Humber College is helping girls from marginalized communities in Kenya and Ethiopia pursue education and employment in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) sectors through a new four-year project.
The STEM Education for Empowerment Project (STEEP) is a $4-million initiative led by Humber with funding from the Government of Canada, through Global Affairs Canada, and The Barrett Family Foundation. The project’s aim is to impact nearly 35,000 girls aged 14 to 18 from low-income and vulnerable communities in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Kisumu, Kenya.
The project will take a multi-level and multi-stakeholder approach to addressing barriers to STEM education and employment faced by adolescent girls in those communities. It will offer training, both in-person and digitally, that includes STEM technical skills, life skills, entrepreneurship skills, and work readiness skills.
As well, it will provide girls with STEM sector mentorship and exposure, extracurricular events and activities and opportunities to connect with industry partners.
“The project is building capacity and creating access and opportunity for adolescent girls,” said Clarisse Estebar, international development project lead at Humber. “Ultimately, it's giving them the power to make their own decisions.”
Estebar said, in some cases, girls in those regions are discouraged from studying or pursuing employment in STEM for a variety of reasons including the belief that STEM is a male-dominated sector or that it may be too difficult.
The program will also work with parents and caregivers, boys and young men, local educators, school administrators and the government to address patriarchal social norms and systemic barriers that have prevented girls from accessing STEM education. It will implement gender-responsive STEM education and empowerment training to break inequitable cycles that perpetuate gender imbalances in schools and employment.
STEEP was made possible through equal contributions of $2-million from Global Affairs Canada and The Barrett Family Foundation. The Barrett Family Foundation has a strong interest in technology and engineering while also supporting the education of girls globally and sees STEEP strongly aligning with their giving interests.
The Barrett Family Foundation is Humber College’s largest donor to date, which has included a gift of $10 million to support the Barrett Centre for Technology Innovation.
“When we first learned about how STEEP was working towards closing the gender gap for young girls in Kenya and Ethiopia in STEM education and employment, we wanted to join Humber in fostering positive change," said Bob Barrett, president and CEO of Polytainers and member of The Barrett Family Foundation. "We are making a $2-million investment in STEEP because we know this project will enable young women to make decisions to pursue higher education or obtain STEM related employment that will create a better future for themselves, their families, and the communities in which they live.”
Regional development plans in Addis Ababa and Kisumu are prioritizing STEM innovation to drive growth and development. They are home to newly developed industrial parks and special economic zones that offer employment to thousands of people in surrounding communities.
However, due to lack of education and socio-cultural barriers, women and girls from vulnerable communities are not benefitting equally.
“When adolescent girls are given the opportunity to develop their potential through education, we all win,” said Minister of International Development Harjit Sajjan. “Canada is committed to ensuring young women get the education they need to succeed and contribute to the economic success of their communities and their countries. Humber College’s STEEP project is an excellent example of how public and private sector funding can be leveraged to empower adolescent girls by giving them access to a quality education in STEM.”
STEEP will be delivered to adolescent girls in high school as well as those who are no longer in school. Estebar said it’s equally important to empower girls out of school who may have quit because they can’t afford tuition or have other family duties, among other factors.
According to project officials, STEM interventions that aren’t gender-responsive and don’t reach adolescent girls will miss the point in their lives and education when most stop studying STEM subjects or drop out of school entirely. Estebar said the age of the girls they’re targeting are young enough where they can take STEM classes that will prepare them to study those subjects at the post-secondary level.
The project will be implemented in partnership with CAP - Youth Empowerment Institute Kenya in Kenya and Hahujobs in Ethiopia.