Women-led coding and design non-profit based in Chicago expands their free coding camps to girls in Kingston, Jamaica

Brave Initiatives, a Chicago-based nonprofit that offers free coding, design and leadership camps in the U.S. for girls, announced today that it will expand the program to Jamaica with the first weeklong camp starting in Kingston on August 14, 2017.

Anna Bethune, a native of Kingston and one of three co-founders at Brave Initiatives, said the Jamaica expansion is part of a global initiative to educate high school girls about the role technology plays in providing solutions to important social issues. Brave Initiatives also focuses on diversifying the fields of computer science and technology, which are traditionally male-dominated.

“The needs in Jamaica are very different than they are in the U.S.,” said Bethune, highlighting the importance of the hosting the free camps and workshops in Jamaica. “Computer science is something offered only at the schools that have access to computers and the Internet. There are many schools in Jamaica where these programs are not really explored because the resources just aren’t available.”

In 2006, policymakers in Jamaica mandated the Vision 2030 plan, a strategic roadmap to guide the country to achieve its goals of sustainable development and prosperity by 2030. Part of this plan includes the implementation of more technology into curriculum to better prepare students in Jamaica for the demands of the 21st century knowledge economy. Brave Initiatives, Bethune said, is seeking to bridge Jamaica’s conventional education system, which was more theoretical and academic, to something more competency and skill-based.

When it comes to postsecondary education, there is a noticeable disparity between men and women. According to an Education for All (EFA) global monitoring report in 2014, the enrollment rate for women was 40.2 percent, more than twice the rate for men, which was 17.9 percent. However, the gender gap in the computer science and tech workforce is still very present. Out of 47 educators in the Information and Communication Technology and Services sector, only 18, or 38% are female.

“Organizing this camp has provided us with some challenges,” said Bethune. “In Chicago, we have tons of women code coaches stepping forward and offering us help. In Jamaica, we might have two or three. This gender gap motivates our team even more to step in and make sure our camp is a success.”

Growing up in Jamaica, Bethune understands the type of impact a camp hosted by Brave Initiatives would have on high school girls. “I came from a fairly comfortable family that prioritized education,” she said. “I was able to go to the school that would give me opportunities to grow and ultimately attend Stanford University. However, I know every girl does not have these opportunities, and our camps exists to assist girls with limited access to resources.”

At 16-years-old, Bethune was accepted into Stanford University where she studied economics and micro-finance. She would graduate in 2010 and explore her options in the Silicon Valley. However, after briefly working at a small tech startup, Bethune had a change of heart and decided to move back to Jamaica to find her passion in life. “Who’s going to fund this ‘change of heart,’” said her mother — so Bethune landed a job as an economic researcher for former Prime Minister, the Most Honourable Edward Seaga, for two years.

“Mr. Seaga taught me a lot about the role of education,” Bethune said. “I decided to shift my focus from economics to education because I realized that if we wanted to make Jamaica a developed country in the next 50 years, we would need an educated labor force.” To get a better grasp in the field of education, Bethune started looking for Ph.D. programs that would set the groundwork for her initiative.

Bethune enrolled in Northwestern University to obtain her Ph.D. in Learning Sciences and later met Brave Initiatives co-founder Emily Harburg in a design-thinking lab on campus. The two women connected over their passion for women’s empowerment. Harburg brought co-founder Jen Kamins into the mix through their connection at Park Community Church in Chicago, and the three began their journey as Brave Initiatives.

After two years of success in Chicago, Brave Initiatives intends on expanding nationally and internationally. Their pilot camp in Jamaica will help them to adjust their curriculum to the Caribbean context as they plan to scale across Latin America and the Caribbean.. In the U.S., efforts have already begun to establish Brave Initiatives in the San Francisco Bay Area by 2018.

“This is about building up a movement of young women who are passionate and equipped to deal with the community issues they’re experiencing,” said Bethune. “We are at a moment where things are changing rapidly. Whether in Jamaica, in the U.S., or in Uganda, the need to engage women in a transformative industry like tech grows in importance daily. It is undeniable that technology will play an important role in molding our future society. The questions is what role SHOULD technology play in the future. We want to make sure that everyone who has been through a Brave camp or a Brave workshop thinks about the social implications of the technology they build and creates solutions that challenge inequity. Brave Initiatives is trying to create a resilient and robust ‘glo-cal’ community (global and hyper-local) whose ultimate objective is to code a better world.”

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For additional information about Brave Initiatives or to sign up for a Brave camp or workshop, please visit www.braveinitiatives.com. To secure an interview with the Brave Initiatives’ co-founders, please contact Devin Pickell at (773) 647-8904 or devin@jerrythomaspr.com, or Jerry Thomas at (312) 285-5166 or jerry@jerrythomaspr.com.

Brave Initiatives: Co-founders Anna Bethune, Jen Kamins, and Emily Harburg see the potential to code in everyone; this sparked the creation of Brave Initiatives. For the past two years, their work has primarily focused on ‘flipping the script’ in a male-dominated world of computer science and technology by empowering high school girls in Chicago to embrace their potential. Brave Initiatives hosts multiple five-day camps and weekend workshops for girls looking to get their feet wet in the fields of computer science and technology. These programs help students build skills in coding, website design, public speaking, virtual reality, leadership, and more — at no cost for attendees. Furthermore these camps and workshops emphasize the importance of technology in providing solutions to contemporary social issues.

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