Meet the Libyan startup teaching women to code

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Running a tech startup in Libya is no easy business, given political instability, poor infrastructure and lack of capital.

That has not put Najla Almissalati, co-founder of She Codes, from trying to make a success of her business, which offers females coding and programming training, aimed at providing them with the skills and knowledge needed to start their own businesses and compete in the job market.

Things are not easy, however.

“The current situation is really difficult and the political instability is actually affecting everything,” Almissalati told Disrupt Africa.

“We’ve encountered several challenges and we learnt to anticipate things that could go wrong and find a solution beforehand. For example, there was the threat of delivering the coding courses in an unsafe place where the girls might get harassed, and that’s why we are very careful in choosing our venture location.”

Regular internet and power outages also pose problems, which She Codes is overcoming by pre-downloading materials and using power banks. Economic struggles are also prevalent.

“Many Libyan startups are facing difficulties in securing funds. Moreover, the currency crisis and high exchange rate of hard currency makes it really difficult, especially for tech-related startups, as there is always the need of hard currency for bringing the required equipment,” Almissalati said.

Yet the startup presses on with its important mission of offering more opportunities to women through training. Almissalati said providing tech skills has many benefits for women in the current climate in Libya.

“They could then work from home, especially as Libya is going into instability and sometimes we are forced to stay home for days due to the war in some residential areas. Having the skill and knowledge, they could use their time in working from home, instead of depressing they will feel useful and productive, and they would also earn money and become financially independent,” she said.

“The skills they will learn will provide them with sustainable jobs – no matter how conservative their families are, or how terrible conditions in their city, they would be able to work from home, using only their laptops to feel good about themselves and earn a living.”

She Codes launched at the beginning of this year, determined to increase the number of women actively working in Libya.

“Libyan women are half of Libyan society. However, the percentage of active working women is below average. Many conservative families are against women going to work and working with men, another reason is the war and instability in the country.”

But she said for most females it was no longer possible to live on a comfortable dependent salary, and the economic burden is creating an incentive even for conservative Libyan men to allow females to work.

“However, the majority of them won’t allow them to work or attend courses where males are present,” Almissalati said.

She Codes is the answer to this, with the startup self-funded thus far but successful in raising sponsorship for its first pilot programme. The programmes currently run in Benghazi, but the startup is expanding to Tripoli by the end of the year.

“We have an amazing team and a potential partnership with a Libyan organisation that showed interest in funding the bootcamp in Tripoli, plus we are looking at international partnerships for bigger projects that will have a great positive impact on Libya as a whole,” said Almissalati.

“Expansion to the south of Libya is also one of our plans for the near future, alongside expanding to small cities in Libya that are usually neglected. This process takes time, consistency and patience to reach our ultimate goal to empower and support more than 10,000 females all over Libya.”

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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