CyberGirls brings cybersecurity training to women in Africa

Confidence Staveley of the CyberSafe Foundation and the CyberGirls program is today's guest. CyberGirls is a year-long cohort program in which women in Africa ages 18 to 28 can learn cybersecurity basics and create career tracks to fast-track these students into cybersecurity careers! Staveley tells us about the workings of the program, how she uses her YouTube channel to teach API security with food analogies and explains the origins of what is likely the first-ever Afrobeat song about security awareness! This episode is as fun and inspiring as any I’ve recorded, so I hope you’ll tune in for today’s Cyber Work.

0:00 - Cybersecurity training for women in Africa
4:47 - How Confidence Staveley got into cybersecurity
10:35 - What is the CyberSafe Foundation?
16:57 - What is the CyberGirls fellowship?
21:30 - How to get involved in CyberGirls
30:10 - Inspiring success CyberGirls stories
43:11 - Keeping CyberGirls engaged
46:31 - API Kitchen YouTube show
52:00 - Cybersecurity initiatives in Africa
59:27 - Advice for working in cybersecurity
1:03:13 - CyberGirls' future
1:05:20 - Learn more about CyberSafe
1:07:22 - Outro

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Chris SienkoHost00:00

Today on CyberWork. I'm extremely pleased to welcome Confidence Stavley of the CyberSafe Foundation and the CyberGirls program to the show. Cybergirls is a year-long cohort program in which women in Africa ages 18 to 28 can learn cybersecurity basics and create career tracks to fast track these students into cybersecurity careers. Confidence tells us about the workings of the program, uses her YouTube channel to teach API security with food analogies. I've seen it, it's true, it's great and explains the origins of what is likely the first ever Afrobeat song about security awareness. This episode is as fun and inspiring as any of them I've recorded, so I hope you'll tune in for today's CyberWork. Hi and welcome to this week's episode of the CyberWork with Infosec podcast. Each week we talk with a different industry thought leader about cybersecurity trends, the way those trends affect the work of Infosec professionals, while offering tips for breaking in or moving up the ladder in the cybersecurity industry.


I guess today confidence stavely is Africa's most celebrated female cybersecurity leader, api security professional talent developer, international speaker and inclusion advocate. What sets confidence apart is her innate ability to merge profound cybersecurity knowledge with impeccable communication finesse. She excels in translating intricate cybersecurity concepts into digestible, jargon-free insights for diverse audiences. For example, her unique approach is brilliantly showcased in her YouTube series API Kitchen, wherein she applies culinary metaphors to illuminate API security intricacies. I was watching this yesterday and, as I was telling countless before, I feel like I've learned more about OWASP's API vulnerabilities list from that than I have from just sort of being in this company for a while now, but it's a wonderful channel. Within its debut season, the series amassed over half a million views across social media.


She recently clinched the title of Cybersecurity Woman of the World 2023. Previous recognitions include Cybersecurity Woman of the Year for both 2021 and 2022, a spot in the top Cyber News 40 and her 40 in cybersecurity, and a ranking among the top 50 women in cybersecurity Africa, and more. An alumna of globally renowned fellowships such as the 2021. Beyond Her advisory roles on various boards, confedstavely is the driving force behind the CyberSafe Foundation. This is what we're talking about today. This is a leading NGO devoted to fostering a digitally inclusive and secure landscape in Africa, so I'm really looking forward to talking with you, confedstavely. Thanks for joining me today and welcome to CyberWork.

Confidence StaveleyGuest02:31

Thank you so much, Chris. I've been waiting for this time, so I'm absolutely excited. We had many work.

Chris SienkoHost02:38

We've had a couple of scheduling snafus and I'm very glad we got to make this work. So, I want to start here like I start with all my guests, but I'm especially interested in your story here to bring our listeners up to speed about you and your cybersecurity. During Confedstavely Talked a lot about it in the bio there. Can you tell me about what your earliest interests in computers and tech were and what was the initial spark that started you down this path?

Confidence StaveleyGuest03:02

Thank you so much, chris. That question is one that's very dead to my heart because it just speaks of how exposing young women to computers really does help attract fresh talent and helps even with diversity. And my story is just really in that line because I didn't wake up one day thinking, or I want to be in the tech industry, no, it just happened. And how this happened was I had finished my high school in my country that's called Secondary School Education and my parents had asked me to take a gap here before I get into university and so. But they were also concerned that because of the sort of neighborhood we lived in, they didn't want me getting idle and having the boys around that sort of thing.


So you know how they say you know how they say I do, I do. Person is a devil's workshop.

Chris SienkoHost03:57

That's exactly what's right.

Confidence StaveleyGuest03:59

So they got me into this computing school to just while away time. And so you know what? Go ahead and learn how to use computers. So I hadn't touched a computer up until that time. And then I started up learning, first application programming packages, like, say, how to use Microsoft Word, that we take for granted today. You know those very basic packages. And then I went on to say, to learn how to program. So I started learning to program in T-Shop, in Java, in C++, and, my God, chris, I felt a lot Like it felt like I had found a part of me that had never been unlocked before.


I was always so excited to go to that computing place and at this time you know this time, when it had passed and my parents now allowed me to take the interest in dissemination that allows you to go into university in my country. I took it and I got admission into university to study medicine. So, and that was what my parents always wanted just to give you a bit of a background as well, where I come from a lot of times you do not have a model for success that was tied to tech. You know, people who succeeded were medical doctors, they were engineers, they were lawyers. So of course, my parents' model of success is lined up just in that direction, and African parents really do have quite an influence on what you pick to study in school. So if you talk a lot, they would say, oh great, you should be a medical doctor, right? If you know your science is very well and you seem smart with it, you should be a medical doctor. Or you should be an engineer if you're a boy, right.


So my parents had proposed. You know that I was definitely going to be a medical doctor, and they had sold me that dream for a long time. I had bought into it as though it was mine. But coming in contact with computers changed everything. I said no, no, no, that's their dream. It. Mine right now is being tech. So I had the uphill task of convincing my African parents we didn't have a model of success around tech to see tech as a place for their daughter and to allow me to fulfill that admission. So what I did was, at the time I didn't have a laptop to do my slides, so I couldn't afford one, so I bought cardboard papers and I then did these slides on cardboard papers and explained to my parents.

Chris SienkoHost06:20

You gave them a slideshow and it was paper.

Confidence StaveleyGuest06:22

A slideshow, a manual slideshow.

Chris SienkoHost06:24

Amazing. I love that.

Confidence StaveleyGuest06:27

And I explained to them how tech was the present and the future I would say more of a future at that time for them and how it was going to be this great thing and how I had so much fun and passion and joy doing it. And I don't think my parents bought into it because I said tech was the future, but I believe that in retrospect they bought into it because of how much passion they saw that I was portraying. And my mom always had this saying she said you can't outperform a passionate person. So I reminded her of that because I'm very passionate about this. This is something that you should definitely let me go ahead doing. And so, on the basis of the passion I had displayed, my parents had to trust me around, something that they didn't understand, but they could see that I was getting ahead of a hang of, and so they're allowed for me to fulfill my admission to study medicine.


I then did a diploma in software engineering, which really fit into now my interest in API security and how that's helping me secure the code that's written there. And then I went on to do a first degree in IT and business information systems and then I went to do a degree in IT management. It was during my MSc degree in IT management that I got to do an elective that was related to cybersecurity. That literally launched me on this part of cybersecurity. But I'm just saying that all of it was just my dogs getting lined up in a row by life and by just being exposed to computers in the very first place, and I'm really grateful to my parents for the courage they had to trust me on this one.

Chris SienkoHost08:00

Yes, yeah, yeah. They were basically stepping out into the unknown just like you were there, but I think I have to imagine that was probably good for you as well, in the sense that you were able to explain, not just to them but to yourself, what it was you liked so much about, computers, I mean they always say, teaching someone else is the best way to learn something yourself there, and that's a very good sort of clarifying moment. I have to imagine when you're saying these are all the things that I like.


So that's an amazing story. I love that. What a great intro. What a great organ story. So in 2019, you founded the CyberSafe Foundation, and this is an organization based around a vision of helping businesses and tech leaders all over Africa be cyber safe against threats from cyber criminals and malicious security practices. So, for our listeners who are just learning about the organization, can you tell us about the CyberSafe Foundation's goals and the methods to achieve those goals and your reach across the tech and business communities of Africa?

Confidence StaveleyGuest08:58

Yes. So again, just backtracking a bit, before 2019, I was in cyber, but I mean, I was serving in. I was serving enterprises through the organizations I worked with, squarely just helping them with the cyber security programs and stuff like that. But then something happened that was life changing. My mom became a victim of cyber crime and when that hit home, I knew very clearly but in what I say in third person or as another person that was close to the victim just how it felt to have this sort of experience and I wanted to do something. I wanted to contribute to making sure that less and less people have to have that experience. That we saw play out Right and it started from there.


And then I thought to myself what is the gap?


The gap between what the government is doing about cyber safety and what the private sector is doing about cyber safety. And there existed that gap that I could identify, first around awareness to around capacity building and three capacity building that is focused for diversity and also for the most vulnerable in our societies. So that's exactly where we pitched our tent ensuring that we're able to close that gap of what the government is doing about this and what the private sector is doing and that, for us, became a space to play and in that space there's just so many areas that we're coming to really provide our support to the entire ecosystem. But our focus has always been the most vulnerable in our society and also driving inclusion, and that's where our mission statement reads. That way, we are just less focused on how are we making sure that excluded people are included, and typically, with the statistics we're seeing, that's clearly most times women. And just to share one of those stats, across the world or globally, we may make up 25% of the cyber workforce.

Chris SienkoHost11:24

Right, oh yeah.

Confidence StaveleyGuest11:26

In Africa. Although we may make up 50% of the population, we may only make up 9% of the cyber workforce. Wow, so that's a beast mile, to say in the lightest way possible, right? So we wanted to make sure that we fix that in the way that not just fix six gender parity issues but also fixes the lack of skilled talent on the continent, also fixes socioeconomic issues Because, again, when you're able to give someone this sort of very powerful skill set, it acts as a way of not just protecting enterprises but also a way of improving their socioeconomic well-being. We've seen women get these skills and their lives totally changed because they are able to unlock new high-paying job opportunities. So that's one way we're able to have this multi-edge sort of cuts down these ugly things in our path. So we have that.


We also have the issues around awareness. People are not able to see the risk as to adopting technology, and if you were looking at the African tech landscape, technology adoption is at a speed and scale that we've never seen before.


Yeah, the transmission is flipping across the continent, but what we're also seeing is that we are seeing and I like to use this analogy we're seeing a case where we're putting our messages bends, our brand new messages bends in the hands of our five-year-old kids and not showing them where the brakes are. I mean, how dangerous can that possibly be? Then? That's exactly what's happening when technologies are adopted by users, technologies are adopted by organizations, without addressing the inherent risk that comes with the benefits, and so our whole mission is around that whole capacity building, that whole awareness that we need to provide for inclusive, safe digital uptake across the continent.

Chris SienkoHost13:29

Yeah, that's phenomenal and what I like about that. Many things. First of all, I remember seeing I was watching, like I said, I was on your YouTube channel yesterday and I saw that you had a video specifically where a young woman is talking to her mother about cyber scams, and was that based on your story with your mom or was it based in that?

Confidence StaveleyGuest13:52

Yes, it was based on that and because we've also seen that older people are constantly in the process of cyber criminals and a lot of them don't know better. So we've also seen that the channels have that really done well. Most times it's the younger children of these older people that are a bit more tech savvy than the appearance that should do that sort of teaching. So we played that out in that particular video and I mean that video has been spreading across Nigeria and in some parts of and other parts of Africa. We see we have people ask us can we take that content, show it here? Can we take that content and put it here? So as sites, you know what you're seeing. You know on the YouTube channel we have that spreading over social media channels. We have that in different other kids that the video has been taken and put in. So it's been a very successful run for us and we're very, very pleased with some of the results we're seeing.

Chris SienkoHost14:51

Yeah now, yeah, that moves into my next question nicely, but Infosec, you know, which is our company, and the Cyber Safe Foundation already have an excellent relationship together, which is why we're talking today and, I think, largely because we have such similar passions and goals, which include to lowering the barrier to entry in cybersecurity and to bring new voices and new and diverse experiences into the cybersecurity space and to make more and more of the world cyber safe, whether it's through tech or storefied education.


So to this end, confidence, you created the Cyber Girls Fellowship. This is a free one year program that equips girls and women ages 18 to 28 with globally sought after cybersecurity skills, getting them certification ready and positioning them to start a career in cybersecurity, with the mutually reinforcing goals of bridging the gender disparity, as you said, and the skills gap in cybersecurity, and improving the socio economic well being of girls and women living in underserved communities in Africa. So can you tell us about the sort of mechanics of this program, how it works and also how women discover and get involved with the program, either as as volunteers or as participants?

Confidence StaveleyGuest15:55

Thank you so much for that question, and I mean just to this ago I received a message from one of the girls that is graduating in that in our current core, just leaving graduating, we generally let them out our doors in November so we're taking a new cohort or we call for application and taking a new cohort towards March next year.


And she told me how, in her little village, you know, with completing her diploma and not being able to access jobs, she took on cybersecurity. She was attracted to what we're doing and she saw herself in it. But then again, speaking to why women's centric programs like Cyber Girls really do work, is that she got, she had, she was, she joined the program pregnancy, so she was three months pregnant and a program that is several months long, as challenging as Cyber Girls is. We then were able to build a structure around that to help her graduate and to do very well not just pass through but actually do very well. And she was telling me about how she's currently breastfeeding her child while looking at her congratulations email telling her that she's graduated and for me very phenomenal, because for me it just really underscores why this is very important. This person is in a village in Kenya.


This person has just had a child and then she's been able to unlock a skill set that is about to learn how to roll. Imagine how much that does for herself and for our family. So it's just really huge. And we currently have we currently run the program and from the numbers, we are currently the biggest on the continent that is doing this exactly this exact work for girls I would say young women, if you're looking at it from a global perspective, because they're 18 to 28. And what we do is we take a yearly call, we take them through a seven months training program, which we're very, very blessed to have InfoSec work with us on that path and I'm going to speak about that very soon. But what we, what we have there with with the training, is that we also have them paired with mentors across the world, in four continents to them, provide mentorship to them as well, so they're able to unlock the power of presentation as a way to enable them to see their future in cyber. And we use a mix of ways to teach them and I'm looking at a learning pyramid right now that we we definitely use and the learning pyramid has listen, listen.


When people listen to you, speak about something, they retain 5% of it. They retain 5% of it when people read about something, they retain 10% of it. When people listen and read, they retain 20% of it. When people demonstrate their knowledge, they retain 30% of that knowledge. But when they discuss it, they then retain 50% of it. But when they apply that knowledge, they get to unlock 75% of it. Now, the highest level of that is when they teach. Then they'll look about 85 to 90% of it. Again, our program doesn't cater to them teaching that. Of course they get to unlock that later. But what we have done with the design of the program is we've mixed in elements that allows them to apply that knowledge, to discuss it, to demonstrate it and then to listen and read. Of course, with the partnership that we have with Infosec and what we have known as well is we have a presence of. We have a presence or we have girls or young women in our program across 22 African countries. So there's quite a wide reach and there's very huge impact as well.

Chris SienkoHost19:21

Yeah, now how do the participants find your program? Are you advertising in media, or in print media or computer media or Facebook? How do potential cyber girls find you or find out that this could be an opportunity that they would get involved with? And if they see this, how do they actually sort of reach out to you and get involved?

Confidence StaveleyGuest19:50

Chris, it's an interesting thing that you asked that question again. Sorry, I missed it the first time, but what I want to say is we don't run any ads, and that is telling of the organic