Celebrating women in STEM: Juliana Rotich

Imagine using your skills to prevent violence, increase freedom of information and change the world. That’s the legacy of the amazing Juliana Rotich. After graduating from UMKC, she used her experience in Computer Science to give voices to thousands of people in crisis.

Rotich was born in Kenya in 1977. Few people in her community had a formal education, but her parents worked hard to give her every opportunity. She excelled in school, especially in working with computers, and she served as the chair of her high school computer club. Rotich pursued her passion for technology all the way to the United States, where she earned a bachelor’s in computer science from the UMKC.

Rotich started working at Sprint Nextel Corporation in 1999 as an accounts specialist. Six years later, she left Sprint to work at InterCall Inc. in Chicago, Illinois. In 2006, Rotich started working for the National Seminars Group, where she designed and maintained SQL Server databases. The following year, she joined Hewitt Associates as a data analyst.

From 2007 through 2008, Kenya was in turmoil following a widely-disputed election. Violent protests erupted, and ethnic violence resulted in the deaths of over 1,000 people. Rotich saw the violence in her homeland and wanted to provide people in Kenya with a way to tell their stories and report violence in their area.

In 2008, she co-founded the non-profit company Ushahidi (Swahili for “testimony”). Based in Nairobi, Ushahidi crowdsources information about violence and maps it, allowing the media to effectively report issues and put pressure on the government to stop violence. Ushahidi is now used for crisis response in over 160 countries, including Afghanistan, New Zealand and Haiti. Rotich served as Executive Director of Ushahidi from 2011 to 2015.

After using her skills to decrease violence in Kenya, Rotich turned to the next issue facing her community: lack of internet access due to blackouts. In 2013, Rotich co-founded BRCK, Inc., a tech company that enables internet connection in low-infrastructure environments. Their biggest product is a battery-operated modem that can run for up to eight hours without electricity. Today, BRCK is the largest Wi-Fi provider in sub-Saharan Africa, serving over 150 countries. Rotich served as Executive Director of BRCK from 2016 to 2017.

Rotich has earned many awards and honors for her groundbreaking work in technology. She earned a TED Senior Fellowship and a Director’s Fellowship by the MIT Media Lab. In 2011, she was named Social Entrepreneur of the Year for 2011 by the World Economic Forum and one of the “World’s Top 100 Women” by The Guardian. In 2013, she was awarded the Digital, Life, Design (DLD) Women Impact Award. Rotich served as an Advisory Council Member and the Country Cluster Head for East Africa with the German chemicals company BASF. This year, she won the German Africa Prize⎯ awarded by the German Africa Foundation to honor “outstanding individuals for their longstanding endeavors to foster democracy, peace, human rights, art, culture, the social market economy and social concerns.” She is also a Board Member for the Standard Media Group and the Kenya Vision 2030 Delivery Board.

Are you interested in empowering women in the STEM fields? The Women in Science (Wi-Sci) group wants you! Email President Emily Larner (emily.larner@mail.umkc.edu) for more information.

mew9bc@mail.umkc.edu

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