‘There’s a place at Google for you,’ Google CEO tells girls from Kazakhstan who won Senoir Grand prize at Google-Technovation

Aigerim Katayeva, an active member of AIESEC, a mentor of QamCare team shares her experience from idea to realization. QamCare - its a Kazakhstani startup with an idea to help users keep track of their loved ones and share a location with the trusted person.

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During my university life in Almaty, I was trying to take all possible opportunities on my way. Luckily, nowadays they are quite a lot. Being an active member of AIESEC I was engaged in several projects. Then I decided to focus on my studies, IT. I was in the team of start up to create a mobile app. We started to participate in different events as Infactorium Incubator, iKBTU, MOST Incubator and various guest lectures which made us armed with a valuable knowledge of developing a product from a scratch: from an idea to the final product. Furthermore, there was a course ‘Open It’ from the leading companies in KZ , where they shared huge experience of creating new products, overcoming the problems they face, developing digital marketing and using advanced technologies. Besides this, we decided to freelance with my peers, applying the knowledge we’ve gained. During those 6 months I’ve learnt many things which made us able to help people and solve different technical problems.

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Meanwhile, our university was privileged to be the host of UNICEF lab with equipment, where every student can come and develop his/her projects. Also, he/she will be provided with mentorship and support. I found it as a great opportunity and dived in. I had a great team, we did many projects, but the most interesting one, I believe, was Hackathon in Astana, called ‘Innovate for children’. So many amazing interesting ideas were presented there.

It all started from Maker Space, initiative of US General Consulate, hosting Hackathon Microsoft. The aim is to support different IT and engineering projects. Moreover, they were calling for volunteers to teach. I signed up for teaching animation and design for kids, which was a brand new experience for me. There I’ve met Aziza, one of the coordinators.

While working in Maker Space, we have heard about Technovation.

Technovation is an initiation of Google for girls (under age of 18) empowerment in STEM to support Sustainable Development Goals and find a technical solution to real-world problems. They learn to identify a problem in their community and create a mobile app solution to address that problem. Organizers provide participants with 12 week online step by step course from the scratch on MIT App inventor. The participants are divided into two groups, junior (about 10-14) and senior (15-17). There were more than 1500 girls involved in Technovation from the time of its foundation.

We found out about the team of girls, finalists from Kazakhstan in Silicon Valley last year. They created an app through which users can leave suggestions and complains to the government of Almaty. One of them, representing the team, gave a powerful speech on TEDx. I was really impressed, being so young, the girl was talking about such a big issues.

By December we created a team and had worked hard for 9 months. Our team included 4 brilliant ladies with different backgrounds in design, sale, organization, programming: all attendees of Maker Space course, 15-17 years old. And two mentors: Aziza and me. It’s better to have people in team with different backgrounds, so every single person has its own role in the team, making it whole.  All knowledge we gained in all events, workshops, and trainings earlier became an essential weapon to use in realization of our project.

We were interested in several SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals), but after the big brainstorming and research, we decided to choose  #peace. Girls were particularly worried by a rise in number of people who just simply don’t return to their homes and after several days officially announced as “lost”, – children, adolescents, adults. So our idea is to help users keep track of their loved ones and share a location with trusted person using the app. Moreover, there is a hardware with the button on it, in the future it would be something like a broche. And our app’s name, thanks to our source of innovation and creativity – Aruzhan, was named Qamcare, where ‘Qamqor’ means “care and support” from our mother tongue, Kazakh.

We had a regional semifinal in Almaty in May. There were so many strong teams with bright ideas. There was one junior team, ‘Petcare’, the idea of it was to take care of pets from an animal shelter and find them a new most appropriate home through mobile app. I think it’s wonderful that such young girls want to make an impact to the society and they do that.

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We managed to get through the round and in June we waited for the next online round, according to voting of international jury. The whole world was in. We couldn’t believe when we heard that we were chosen to be in final round.

There were only 6 teams from all over the world in the final round World Pitch Summit in California. We didn’t really think we can make it: the participants were really competitive, especially girls from India with great public 30 skills. But at that day in front of 900+ supporters, educators, mentors and past participants, the four girls behind a safety app called QamCare were crowned the winner of the Senior Division.

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Looking back, I could say that the most difficult issue was to manage the time and get together with our main jobs and girls graduating from different schools. But we did have support from all around: Maker space and UNICEF gave us all 24/7technical support we needed, friends and acquaintances were glad to help us with tips and advices.

Despite all difficulties, our key to success was a clear vision and desire to help people. Our next step is to make the app work on both platforms, iOS and Android and empower more girls in Kazakhstan.

I would say, it’s an amazing opportunity for growing and learning. It’s a big experience and networking. Every girl has the opportunity to participate, you just need to find a mentor and work hard towards reaching the goal. And of course, if many girls will participate this year it would be much better. The registration will be open this fall, where mentors can start taking action and lean in. Funny fact is that when we went to Silicon Valley, everyone first thought that we are in the team. Just because mentors’ average age was 30+ and our age gap is about 5-6 years.

I’m grateful for this experience, it was great to feel the environment and participate in both scales, local and international as well, where the awareness about Kazakhstan is still in the process.  I believe, our main goal is to make all, not only girls, aware of such opportunities, to help people to break personal limits and solve technical solutions to make our world better place to live. 

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