To mark International Internet Day, we look back at our interview with Fereshteh Forough, founder of Code to Inspire.
By Naomi Rougeau.
Code to Inspire founder Fereshteh Forough is paving the way for women in technology in her native Afghanistan with the country’s first all-female coding school.
When Fereshteh Forough returned to Afghanistan with her family shortly after the fall of the Taliban regime (she had been born as an Afghan refugee in Iran), fewer than 1 million students were enrolled in college. Even fewer were female. Despite the potentially discouraging statistics, Forough entered Afghanistan’s Herat University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science. She followed that with a master’s degree in database engineering from the Technical University of Berlin before returning to teach for nearly three years at her alma mater. “I was one of 10 women in a class of 70,” says Forough, “something I hoped to change.”
Indeed, quite a bit has changed post-Taliban, with nearly 7 million students enrolled in universities (2.3 million of them women) today and some 19 percent of the Afghan workforce now female.
Forough herself is playing an invaluable part in that revolution: In November 2015, she launched Code to Inspire, a nonprofit, two-year after-school program based in Herat that provides a safe educational environment to 50 students ages 15 to 25 with the aim of empowering them to further their education and achieve financial independence.
Forough had witnessed the reluctance of many of her female students to raise their hands or ask questions during lectures, and so began her effort to create a supportive setting. The inaugural class will graduate this November, and in addition to backing from the local government, Code to Inspire has received support from Google and PwC. So far, the results have been remarkable.
“Although we gave an entrance exam that spans basic computer skills, we did receive a few applicants who were incredibly passionate and wanted to be part of the program but had never touched a computer,” says Forough. “They were unable to identify a mouse or a keyboard, or how to turn on a computer. They’d never even been online.”
That was 18 months ago. Now those same students are able to build basic websites. Most recently, the class of 2017 has been hard at work on a project that requires the students to develop ideas around five of the United Nations sustainable development goals for 2030.
Forough wants to expand the coding school to include locations in Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif. We’re confident she’ll make that happen—as Code to Inspire’s sole full-time employee, she has accomplished all of the organization’s work from New York, as she has been unable to return to Afghanistan for the last four years due to visa woes. Talk about working remotely.
Now her hard work is coming to fruition. And as the class of 2017 enters its final semester, Forough is doing even more than coding the path to gender equality—she is redefining the perception of Afghanistan, globally.