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‘Lioness of Africa’ knows no limits

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Computer scientist Muthoni joined a male-dominated field and beat odds to rank among top 100

By Ben Oduor

Dorcas Muthoni always approached life fearlessly at a tender age. She believed that for someone to succeed, one had to face any challenges head-on.

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To her, marshalling potential was a core value she swore to uphold and preserve to achieve her goals. It is for this reason that her fetish for applied and technical sciences saw her beat her male counterparts in primary and secondary schools.

At the University of Nairobi, she kept the fire burning, choosing a Bachelors Degree in Computer Science, a course she says has been an eye opener over the years.

Immediately after graduating in 2002, Muthoni landed a job with the Kenya Education Network, a private network operator founded in 1999 and licensed in 2002 to promote the use of ICT in institutions of higher learning while connecting them to the rest of the world. She was among the first women engineers to work with the network.

But just two years later, at the age of 24, her entrepreneurial instincts took over and she quit to establish Open World, a company that develops software for e-government.

“When I thought of creating Open World, I had a contract with my employer for another 1 ½ years, but I opted out not to renew. It was a 110% risk…..I’m not sorry I did it,” she discloses in a statement.

Furthermore, she says that while conceiving her company, Microsoft was the dominant player in the Kenyan ICT market, and its software licenses were ‘exorbitantly costly.’

Besides, Kenyans at the time had few options since the US based worldwide dealer in software and device solutions was the popular firm providing office suite software packages to enterprises, a trend that provoked an opportunity to Open World.

“Having learnt about open source software, and the hindrance organizations had in acquiring certain applications, I felt that it was an opportunity to create awareness about it and to provide people with solutions in using the software in an effort to bring down costs dramatically,” says the entrepreneur.

Armed with laptop and internet connectivity, the techpreneur set an office in her house and kicked off operations.

Her breakthrough, she explains, came about when she was invited by the then Communication Authority of Kenya (now Communication Authority) to address officials at the World Telecommunication Day celebrations. She seized the opportunity to create awareness about the significance of her company’s services.

Further, she partnered with prominent higher institutions of learning such as the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agricultural Technology(JKUAT) which helped scale her services to greater heights nationally.

Gradual growth

In 2007, due to the growing size of the company and increasing demand for its services, Dorcas shifted base to the second floor of Kenindia Assurance building located within Nairobi’s CBD.

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Currently, the firm offers a broad range of services such as; Performance Management System (PMS), SME Business Management Cloud Tool- an integrated online business suite that enables SMEs focus on their growth, and Enterprise Feedback Management- a program developed to support a continuous, unified and timely feedback for the management to act upon.

Also, the firm has developed an Online Program Management System for non-profit and non-governmental organizations, popularly known as Shirika, which helps organizations to design, monitor and evaluate development programs and projects.

Open World, says Dorcas, got a major boost when it was contracted through a public tender, by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to develop a performance management system enabling top managers of public service institutions and the performance contracting departments to continuously monitor performances in both head offices and downstream offices throughout Kenya.

“We shifted focus from the business of customizing open source software to building applications for people, companies and institutions. Fortunately, it is at this point that we were contracted by UNDP-Kenya to automate performance contracting for the government of Kenya, through a public tender.”

So far, the company has crafted a niche within the Information Technology market, attracting a huge clientele of prominent corporate institutions such as the World Bank, Equity Bank, United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Jomo Kenyatta Foundation, Kenya Power, NIC Bank among other clients.

On the other hand, Dorcas runs an organization called AfChix, a technical capacity building initiatives for women in the region, which organizes career conferences to instill computer engineering careers amongst young women and high school girls.

“This is one of my greatest passions. We have trained many women in many of the African countries that have AfChix chapters, who in turn have become trainers and have trained other women,” she says, citing a lady from Kalangala village in Uganda whom she inspired and later got a scholarship to study in Harvard University in the US.

Lioness of Africa

As a pat on the back, cognizant to her snowballing achievements in Kenya’s ICT and job market, the computer scientist has been accorded national and international awards.

For instance, in 2008, Dorcas won the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology’s Change Agent award, before being selected to the Women’s Forum Rising Talent Network, a network of highly talented women with a potential to become influential figures in the future, the following year.

Further, she has been an Internet Society (ISOC) Fellow to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and World Bank infoDev Global Forum.

She was also awarded the honour- Global connector, recognizing individuals who have made significant contributions to the global growth and use of the internet.

Additionally, in 2012, she was inducted by the Internet Society into the Internet Hall of Fame, a platform that celebrates internet visionaries, innovators and leaders from around the world, before being selected as a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader in 2013.

Through these milestones, Muthoni joined the list of top 100 ‘Lionesses of Africa’, a digital platform that celebrates all inspiring women in Africa.

Going forward, living up to her company’s slogan, sheaims to“free Africa from paper”.

“I want my company to positively transform operations within SMEs, and automate their services to free them from paper.”

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