Eden Tadesse: “I don’t want to be a simple spectator of the digital transformation”
Eden Tadesse is a digital innovator, social entrepreneur, and award-winning journalist from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. At age 25, is the co-founder of Invicta, a platform that connects refugees and internally displaced youth with online courses, skills development training, and remote work opportunities. At the same time, she serves as the CEO of Ambitious.Africa, an NGO that connects African and European youth to promote innovation and collaboration. In her free time, she produces podcasts to give visibility to women in STEM and is writing a book on youth empowerment. To say that Eden is dynamic would be an understatement.
As an IT graduate with a specialisation on cybersecurity, digital technologies and innovation are at the heart of everything Eden does. “The digital revolution is happening right in front of our eyes, and I refuse to be a simple spectator,” she says. “I want to be an active participant, and to help other young women to also be part of it.”
In this interview, Eden tells us about her professional path, her motivation to help others, and her views on women’s role in the digital transformation.
Q: How did you to become a digital entrepreneur? What led you to found Invicta?
ET: I was born and raised in Ethiopia, but when I turned 18, I moved to India because I received a full scholarship to study a bachelor’s degree in IT. In the middle of my studies, however, Africa was experiencing a terrible refugee crisis, and I just felt like I had to go home and do something about it. So, I decided to take a gap year to support refugees. I packed my bags and left to a refugee camp in southern Ethiopia, where a lot of South Sudanese refugees were fleeing into. There I met another Ethiopian who was also trying to help, and we decided to set up a learning resources centre where refugees could find income generation opportunities, mostly through freelancing.
Myself, I started doing freelance work since I was very young. I actually got my first paying job when I was 16 — a local church hired me to build their website. Building from my experience finding remote opportunities, we provided full support to refugees who wanted to engage in freelance work, from creating a CV to training on secure financial transactions.
After my gap year, however, I had to go back to India to complete my degree. Once I finished, I still wanted to pursue this project, so I applied for an accelerator programme in Norway — I was one of 25 selected entrepreneurs. This programme helped me and my co-founder to launch Invicta and to take our activities to the next level.
Q: You are very passionate about the Digital for Development (D4D) field, can you please tell us why?
ET: I’ve actually been passionate about technology since I was six years old. That’s when my father bought me and my siblings our first computer and I became really attached to it and so interested in its different software applications. While growing up, technology made me feel empowered, as I could do so many things with it. As I mentioned previously, it enabled me to do freelance work and earn some money.
Later on, I discovered that I could actually combine two of my passions: digital technologies and sustainable impact. My purpose then became to serve the world through technology.
Q: What barriers do women face in the digital world? What can we do to change this?
ET: I grew up in a patriarchal society, but I had the amazing fortune of having very supportive parents who encouraged me to pursue a career in IT. This was very important because every other person would tell me that I could never be good at it, and that I should focus instead on marrying and having kids.
Through my podcast and other experiences, though, I have encountered many other women who have not had supportive families and it’s a big obstacle they need to overcome. This is why I have also been involved in mentoring and supporting young women to participate in the digital economy.
What can we do? From my experience, we need legal frameworks in place to support online work. In most African countries this type of work has to be done in a grey area, which deters women from entering the sector because they don’t feel safe online, or they think that it’s not sustainable in the long term.
We also need more incentives for women to enrol in tech education and pursue careers in this field. Some ideas are including flexibility for those who also want to have children, providing access to IT equipment, or waiving fees for women.
Of course, raising awareness about the gender digital divide is also very important. Part of this is showcasing success stories so other women can say “If she did it, I can also do it.”
Q: What’s next for you? What are your professional goals?
ET: At the moment I want to continue my digital entrepreneurship journey and support more refugees. There are millions of refugees in camps across Africa; millions of young people who are extremely smart and talented and deserve more opportunities. So, I want to provide all the support I can. I eventually want to pursue a master’s degree, but right now I feel that I am in a point of my career where I am having a lot of impact and I don’t want to put it on hold.
In the longer term, I want to put my cybersecurity knowledge in use. My dream is to work for Interpol and fight cybercrime. I would also like to become a diplomat one day and work for an institution like the African Union contributing to inclusive policies and frameworks for digital transformation.