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Aviva partners Beyond the Classroom to inspire girls into tech

Chika Aghadiuno, vice chair of Aviva’s women’s network, says it is important to make young people aware of potential careers

Aviva has partnered social enterprise Beyond the Classroom in an initiative to educate young girls in London about career options in technology.

During a three-day workshop in the Aviva Digital Garage a short distance from London’s Silicon Roundabout, eight girls from underprivileged backgrounds were invited to attend workshops on digital jobs such as UX, coders or product managers.

By the end of the event, each girl was expected to present an idea for an application to solve a real-world problem.

Chika Aghadiuno, general insurance actuarial director at Aviva and vice chair of the insurer’s women’s network, said: “While we are genuinely a global organisation and in many ways we are very diverse, I think we all acknowledge there is a bit more we can do to make ourselves accessible to this pool of young people.”

Aviva worked with Beyond the Classroom, which was set up by Amma Mensah, a 26-year-old psychology graduate from Streatham, to develop the workshops as part of their ongoing partnership.

The workshops took the girls through a typical product development lifecycle for the insurer, helping them to develop a Dragon’s Den-style pitch to a judging panel.

Aghadiuno said: “Over the course of the three days, we were introducing them to the concept of an organisation such as Aviva, and the thought processes that you might apply to developing whatever it is you might be developing. In this instance, we were leading them towards coming up with ideas for an app.”

The girls, aged between 11 and 16, split themselves into three teams to develop their ideas as well as to learn concepts such as agile development, product development, business models and coding.

One of the teams came up with the idea of an app to help parents track their children while they are out without needing to “constantly text them”. This was the overall winner of the pitching session.

“What they thought would be useful and better for them was if this was automatic, so the parents would be able to track where the child was without the child having to stop and take the effort to text them all the time,” said Aghadiuno.

The second team devised an app to inform users of activities and events in the local area.

One girl, who made up the third team on her own, worked on an app to support users through difficult situations, enabling them to report a problem, such as bullying or family difficulties.

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The app would also allow users to gain feedback on how to cope with a particular situation, and would encourage them to talk through their own problem-solving ideas to help them reach conclusions on how to cope with difficult experiences.

“We felt each of the ideas had very strong recommendations and could be worthy of being the winner in its own right,” said Aghadiuno.

Aghadiuno pointed out that although many companies have a noticeable physical presence near young people in London, children still may not make the connection between these organisations and possible future careers.

“I am always very much aware of our building here in the city,” she said. “It is actually visible to a number of schoolgirls that we’ve spoken to through our relationship with Beyond the Classroom. They can see this building from where they are, but they don’t actually consider it to be part of their world or at all accessible.

“So we are very aware that there are a subset of young people that might be missed in terms of this being a potential career path for them.”

Aviva’s work with Beyond the Classroom is designed to “help children to see there is a connection” between digital leisure time activities and possible future careers, Aghadiuno said.

Great emphasis has been put on the importance of digital skills in recent years following the changes to the national curriculum in 2014 which made it mandatory to teach computing to children between the ages of five and 16.

Many organisations are focused on making sure young people consider future careers in science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) to help fill the skills gaps these industries are facing.

Aghadiuno said this is becoming increasingly important for employers as digital technology shapes the future of customer-facing services.

“There is a culture at Aviva around thinking that way around the customer, thinking about looking forward, and digital is clearly key to all of that,” she said.

“The young girls we spoke to and had the pleasure of being involved with as part of Beyond the Classroom, they are all over this digital world that we’re living in, but not in the context that they’re thinking about it as a career. That’s the divide that we’re dealing with at the moment.”

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