Ghana’s first finance and technology talent accelerator for women

Ghana’s first finance and technology talent accelerator for women
11 min read

Meet Diana Wilson, a Forbes 30 Under 30 Scholar, and the founder of Yielding Accomplished African Women (Yaa W.), Ghana’s first finance & technology talent accelerator for women.

Yielding Accomplished African Women (Yaa W.)

“I have also had the opportunity to have some great professional experiences with JP Morgan Chase & Co, McKinsey & Co., Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Google, PwC, etc. Overall, I feel like the best opportunities in my life have come through my education and through my professional experiences, which have equipped me with the skills needed to be successful. I felt it on my spirit that there must be a way to impart these same experiences and lessons to college women in my homeland of Ghana. I know that in Ghana, there are some professional pipelines, but they usually consist of males and those of the higher socioeconomic status. Thus, the people that needed the help the most were not getting it. I came up with the idea for Yaa W. to make sure that women in Ghana who need help the most are being reached and that marginalised people have access to opportunities and the knowledge needed to be successful in finance and technology careers.”

Diana Wilson

  • Why did you get into STEM?

“I entered into the STEM field because my father is a mathematician. I loved math and I was always good at it. When I entered college, I chose an interdisciplinary major of Sociology and Women Gender Studies because it satisfied my interests in understanding the historical present. However, I still maintained my interests in STEM so I completed three internships in finance. My experiences coupled with my educational training provided me with a strong intellectual preparation in critical thinking and analytical skills while exploring some of life’s most interesting questions. I am equipped with the intellectual discipline to make sound premises based on observed facts while operating under a social context.”

  • What is the problem Yaa W. addresses? What are some of the cultural/societal barriers women face in Ghana?

“A quote that is the basis for the program is by Adrienne Rich. She says, “the most notable fact that culture imprints on women and girls is the sense of our limits. The most important thing one women can do for another is to illuminate and expand her sense of possibility.” In Ghana, there are less amounts of women in STEM as a result of societal and cultural barriers. There was a recent study done saying that less than 30% of STEM professionals in Ghana are women. And most women in Ghana work in jobs in agriculture, the domestic workforce, and informal jobs. If women participated in the economy on an equal basis as men, there would be huge increases in overall productivity and living standards. And although this is a global issue, it is especially relevant to Ghana, as women are precluded from certain financial and technical industries as a result of the patriarchal society. If Yaa W. can help women in Ghana learn how to get jobs and opportunities with the help of our corporate sponsors, we would be able to start breaking down these barriers bit by bit. Of course, this is a huge social issue, but if we can help just a few girls, it would impact entire communities and, in the future, hopefully impact the entire nation.”

  • How did Yaa W. get started? Who has been most impactful on your venture?

“I started Yaa W. after I went on a school study abroad program to learn about commerce Ghana. While there, I realised there were very few women at the corporations we visited. I thought to myself that there was so much I could be doing for my country. From that point, I felt a hassling impulse in my spirit to find a solution, to do something about it. Once I got back to the University of Virginia, I spoke with my Ghanaian friend Nana Adwoa Ofori and we started brainstorming ideas. We came up with an initial program that was way too broad. We were trying to fix the entire education system in Ghana and it wasn’t working. After many iterations, we boiled it down to a more focused talent accelerator that prepares young women from universities in Ghana for careers in finance and technology. The most influential advisor we have had is Kwadwo Sarpong. He started a nonprofit called African Research Academy in Ghana in his senior year at Emory University. He has been guiding me on his initial steps, how to market, get grants etc.”

  • What does the program consist of?

“Our program has four main phases:

  1. Professional Development
  2. Technical Training
  3. Women Empowerment
  4. Innovation Challenge.

During the first phase we will teach the participants the fundamentals of job applications and interviews. We will enable them to create a personal brand that will clearly showcase their unique value proposition. The second phase will consist of interactive workshops that will invite students to explore different skill building activities in their preferred track. Through exercises, students will learn how to code as well as critical thinking skills such as problem-solving, and logic exercises to solve the real programming tasks. For the business track, students will learn about the financial markets, investing, personal finance, Excel shortcuts, and etc. Our third phase, entitled Rise Up: Women’s Empowerment Week, will inspire our participants to have greater aspirations for themselves and provide them role models. Lastly, our innovation challenge pushes our participants to use the skills they garnered to help them contemplate how the public sector and private sector can merge to cultivate social impact. For example, we are working with local small businesses to create projects/tasks our cohort can assist them with. All in all, this program is designed to instill an entrepreneurial spirit as well as encourage women in Ghana to continue their career pursuits despite the obstacles they may encounter.”

  • What are some of the organizations you have partnered with?

“Our partners are the University of Ghana Legon. We are working with them to conduct our program. Our partners for the tech track are Mobile Web Ghana and Ghana Code Club. Through these organizations, we are ensuring our track partner is Care Investments, an organization that helps students understand personal finance, investment principles and market opportunities.”

  • What personal experiences or character traits have helped you most with Yaa W.? How do you think your experience as a first gen Ghanaian American has helped you with Yaa W.?

“My mother came to the United States with $20 and a student visa. She instilled in my two siblings and me a love for Christ, our Ghanaian culture and our country. I believe the millennial generation of Ghanaians’ are privileged because our parents made enormous sacrifices to immigrate to the United States in order to give us the opportunities that we have today, such as attending a school like the University of Virginia. It is our duty to use the knowledge we have acquired to go back to our homeland and use our gifts and talents. Along with my Ghanaian culture and background, my status as a low-income student has been extremely influential in impelling me initiate Yaa W. I was born in Newark, NJ and what I believe promoted me was my education. I had guidance counselors and teachers who consistently went out of their way to nominate me for scholarships, help me choose classes, and guide my educational experience. With that, I was able to come to the University of Virginia. I have been privileged to learn so much here as a double major in Sociology & Women Gender studies. Ultimately, I believe that my identity as a Ghanaian-American, faith in Jesus Christ, family and my education (specifically my teachers and guidance counselors) have been the most impactful on me.”

  • As a founder, what are your long term goals for Yaa W.?
  1. Create Yaa W. institutions across Africa
  2. Establish Partnerships with undergrad institutions in Africa to gain more participants
  3. Close gender gap in economic participation
  4. Build a strong, resourceful network for African women
  5. Develop the next generation of female leaders in Africa
  6. Enhance Africa’s economic productivity by pushing more women into STEM careers”
  • Do you have any tips for aspiring entrepreneurs? What do you think makes a successful entrepreneur?

“You should just do it. Take the time to plan, but don’t worry or obsess over the plan. Things will fall in line once you put sufficient effort into it. Failure is predictable, success is also predictable. Make decisions that will set up your venture for success. Be confident, work hard and be persistent.”

  • What challenges have you faced as a woman in STEM and how did you overcome them?

“I have faced the challenge of stereotype threat. Stereotype threat is a situational dilemma where marginalized groups (women, minorities, etc.) are so apprehensive of conforming to negative stereotypes about their ability that they internalize the same negative stereotypes they were trying to oppose. It is really hard to do well, when you don’t believe that anyone believes you can do well. Specifically, as a Black woman, I was usually in White male dominated spaces. So not only did I have to disprove their pessimistic labels but I also had to find ways to encourage myself to maximize the potential I know I have in me. To do this, I created goals and time-bound objectives to monitor my progress. Also, I frequently sought out mentors or higher-level administrators/executives who believed in me.”

  • What is your advice to budding women in STEM?

“If you don’t dare, you don’t grow. Your race, gender, religion, etc. does not define your ability to be successful. But with hard work and grit, you can show yourself approved. Always reach for the stars because even if you fall you will land on a cloud. When you reach our pinnacle do not forget to help lift other women up.”