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© Roya Mahboob / Twitter
© Roya Mahboob / Twitter
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Meet the All-Girl Afghan Robotics Team Who Just Won Gold at Europe's Biggest Robotics Festival

Picture of Claire Lancaster
Tech & Entrepreneurship Editor
Updated: 1 December 2017
If your vision of a European award-winning roboticist doesn’t look like a teenage girl from Afghanistan, it’s time to think again. A team made up of 12 teenage girls from Afghanistan has won the Entrepreneur Award at Robotex, Europe’s biggest robotics festival.

Sixteen year olds Sahar Barakzai and Rodaba Noori and 17-year-old Kawsar ًRoshan represented the Afghan girls team in the Entrepreneurial Challenge in Tallinn, Estonia, 24–26 November. The team, which is additionally represented by 14 year olds Fatemah Qaderyan, Somaya Faruqi, Donya Barakzai and 16 year olds Lida Azizi and Yasmin Yasinzadeh, was tasked with building and marketing an innovative, working robotic product that solves a real-world problem.

‘We introduced the Entrepreneurial Challenge this year to enable robot builders to take their skills to a next level by not just building robots but also learning how to market them,’ Robotex chief international officer Sander Gansen told Culture Trip.

‘We see that too often the young people that have found their way to robotics fade away in a few years, as no one teaches them how to use those skills in order to self-sustain,’ he said. ‘We’ve launched this competition to encourage robot builders to solve existing problems and make their first sales at our robotics festivals with the hope someone will notice and fund their next venture.’

The Entrepreneurial Challenge was judged by the 25,000 people attending the Robotex festival. The Afghan team’s winning prototype was a solar-powered robot that enables farmers to cut, move, pack and seed crops. For their achievement, the girls were awarded a cash prize to help with building their next robot.

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The Afghan robotics team competing at Robotex | © Roya Mahboob / Twitter

The competitors first made waves earlier this summer when members of the team were twice denied entry visas to the US when attempting to travel to Washington DC to compete in the FIRST Global Challenge robotics competition. Following US government intervention, the teenagers were allowed to enter the country, and went on to win a silver medal for ‘courageous achievement’ at the competition.

At both events the team was joined by Afghan entrepreneur Roya Mahboob, co-founder and CEO of the Digital Citizen Fund, a non-profit that works to empower and educate women in developing countries through digital literacy, sustainability and community building.

‘This is big achievement for Afghanistan,’ Mahboob told Culture Trip. ‘These young girls brought hope and a sense of pride to all Afghans. Yet again, women are proving they have the power to make a tremendous impact on society if only given the opportunity.’

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The Afghan girls team with entrepreneur Roya Mahboob (third left) and team mentor Alireza Mehraban (front centre) | © Roya Mahboob / Twitter

‘We are extremely proud of the accomplishment of the Afghan all-girl robotics team,’ added Afghanistan’s Ambassador to the UK, Said Tayeb Jawad.

‘They are an excellent example for people around the world of what can be accomplished by young Afghans if given the right support and the opportunity to excel in their education,’ Jawad told Culture Trip. ‘The last decade, we have seen great progress for women and girls in Afghanistan [and] more than 3.2 million girls are currently in school. Afghanistan illustrates how a country emerging from decades of war has, together with its international donors, a strong will to prioritise education. We believe this is only the beginning of an amazing journey for the Afghan all-girl robotics team. They are undeniably the future of Afghanistan’.

For more, read how Afghanistan’s startup community is helping to rebuild the country, or check out the stories of other inspiring women in tech with our piece on the women’s collectives transforming London’s entrepreneurship scene.