Empowering South African Women Through Design & VR

Empowering South African Women Through Design & VR
September 3, 2020
Cape Town, South Africa


TL;DR: In March of this year, Facebook was invited by non-profit organization Girls Invent Tomorrow to give two workshops on design and VR with local high school students in Cape Town, South Africa. It was an amazing opportunity to show the next generation the magic of VR and what’s possible with it, as well as to empower these young women and encourage them to learn and pursue careers in design, science, and technology. Since our last visit in March, 200 more high school girls got access to VR and learned foundational design thinking principles thanks to Girls Invent Tomorrow and Oculus Gos and curriculum we left with them.



Workshops in Cape Town

Girls Invent Tomorrow, a non-profit organization dedicated to investing in education throughout South Africa, has successfully created a community to inspire and guide future women leaders to enter STEM fields. They initiate programs designed to empower, educate, and mentor girls interested in science and technology, and they got in touch with us and invited us to give the workshops around design and VR.


We conducted two workshops with 13- to 15-year-old girls from a couple of local high schools, centered around design principles and VR. Each workshop had 30 participants and included a full-day iterative design workshop on “Redesigning High School,” discussion of VR use cases and a look toward the future.

Workshops at Rosendaal High School


While we wanted to conduct a VR design thinking workshop, we quickly realized the students didn't have a background understanding of design. So we started with the basics: that design is problem-solving and it’s all around us, from the classroom to consumer brands and beyond.


Aside from a computer lab where students could access PCs for one to two hours each week, they also had very limited access to technology. Only a few had a cell phone while others didn’t even have an email address. For our workshops and prototyping, we once again went back to basics and took an analog route with pens, paper, and scissors.


We also brought 10 Oculus Gos with us, so we were able to share a little bit of VR magic and inspire them to think in new immersive and three-dimensional ways.


We guided the students through a full design thinking workshop from problem definition to prototyping, learning from users, and iterating again. It was inspiring to see the important community issues they identified and decided to explore during the workshop like sex and reproductive education, healthy lifestyles, and access to high-quality education.

Design Thinking Workshop


VR blew their mind. Each student got to try VR, and once they tried it, that’s all they wanted to do. After selecting Face Your Fears or Henry on Oculus Go, they all screamed, laughed, and had an incredible time.

Oculus Go demos


Key Insights

We need to empower women globally with new and emerging tech. In South Africa, many racial and ethnic groups have maintained traditional gender roles, and women are expected to not only work outside of home, but also maintain the house and raise the kids. We got the chance to show these students that design is a career they can pursue and encourage them to learn and pursue careers in science and technology. It was equally important to help them be aware and embrace the superpowers and perspectives unique to them as women that they can bring into professional workplaces and STEM fields.

Women students at Rosendaal High School


We’ve now taught VR design and storytelling workshops in India, Singapore, Canada, and various cities in the US. While we’ve primarily worked with adults in colleges or with current UX professions, this was the first time we got to work with younger students and show them the magic of VR and the possibilities it holds.


We’ve seeded a scalable program. We left Girls Invent Tomorrow with a set of Oculus Gos and our curriculum, and they’re developing a traveling program to take to other cities and high schools across South Africa to encourage understanding and adoption of both design and emergent tech through VR. Since our last visit in March, 200 high school girls got access to VR and learned foundational design thinking principles thanks to Girls Invent Tomorrow. Many of the students have never heard about VR, and programs include a STEM-for-girls outfit but with a focus on aviation and space.


Our Future Vision

We’re committed to creating diverse communities in VR, and that starts with creating access to VR among diverse communities out in the real world. Our trip to South Africa planted seeds to provide greater access to both design thinking and the promise of VR. The insights that we’ve gathered will be instrumental as we work to build diverse and inclusive communities in VR, create empathy with real people who will use our products, and be able to represent their needs and concerns. We need to design for other people, not for ourselves.


Special thanks to the Palesa Sibeko, Inez Patel, the extended Girls Invent Tomorrow team, and to Rosendaal High School and RLabs for hosting us.


If you are passionate about similar causes and interested in supporting Girls Invent Tomorrow, you can find more information here.


If you are passionate about similar causes or interested in supporting Girls Invent Tomorrow, you can find more information here.

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