Black History Month: My experience in technology and philanthropy
- Posted on February 10, 2020
- Estimated reading time 3 minutes
Editor’s note: We’re honored to share the story of senior consultant Nebiat Belayhun. Nebiat’s desire to make an impact with her career is influenced by her experience as a black woman from Ethiopia. Celebrating Black History Month is not limited to looking toward the past – it also means talking about how that history is inspiring change today and in the future.
When I left my native Ethiopia at age 19 to attend college in the U.S., I dedicated myself to improving maternal mortality for HIV positive women in my home country. The poverty in Ethiopia is inescapable and was so real around me. I have witnessed many young women in Ethiopia getting married and pregnant as early as 13 years old. Issues such as general lack of HIV awareness, fear of going to the hospital, decision-making power of husbands and harmful cultural practices restricted these pregnant women from seeking health care in Ethiopia. As a result, I was determined at a very young age to pursue a degree in the highest education and bring the impact home.
I earned my PhD in management, where my research focused on ways technology can be used toward improved treatment of HIV for pregnant women. I met with several policy makers in Ethiopia who were in support of my work and had a similar vision. Through my research, we attempted to understand the effectiveness of mobile technologies (e.g. SMS) in a way that improves the delivery of HIV services and midwives to pregnant women in Ethiopia.
My research findings showed that one of the most beneficial strategies of mobile technologies is increasing the awareness of pregnant women on the issues of HIV and maternal mortality through improved communication and education. It is also crucial to empower midwives by providing them with improved communication, training and support needed to engage HIV-positive mothers with care. In addition, the conclusion of my research suggested that policy makers reinforce health awareness using mobile technologies to address challenges of HIV and maternal mortality in Ethiopia. Beyond the scope of my home country, my research findings could be applied to other developing and underdeveloped nations facing similar challenges and situations.
When I joined Avanade, I was no longer directly connected to technology and philanthropy work. However, that changed when Avanade announced the Tech for Social Good initiative in 2019. This program was spearheaded by our CEO Pamela Maynard and allows Avanade to provide consulting work to nonprofits, so that they can assist the communities they serve. When I first heard of this program, I was thrilled. Currently, I spend a good amount of my time with our Global Nonprofit Advisor to brainstorm how we can use our digital and technological abilities for social impact.
This journey is not without obstacles. The uphill climb for minorities in the technology industry has been well documented. For me, this challenge started when I first moved to the U.S. Ethiopia is one of the two countries in Africa that wasn’t affected by colonialism, so I did not grow up with the perceptions of race that are so common in other parts of the world. The last 20 years in the U.S., I have learned that the industry can leave African immigrants and women of color in technology without role models or good support.
I try to overcome these challenges through my support system, including my workplace at Avanade, where achievements are celebrated, voices are raised, and professional stories are shared. As a mother of a 3-year-old, I want him to be able to counteract any prejudicial messages he receives. I’m building the foundation of an environment where it is normal for him to learn about different cultures and races – and the universal experiences that connect us.