Astrophysicist Carolina Ödman was born in Switzerland, earned her PhD at Cambridge University, and has worked all over the world – but it’s in South Africa that she’s found her true home. Her work in pushing science outreach and education in the country (and beyond) has earned her a nomination for AfricaCom Female Innovator of the Year 2019.
“The nomination took me completely by surprise – but I think it’s a very big deal and I’m really thrilled about it,” she says. “Not only does it shine a light on some of the very innovative work being done on the continent – it also gives more visibility to women scientists, engineers and other innovators.”
The AfricaCom award will recognise the outstanding achievements of women who are playing a crucial role in driving Africa towards the Fourth Industrial Revolution, as well as underscore the need for increased gender parity within the industry. The shortlisted leaders include software engineers, NGO founders, tech CEOs – and just one representative of a public higher education institution.
Dr Ödman is an Associate Professor at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) and Associate Director: Development & Outreach for the Inter-University Institute for Data Intensive Astronomy in South Africa (IDIA) – an innovative collaboration to tackle the challenges of Big Data in science.
“Innovation is the ability to spot where things could be done better, to find a way to approach it, and then to go and do it,” she says. “Africa has no shortage of challenges – but it also has an abundance of young, smart minds keen to tackle those challenges, if we can just channel that untapped talent.”
Channeling that potential is something she’s spent her career doing. Dr Ödman was the first International Project Manager of Universe Awareness (UNAWE) at Leiden University – an international programme that aims to awaken kids’ natural curiosity in science, empower them with independent thinking and connect them with other children throughout the world.
At IDIA, she has also had the chance to innovate – and to collaborate with some of South Africa’s top young astronomical talent.
“From creating resources featuring young people’s voices and working on making science resources available in African languages, to creating spaces where science engagement and development practitioners can talk about their work. In each of these, though, I think innovation only comes from a willingness to do the hard work, and to ask uneasy questions – and consider a diverse array of perspectives.”
#AfricanIdeas: Voting For African Innovation
True to form, Dr Ödman has chosen to innovate the voting process a little: for each vote she receives, she’ll be sharing a #AfricanIdea on her social media accounts – highlighting such innovative efforts such as Township Bags (environmentally-friendly, high-quality tote bags produced by women-owned independent co-ops); MXit: (a homegrown network that provided nearly-free instant messaging, long before smartphones and WhatsApp); and much, much more.
“For this nomination not to just come and go, and because no innovator is ever really doing it alone, I’ve pledged to give exposure to an African innovation for every vote I get. Every day, I’m putting together a small image and posting it to my social media accounts.”
“The great thing about Africa: I know this place well enough to know that however many votes I get, I will not run out of innovations to publicise,” she says. “And I know that there are endless amazing innovations to come.”
Vote for your AfricaCom Female Innovator of the Year at https://lnkd.in/dMg_WA5. Voting will close on Wednesday, 13 November 2019 at 12pm (South Africa time).