Kate Bevan   08 March 2018

Nicaise with some of the women she works to support at Women in Tech Week 

Growing up in Rwanda and then spending much of her young adult life abroad has given Nicaise Ishimwe a particularly thoughtful take on the importance of building connections and keeping in touch – both in her working life and in her personal life.

Nicaise, 32, an engineer with deep experience and expertise in mobile telecoms, works in Dublin for technology infrastructure group Emovis, delivering and overseeing tolls solutions for highway providers around the world.

But that’s just the day job. On the side, she’s also the co-founder of a startup, WeCoFix, which, she says, aims “to inform global businesses about the potential for them in developing markets. We’re aiming to be a bridge between two areas.”

On top of that, Nicaise also leads the Irish chapter of Women in Tech Africa, an organisation that supports women from the African diaspora in the global tech industry, provides role models and amplifies the voices of African women to raise their profiles.

“I’m in charge of diaspora activities, engaging with women and girls from the diaspora,” she explains. “Right now we’re looking at gaining more members and extending our chapter, as well as opening more chapters around the world.”

Nicaise is clearly excited about the work done by Women in Tech Africa, pointing to the plans to open new chapters in France and Germany and talking about the events her own chapter in Dublin has hosted. “What we do is bring content and resources to the women – we invite tech founders; we have up to 50 or 60 people at each event.”

The tech industry can be a tough place for women, which is why Nicaise counts herself lucky to have found a role where she works “hand in hand with others who are good managers and co-workers. They are a supportive company; they have a culture of supporting each other and communicating with each other to understand the issues.”

Nicaise in Berlin

Nicaise is a regular speaker at events supporting African women 

However, she’s aware that her experience at Emovis has been an exception rather than the rule: “In other companies I’ve observed women who were facing issues and difficulties getting themselves respected.”

Which is why such an important focus of Women in Tech Africa is about creating role models for younger women from the diaspora. Nicaise says that she has benefited hugely from support from other people when she first arrived in Europe: “Something I did badly when I began was I thought I could do things by myself. But you need to rely on other people who have had the experience. I had people who were very welcoming and loving and supportive.”

Nicaise, who was in primary school when the war in Rwanda broke out in 1994, first left home in 2004 to take up a scholarship from the Rwandan government to study science in Algeria, and from there moved to Lyons in France to study at National Institute of Applied Sciences.

Now living in Dublin, she is still very much focused on her home and her family. The genocide in Rwanda, which left some 800,000 people dead, has clearly had a big impact on her career choices. “I saw things destroyed after the genocide – the infrastructure was gone. That made us realise that we need to work hard for the development of our communities.”

Nicaise misses her family in Rwanda and remains very connected to them thanks to WhatsApp and Skype - and of course she visits them when she can. 

Despite having settled in Dublin for now, Nicaise is very connected to her family. “My mum is in Rwanda, and so is one of my little brothers. My big brother is in Brussels and my little brother is living and working in France.

“I miss them, though tech has made that easier. We call each other over Skype and WhatsApp. My old aunt in Rwanda uses WhatsApp too – she says ‘can you send me those pictures’! It helps to connect you to people.”

Part of being connected to her family at home is sending money, too. “I discovered WorldRemit last year,” says Nicaise. “It’s a good thing because it’s well integrated with mobile money in Rwanda. I just connect and send money and at the other end they don’t have to go anywhere to get it.

“I use it for gifts and for contributions to friends – whenever someone gets married or has a baby we contribute towards a gift. But I also use it to send to nephews – we support them going to school.”

Being so far from family could be lonely, but Nicaise says that she manages to see her family in the flesh as well as over Skype fairly regularly. “Last December my mother came to visit my brother in Brussels and I went too. We try to meet as often as we can, and with my brothers in Europe too I don’t feel alone.”

And Nicaise has also found a big network of friends in Dublin. “The Irish people are so welcoming!” she exclaims. “It’s like you have a whole family here!”