Interview with Jessica Morley of AMMAL
The Futures Initiative and HASTAC are proud to be partnering with AMMAL, a non-profit education initiative that provides those who identify as female with both face-to-face and remotely-taught training in technology skills. This teaching and learning is done outside of a classroom environment and taps into a grassroots community of women who work to empower each other in the diverse neighborhoods of East London. As part of this process, learners are given access to a 24/7 peer-led support community designed to encourage them to use these new skills as a means of competing in a saturated job market.
AMMAL’s sister organisation, CHAYN, is an open-source project that leverages technology to empower women against violence and oppression so they can live happier and healthier lives.
The next AMMAL event, WordPress for Beginners, will take place on 30 May in London.
I had the opportunity to interview Jessica Morley, a leading fintech consultant and project lead for AMMAL, about how she sees the network and how it fits into her own experiences with education.
1. How did AMMAL grow out of CHAYN?
CHAYN is all about using tech to empower women. This has proven to be highly effective as women are some of the main consumers of tech, particularly social media. Research has consistently shown that among internet users, women account for a larger proportion of Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter users. The impact of Chayn’s work speaks to the effectiveness of this approach. In 2015 alone there were 171, 673 page views of Chayn resources.
For Chayn, therefore, the most obvious next step was to show women how to leverage tech directly to their own advantage. This meant breaking down barriers to entering tech careers and showing women that this this is not a path to be intimidated by, indeed thanks to open-source and free courses, it’s never been easier to gain tech-skills for free, even if you’ve had little education in the past. Ammal, aims to do this by providing free face-to-face entry-level training in key tech skills such as web development, design and coding to inspire women to take their interest to the next level.
2. AMMAL is centered around a peer network, and in many ways this runs counter to traditional education and training. What inspired you to leverage community to engage in non-hierarchical learning and how do you think this helps , women on the job market?
I am a firm believer in the fact that the formal education system does not suit everyone, and people should not see it as the only route to a successful future. If Chayn can produce toolkits that show women how to build their own domestic violence case without a lawyer, we can empower them to shape their own education. The community aspect came in because I still feel that people who have had less access to formal education, and women in particular, still feel as though they are competing with the old boys network and often feel as though “it’s not what you know, but who you know.” In addition, a confidence gap between men and women has been identified multiple times. For example, whilst men will apply for jobs that they feel they are 60% qualified for, women often wait until they feel they are 100% qualified which means that they are often missing out on opportunities and chances for growth. With this in mind, the community that Ammal creates has two main aims:
To share resources and leverage connections amongst participants
To support each other navigate a route up the often challenging career jungle-gym
I think that this helps women on the job market becuase they feel as though they have the support and the confidence that they need to challenge themselves and reach out for their goals even if they feel that these goals currently sit outside of their comfort zones.
3. AMMAL has already had two successful workshop events: How to Get Hired and Digital Design. What made you begin with these workshops, and what workshops will you be pursuing in the future?
How to Get Hired was an obvious first choice for us, as the more that I talked to women, the clearer it became that many women, particularly young women looking for their first jobs or career moves, do not know how to ‘play the game.’ Getting a job is often about technique more than anything. These are crucial skills and yet many women have nobody teaching them, this gives those that do have access to training in these areas a significant advantage over others. We wanted to design a workshop therefore, that showed young women that anyone can get a job that they want, and to give them the confidence to pass these skills onto their friends.
The design workshop came second because as an intro-to-tech service, we want to minimise the extent to which women feel intimidated. Thanks to the fact that we are surrounded by branding wherever we go these days, logos etc. are concepts that women are very familiar with and that seemed a much easier way to encourage women to think about tech skills than sitting them in front of a string of code.
Our next workshop will be an introduction to WordPress web development, this is due to take place at the end of May/beginning of June. After this we aim to run courses on presentation skills, intro to coding and data analysis, amongst others. Suffice to say we have lots of plans and are always open to suggestions from the community.
4. Jess, you mentioned in a reflective blog post about how you came to study at a prestigious university through a non-traditional trajectory. How do you think institutions of higher education and alternative learning spaces can learn from each other?
Higher education institutions have years of experience that they can pass on to newer alternative learning spaces, in particular they know how to develop syllabuses and how to engage in the academic world. However, I think that they also have a lot to learn from alternative providers, especially when it comes to how you measure success and how to make sure that everyone feels as though they would be welcome at the institution and an equally valued member of the community. This involves tackling issues related to perception, such as atmosphere and teaching style, and more concrete issues, such as those related to access.
In addition, traditional providers are not very quick to adapt, in many ways the subjects that they teach and the way that they are taught are fairly antiquated because of the bureaucracy surrounding the design of new courses etc. Alternative providers are far more adept at keeping abreast of contemporary patterns and trends and responding to these accordingly, leveraging open resources to ensure that this happens in a timely manner.
5. What does success for AMMAL as an organisation look like? What benchmarks or goals will you and your group strive towards to realize this vision?
AMMAL looks like a community, rather than an organisation. It is peer-driven so very flat and non-hierarchical. The idea is that anyone who attends a workshop can become a teacher and so the only difference between those currently teaching the workshop and those attending is that the teacher has already had someone show them the skills that they are now passing on to others.
In terms of benchmarking and goals, we have a target in mind for the number of women that we want to deliver training to on an annual basis but more important to me is the development of the community aspect. A realistic aim I think would be to have two thirds of attendees remain active members of the community, and one third go on to become AMMAL champions (trainers). To do this we have recently engaged a community manager to help keep the community active through Facebook, Slack and Meetup, we are also designing a monthly e-zine that acts like a knowledge sharing platform and a newsletter to keep people informed. We will also shortly be running train-the-trainer sessions for those volunteers who want to pay-it-forward.