five girls are holding drones in front of a rocky beach. Two of them and a boy behind them hold up peace signs.
Hanae Baruchel

Across the world, women have suffered disproportionate job and income losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and they are returning to work slower than their male counterparts. Women are particularly underrepresented in tech jobs.

As one of the fastest-growing sectors of the global economy, addressing the gender tech gap is critical not only for building a more just economy, but also for addressing bias in technologies that are developed and deployed. The emerging drone and robotics sector is a case in point.

To learn more about opportunities to shift this dynamic, we caught up with Ashoka Fellow Sonja Betschart as part of our Welcome Change series on what’s next for gender equity. You can watch the full Welcome Change conversation here, supported by our partners at Beiersdorf.

Here are a few of the highlights:

Where tech meets local expertise

Recognizing the importance of women and local decision-making, Ashoka Fellow Sonja Betschart co-founded WeRobotics and its global network of Flying Labs across Asia, Africa, and Latin America to grow the Majority World and women’s leadership in the emerging “Drones for Good” sector. Her personal experience working in entrepreneurship and technology made her realize the power of drone technology to help communities create their own “data power” and the need for local experts in this field.


Drones for social impact

From humanitarian aid delivery to climate change and deforestation monitoring, there are many ways drones can be put to good use. Here’s a powerful example from Flying Labs South Africa, where drones were used by local communities to map out areas prone to recurring floods and other disasters. Sonja is clear that drone technology is only 10 percent of the solution. Putting it in the hands of local experts who can contextualize data and solutions within their communities constitutes 90 percent of the work (and the impact).


The importance of proximate leaders

Women make up just 13 percent of workers in the robotics sector. The Flying Labs team is out to redefine who can be an expert, and that means investing in community leaders who best understand the context they work in, and women in particular. Here’s why.



Strength in numbers

Flying Labs is building collective power for local experts who share resources and learnings with one another. The network, which has grown to 37 hubs around the world, is rewriting the rules of the game between Global North and Global South when it comes to centering (and investing in) the knowledge of local experts in AI and robotics for social good.