Empowering diverse voices in STEM: Inspirefest conference lives up to its name

How many tech conferences place diversity and inclusion at the heart of their programme?

Last week, Dublin’s Inspirefest - “a unique international festival of technology, science, design and the arts” - brought a packed, two-day schedule of keynote speeches, talks and panels to Ireland’s ‘Silicon Docks.’ With a lineup of over 70% female founders, creators, coders, venture capitalists and leaders, Inspirefest managed turned the traditional 9:1 male-to-female tech conference ratio on its head, and lived up to its mission.

Ashoka Fellow Jamila Abass (founder of M-Farm) addresses an audience of over 1,500 at Inspirefest

Ashoka Fellow Jamila Abass (founder of M-Farm) addresses an audience of over 1,500 at Inspirefest

Speaking to The Irish Times in advance of the festival, founder Ann O’Dea cited the social benefits of challenging traditional spaces and workplaces. “It just so happens that men and women tend to have quite different backgrounds but it’s the same thing with people of different ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientation, you name it. Often their circles are a little bit different and you just end up with a conversation that’s a little bit richer,” she said.

In a welcoming address on June 30th, An Taoiseach, the Prime Minister Enda Kenny, praised O’Dea’s commitment to celebrating STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) skills and jobs, citing that, “the world needs curiosity, understanding, innovation and knowledge. A scientifically-educated society is essential to solving the challenges we face now and in the future.” He also extolled the crucial importance of diverse perspectives in tackling social challenges, saying that, “if we can for an instant see the world through others’ eyes, we have the opportunity to change things.”

Ashoka Fellow Alex Bernadotte (founder of Beyond12) speaks at Inspirefest

Ashoka Fellow Alex Bernadotte (founder of Beyond12) speaks at Inspirefest

Much of Inspirefest’s programme highlighted companies and leaders from the STEM sectors, with a mix of executives from major global companies joining founders from smaller startups, to provide insights on trends. Judith Williams, (Dropbox), gave an electrifying talk on the economic benefits of a diverse workforce, while Claire Calmejane, (Lloyds Bank) emphasised the importance of innovative thinking in the financial sector. Ashoka Fellow and founder of the Kenya-based tech company M-Farm, Jamila Abass, described how her mobile app helps farmers across Africa access new markets, share information on price transparency, and collaborate together via a simple tech platform. Scientist and founder of Nuritas, Nora Khaldi, spoke about the challenges and rewards of running a business in a sector “with very few women.”

Other speakers shared perspectives from the intersection at which STEM, social enterprise and the arts collide. Ashoka Fellow and founder of Beyond 12, Alexandra Bernadotte, told the story of how, “born in the wrong zip code to achieve higher education,” her experience of gaining two degrees motivated her to build a data-driven tech platform that empowers first-generation college students to complete their degrees, creating a more inclusive education system and workforce. Blogger and academic Sinead Burke shared her story of forging a path in the fashion world: She founded fashion website Minnie Melange to document the ‘sartorial challenge’ of finding fashionable outfits for her 3’5” frame, and with it, has created a community of diverse voices, fashion-lovers and activists alike.

Blogger Sinead Burke (Minnie Melange) tells her story at Inspirefest

Blogger Sinead Burke (Minnie Melange) tells her story at Inspirefest

Many more examples of Inspirefest’s stellar programme can be found in Silicon Republic’s coverage of the conference, and one need only glance through the live social media feeds (follow #Inspirefest on Twitter and Facebook) to see that the conference left many audience members not only inspired, but actively motivated, by the stories, role models and ideas that were shared at Inspirefest.

Ultra-earlybird tickets for Inspirefest 2017 are now available at www.inspirefest.comRead special feature profiles on Ashoka Fellow & Inspirefest speakers Alexandra Bernadotte and Jamila Abass on Silicon Republic.