Dhruti Dheda, 31, is the founder of African Steminist, an initiative focused on increasing the representation of African women in STEM.
Dhruti uses her engineering skills to create social change, as evident from research and projects she undertakes, which highlights technology for positive and equal involvement of women for an inclusive future.
By telling the stories of African women in STEM, more girls are drawn to the sciences, particularly engineering and computer science.
Currently working on her PhD on the optimisation of hybrid renewable energy systems using artificial intelligence, Dhruti’s earlier research focused on innovation for environmental sustainability from an African context. She argues that Africa should leapfrog into Industry 4.0 by adapting efficient and cheaper digital solutions for water conservation.
Dhruti says the drive for conservation should start from school. “Investing in and understanding our environment is an investment in ourselves and a technologically advanced South Africa.”
She says it is vital that African female voices are included in STEM spaces to ensure future technology and its benefits are inclusive and accessible to all. Dhruti wants her work to serve as an inspiration to African girls so that they can see that it’s possible for them to achieve success.
“The most valuable lesson I have learned thus far, is to never stop learning. Always have a curious mind, which is hungry to learn and understand the world around you,” she says.
What is the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
The best advice I have been given is to not waste time worrying about what I cannot control. That includes regretting the past, which I cannot change, or getting anxious about the future, which is completely unknown to me. Instead, I should focus on the present moment which I can control. This advice has helped me to remove a huge amount of unnecessary stress and anxiety from my life and has forced me to focus on what I do have control over — myself and how I react to the present situation.
Our theme this year is Accelerating Equality & Empowerment in Women. How do you empower yourself and women around you?
I empower myself and other women through storytelling. I deeply believe in the power of effective storytelling to create change and to alter the negative narrative surrounding women, especially women of colour in STEM. This is the main reason why I founded the African Steminist, an initiative focused on increasing the representation of African women (especially women of color) in STEM, primarily through telling the stories of African women in STEM. Many African girls will not consider STEM if they are unaware of successful women in STEM. Representation matters — you cannot aim to become what you cannot see. I focus on working towards the equal representation of women in STEM to ensure that the gender pay gap — particularly in the fields of engineering and computer science, which only have 28% women — does not increase, thus undermining the financial security of women in the future. Women’s voices need to be equally included in STEM spaces to ensure that the technology of the future is inclusive and accessible to all. After all, we make the tools and then the tools make us.
If you could change or achieve one thing for South Africa today, what would it be?
When I did research in the application of artificial intelligence in the environmental sector, specifically the water sector, I made certain observations about our country. I believe that South Africa is at a very delicate phase of development, where strides in digitalisation are coupled with growth in water-consuming sectors, such as agriculture. African development should not mimic development in the West, which is unsustainable in terms of water. South Africa has the potential to sustainably leapfrog into Industry 4.0 by adapting efficient and cheaper digital solutions for water conservation. The South African youth should focus on applying artificial intelligence for environmental conservation. The drive for environmental conservation should start from school. Investing in and understanding our environment is an investment in ourselves and a technologically advanced South Africa.