Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

#HackCollege: Unleashing the Power of Women In Ed Tech

September 26, 2012

Follow the conversation live today on Twitter at #HackCollege as developers participate in a Facebook Hackathon to develop tools for students, and learn more about how your big idea could win $100,000 in the College Knowledge Challenge.

When people use social media to connect, both in person and online, they can solve big problems and inspire incredible acts of kindness and generosity.

Two great examples are underway this week: the global Social Good Summit, which took place over this past weekend, and an upcoming education-themed “hackathon”.

The idea which links both events is a shared belief in the power of new media to connect creative people and big ideas for the purpose of finding solutions to complex social problems. As one speaker remarked at the Summit:

  "Social media is just the tool. We--the connected people of the world--are the agents of change."

Personally, what I find so inspiring in social media is its ability to offer a voice to those who have lacked one for so long, including women who want to be heard on issues related to their health, their children’s education, and their futures.

Tomorrow, near San Francisco, the foundation is hoping to build on that promise and empower more people, including women and girls, to use social media to make a difference.

We are co-sponsoring a “hackathon” along with our partners at Facebook during which technology developers and entrepreneurs will be frenetically building prototype Facebook apps aimed at helping more students prepare for, get into, and succeed in college. As someone who has worked to use technology to improve children’s lives, I am thrilled that the hackathon includes a large contingent of women as developers, supporters, and expert advisors.

The hackathon will mark the launch of a broader initiative, the College Knowledge Challenge. The Challenge is a competitive funding opportunity through which 30 developers can win $2.5 million in grants to build Facebook apps that will help make the college-going process easier to understand and navigate, especially for low-income students.

We see a particular opportunity to use these ideas and technologies to inspire more young women to pursue careers in science, math, and technology. This would never be at the exclusion of other developers or technologists, but I believe ed tech is a field ripe with opportunities for women. As someone who has many times been the only woman to speak up in a room of 100 people, I know how important it is for women to have their ideas not just heard, but invited.

The Atlantic recently published an article that cited research showing women use virtually every form of technology more than men in Western countries. Women spend more time on the web, texting, checking in places, and own technology devices at higher rates than men. In fact, 56 percent of social media users are women. That’s 81 million women blogging, tweeting, pinning, and posting to Facebook.

What could 81 million women do together to improve the world? 

They could, for example, create social network apps that connect college-going students with others to share information on applications, admissions, and financial aid. They could build tools that help middle schoolers plan their path to college. They could help other moms understand how to best pay for their children’s educations. The potential is limitless, and our College Knowledge Challenge aims to help them turn their ideas into reality.

Whether you’re a man or woman, young tech-savvy entrepreneur or almost-retired baby boomer, we know the next innovation is just around the corner.

Our hope is that we can use these big ideas to make the world a better place.

 
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