Francine Legma didn’t take her secondary school math teacher’s advice. Instead she followed her instincts.
Legma earned poor grades in math and physics, so her teacher advised her to study literature “because it would be easier for me than scientific studies,” she says. But the 2014 Mandela Washington Fellow and YALI Network member from Ouagadougou knew that studying science would lead to a better future.
With the support of her father, a university chemistry professor, Legma pursued the more challenging field and eventually earned a baccalaureate in science and mathematics. With a scholarship from the government of Burkina Faso, she went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the Institiut d’Ingénierie Informatique in Limoges, France, and a master’s degree in international commerce from Icoges in Paris.
“Like my mother, my father never put in our minds that a woman is less intelligent than a man,” Legma notes, adding that both her parents stressed hard work, integrity and motivation in pursuit of any goal. “My parents have been the fuel of my inspiration,” she says.
Now 35, Legma serves as an information technology project manager at Burkina Faso’s national telecommunications company, Onatel. Through the company, she launched mobile payment, postpaid and customer loyalty systems.
She frequently participates in online discussions about technology “gaps.” One is between developed and developing countries in telecommunications infrastructure, telecommunications law and Internet access. Another is between women’s and men’s use of new technologies.
As a response to the latter concern, Legma started the nonprofit group Femmes et Tic, which aims to educate young girls and women on the opportunities of the Internet and new technologies, and to raise awareness about the dangers and risks of their misuse.
Next on Legma’s agenda are plans for a summer “tech camp.” The camp will teach girls how to use the Internet, give oral presentations and hone their leadership skills. She has enlisted local schools and universities to help her develop the curriculum and is looking for other partners to help her acquire computers and other equipment.
Legma says she would like to add more technology classes for women and girls but is restricted by the limited number of skilled volunteer instructors. She hopes that other YALI Network members might be interested in becoming volunteer trainers. Potential trainers can find out more on the Femmes et Tic website.
“For me, trained girls and women is a must if I really want to contribute to change in a better way in my country,” she says.