Written by: Sara Kugler
Mwende Katwiwa, a rising senior at Tulane University, was pursuing a summer internship with the Global Women’s Network when she was informed the organization no longer existed. Instead, she was offered the opportunity to join a small team developing a new website focused on sharing the stories of women innovators. That site, Winnovating, launched in August and feature profiles and interviews with women innovators. I spoke with Mwende about Winnovating and why we should be paying attention.
How do you identify the women you profile?
I think every blogger has a different way of profiling them… I’m the one who always clicks the links in the article, and those always get you to the source of what’s actually being talked about, and so – sometimes that’s really how I do it, if I’m reading something of interest and I’ll find it goes back to a woman. And I think that’s just so amazing.
It’s also kind of disturbing to me that I have to research and find out that it goes back to a woman, so it really fits back into the point of Winnovating, which is profiling these women who are really making these innovative changes in their communities but may not necessarily be getting – not necessarily even recognition and praise, but acknowledgement that these efforts are being made and that they’re needed, and that there are women doing them.
Have you done any profiles that you found particularly surprising?
My favorite one, that was most surprising, was a 13-year-old, she may be 14 years old now; her name is Maya Burhanpurkar. She’s this girl who built—she was so smart and eager to learn that she approached these universities at ten years old, and was like, I want to do research in your labs. And they were like, no, you ten-year-old, what are you talking about?
So instead of being discouraged, she built her own lab in her parent’s basement. By the age of 13, had contributed significantly to the development of Alzheimer’s drugs and their safety, and it was just the most mind-blowing story for me. I’m 22, and I feel I’m really just starting to get my feet wet in doing things, and here’s a 13-year-old who’s already changing the face of science. That one was really surprising to me.
Who do you hope visits your site, and what do you hope they take away?
Something we really talked about this summer, when we were still forming the strategic vision, was we didn’t want this to be a site necessarily for just women, or for innovators. With a name like Winnovators, which means women innovators, it kind of sounds like you’re reaching out to those crowds, but for us it was more having this universal connecting appeal to whatever crowd it is.
It should be of interest to anyone that something is being innovated, and we’re just highlighting the fact that it’s women because we have an understanding that in our society women’s inventions, women’s ideas may not be as valued or easily and readily publicized.
So it’s really for everyone, with the understanding that if these stories had been more publicized, everyone would be reading them anyway. So we’re just trying to push them to that place where we don’t have to highlight the fact that it’s a woman, because women will be highlighted in the mainstream news sources. It’s filling that void that doesn’t highlight the achievements of women.
Why is it important for us to hear these stories? I know you’re a spoken word artist – does that impact how you understand their value?
The value is it’s just being said – we’re just putting it out there. We’re not saying, because of all these stories, all the funding should go to women; there are no real statements that are being made. It’s just being put out there because, why wouldn’t you want to learn about some woman innovating this amazing thing, whether it’s local, whether it’s global?
And as a spoken word artist… it’s really helped me appreciate the value of when words are spoken directly. A blog isn’t necessarily speaking, but it’s speaking in a way that has become normalized in our age of technology. People reading a blog is as informative as it used to be for people to read the news.
So if you’re reading a blog, it shows in some way that you’re being intentional about what you’re learning. And I think that’s why we’re very careful about who we chose to profile as Winnovators, to show a range of personal, geographic, ethnic, what-they’re-actually-winnovating diversity, so that we have that appeal and really speak to everyone who could come to the website.
Do you have a particular definition of innovating that you work with?
Yeah, if you look on our website it’s spelled out, but it’s really simple: a winnovator is a woman who is taking innovative steps to create change in her community. We’re not trying to sit here and further box in women who are already, in our society and world, put into these structured boxes. This is, if anything, the largest box – if you’re doing something that’s for the good of your community and making a change, that’s probably innovative. So why not highlight it?
Is there anything else we should know about Winnovators?
We’re always looking for bloggers. If you’re interested in blogging for Winnovating [or have] suggestions for Winnovators, contact us.
Mwende is also a student this semester in Melissa Harris-Perry’s class “Hip Hop & Feminism.” She wrote about Dr. Tricia Rose’s visit to class as part of our “This Week in Class” blog series. You can read it here.