sleep.
The YoCWR campaign wraps up at the end of June. We are moving forward as Hive Waterloo Region, a new not-for-profit associated with the Mozilla Foundation. We will continue the work we’ve started, promoting digital literacy in our community, working with our local businesses, schools, libraries and social organizations.
We intend to continue to expand our outreach learning programs across our region — and further — as we garner interest.
Q – What are some of the key numbers that came from this year-long campaign?
A – We’ve reached 20,000 citizens in the region. In July, we’ll be parsing out the data more definitively in a final report. The HackerGrrlz campaign reached 14 local schools. Two hundred girls and female mentors participated.
And we raised approximately $200,000 in funding. I’m extremely pleased with what we’ve achieved over the past 18 months.
Perhaps the most interesting take-away for me is the community’s interest in supporting girls and women in tech. Our initiatives like HackerGrrlz and the International Women’s Day event, Change the Ratio, seemed to draw the most interest from the community at large, as well as our sponsors. I’m really happy to see the support for diversity and inclusivity in tech here.
Q – You said privately that you struggled with early traction in the tech community. Can you tell me more?
A – I think with any new initiative, it takes time to become known and supported. Over the past year we’ve certainly built a lot of recognition and support; but it did take time for our campaign to reach a more general awareness in both the tech sector and the community at large.
As a result, much of the campaign was bootstrapped from the ground up; but it’s what many startups here and worldwide experience. So I think we can act as a role model for anyone seeking to build their own project, whether it’s for-profit or not-for-profit.
Q – Any feedback for community organizers or folks who consider themselves catalysts for social change?
A – When it comes down to it, everything in this world happens because of people. Your networks, both private and professional, are going to be the most important piece of your success in any endeavour you are working on.
Nurture and support them. Over time, you learn where your supports are, and where your values align with others, and it’s important to support each other in your work.
I’m really happy to see the broader awareness of social change and impact rising. Topics like social innovation are hot right now. This may be sparked in part by the younger generation’s desire to live in a better world. . . I see people of all ages really starting to pay attention to not only how much money their business is making as a measure of success, but also how their work benefits the community, the environment, or any number of social change metrics.
There’s been some great conversation over the last six months in our local innovation centre about gentrification that comes along with success, and how to make sure everyone is included. I’m hopeful we will continue to see concrete commitments to social change from those who are able.
It’s a full week for the tech community. Tonight, swing by Startups and Beer 5-9 p.m. to meet tech companies, sample offerings from craft breweries and support the Working Centre. The event is in the old Eaton’s department store (276 King St. W., Kitchener). . .Want to showcase your coding abilities? Death Before Dishonour is a two-person-team dev tournament on June 21 (9th floor, 55 King St. W., Kitchener, beginning at 5:30 p.m.). . . On Saturday, June 18, the 4th Annual Solstice Sampling will be at Waterloo Public Square, 6-10 p.m. Sample food and beverages from local eateries. Tickets are $5. (75 King St. S., Waterloo). That same evening is the Summer Lights Festival, 8 p.m.-1 a.m. Celebrate the best of creative art in a downtown block street festival into the wee hours of the morning. . .Artists from all walks of alternative culture, including comics, graffiti and music, converge on downtown June 17-19 for Altekrea at Kitchener City Hall. (200 King St. W., Kitchener).
Photo: Stephanie Rozek speaks at the March 10, 2016 Change The Ratio Waterloo Region held at the Kitchener Public Library for International Women’s Day. The event focused on increasing diversity in tech.