Girl Effect’s TEGA Director has been crowned a Digital Maverick by Campaign magazine. Laura Scanlon tells us what it takes to be a leader in digital and development.

On an annual basis, Campaign magazine celebrates women trailblazing in the tech and digital sectors. This year, Girl Effect’s Laura Scanlon, founder and director of TEGA – Technology Enabled Girl Ambassadors – is 1 of 10 incredible women granted this year’s prestigious Digital Maverick award.

Well done Laura!

We asked her 3 questions about what it takes to be a leader in digital and development:

How did you come up with the idea for TEGA?

The idea was conceived in the dark basement of our old Girl Effect Nigeria office.

It was late 2013, a period when Boko Haram were extremely active. We had commissioned some vital research to help us better understand the urgent situation for girls in the volatile Northern Nigeria. After a long 4 month wait for the results, we received an underwhelming report that failed to provide a credible, informative overview.

This was typical scenario: A long wait for results that did not provide the answers we wanted.

We were increasingly aware that the traditional methodologies deployed were the reason the research wasn’t delivering what we needed – strangers arriving on doorsteps, asking for intrusive and intimate information, rarely created a dynamic where girls felt comfortable speaking candidly about their lives.

We decided to tackle this problem ourselves: to create a research solution that allowed us to safely, efficiently and authentically reach and understand any girl, no matter how hostile or inaccessible her environment.

TEGA is our solution. It is borne out of the understanding that an adolescent girl is more likely to feel comfortable speaking truthfully about her life to another girl like her.  She is more likely to respond openly to someone who understands her background and the culture in which she lives, as opposed to an adult stranger who does not share her experience.

TEGA employs girls living in poverty from the areas we need to understand, to become qualified researchers. By using girls with a shared identity, TEGA is proven to increase propensity for authentic responses.  By equipping these girls with bespoke mobile technology we can access the data they collect faster and more cost efficiently than ever before.

A Digital Maverick succeeds in the face of adversity. What challenges or resistance have you faced in getting TEGA off the ground?

The concept of TEGA was, at first, questioned by the development community.  There was scepticism about whether girls living in poverty had the ability to collect credible, rigorous data…and, of course, whether it was safe to do so.

But at Girl Effect we see obstacles as design challenges. By approaching them creatively, incredibly seriously and optimistically, we believe we can break convention safely and effectively. We applied this belief to TEGA.

Given the high-risk nature of the project, Girl Effect put safety at the heart of the TEGA project. We have a TEGA Mantra which guides every decision made:

‘Her safety is the purpose of the project and every decision made should reflect this.

It will be reflected across everything from design to development. We must not compromise her in any way, nor will we opt for solutions that cut corners in terms of cost, process or time at the expense of safety. She will sit at the core of every decision made, which is exactly where she needs to be.’

As a result, TEGA, at every stage of the process, houses brand new, innovative features that enable girls living in poverty to safely collect credible, robust data. For example, once data is stored it is almost immediately wiped from the phone to protect the researcher, and the data itself. the TEGA phone also has one of the first SMS enabled panic buttons, and we have designed various pieces of content that help to explain what TEGA is should the phone be found.

To date, TEGA has conducted 160 projects in some of the world’s most unstable and volatile environments without a single safety incident. It is now a multi-award winning research tool, collecting data that is fuelling the programmes of the some of the world’s leading development organisations.

What advice would you give to women who aspire to benefit the world through tech and digital?

Working in technology today is an intoxicating place to be. Our science fiction dreams are becoming a reality and pretty much anything is possible, so my first piece of advice is, it’s a brilliant choice of career, stick with it.

Secondly, always be mindful that just because the technology exists for us to do whatever we want, it doesn’t mean we should do whatever we want. It’s important we stay focused on harnessing the power of technology to solve real problems; meaningful ideas to make people’s lives better, healthier and happier. Once we have solved these fundamental problems, we can start on making our fridges talk to each other, etc.

And finally, my Dad taught me to ‘always sweep clean’. Meaning, no matter how others around you act, always be your best. So, if you ever encounter a moment of inequality, disarm it with the potent brilliance that sits inherently in every single one of us.

Click here to find out more about TEGA