This year’s Women’s History Month theme is “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics”. In observance, USAID is spotlighting innovative women working in these fields.

“We weren’t aware of how huge the event actually was until the day of the competition. When I saw the people and how important it was, the energy was overwhelming and I knew this was something I wanted to do again and again,” explained 20 year old, Egi Shijaku, about her experience at the 2nd Annual Microsoft Imagine Cup held in Tirana, Albania on March 15.

Egi Shijaku at the 2nd Annual Microsoft Imagine Cup held in Tirana, Albania on March 15. Photo credit: USAID

USAID was one of the main organizers of the 2013 Microsoft Imagine Cup which brought together 15 university-level teams to present their IT projects to judges. After the competition, USAID’s enterprise development project is providing technical assistance to the 2013 winners to help them commercialize their winning ideas. In addition, qualified businesses and organizations are eligible for a grant of up to $20,000 to introduce business technologies or innovations.

Shikaju was part of a three person team from Epoka University who competed in this year’s competition of innovative software applications. Her team submitted a mobile software application that allows users to upload photos and GPS data of garbage and waste in order to notify local government authorities responsible for clean-up.

“Garbage collection is really a problem that worries us all. Tirana and all the cities in Albania have the problem of waste that isn’t thrown in the right places and at times is thrown in public spaces.”

According to Shikaju, the key was to build something that was user-friendly and beneficial. Her mobile solution makes it easier for local authorities to monitor environmental hotspots and gives citizens the option to simply click and report. Just knowing how easy it is to report would serve as a deterrent.

While her team placed seventh this year, Shikaju is already thinking about next year’s competition and will participate in “Start-Up Week” in April. As a second year student studying Business Informatics, a new degree program which combines Computer Science and Economics, her future in IT, and that of many young girls like her, looks bright.

“I see business informatics, computer science, IT being a trend in Albania for young girls,” said Shikaju. There are currently 23 students in the program, half of whom are women.

“Right now there are a lot of systems being developed in Albania,” explained Shikaju.  ”All the systems in the government are being transferred to computers. Businesses are looking for ways to transfer their business to the Cloud, so that is a sphere as well. I am always surprised with how huge this market is even as small as a country like Albania.”

The main impediment to growth of the IT sector, particularly programming and developing software, is lack of qualified applicants. As Albania’s IT sector expands, young women like Shikaju are jumping at the opportunity to get involved.  Shikaju said she surprised how in interviews with people, particularly after the Imagine Cup, there is significant interest in her, not because of her gender, but because of what programming language she knows.