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Honorary degree recipient champions women in tech June 15, 2018

Entrepreneur overcomes the odds in help women in technology.

Roya Mahboob has overcome the odds by becoming the first woman to run a start-up tech company in Afghanistan.

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Read Roya's inspiring convocation address

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She has fought diligently for the rights of young women seeking education and opportunities in science and technology fields in regions oppressive to women.

She has mentored and championed the Afghan Dreamers, an all-teenage-girl robotics team that made news for being denied visas to visit the U.S. for the 2017 FIRST Global Challenge, a major robotics competition for high school students around the globe.

This year, the team spent several months in Canada competing and attending several area FIRST Robotics competitions in Ontario, including one held at McMaster in April. 

In 2013, Mahboob was named to TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world list for her work building classrooms with Internet access in Afghanistan.

But there was one major thing left on Mahboob’s to-do list: Obtain a graduate degree.

Launched with her sister, Mahboob’s company was the first to employ women with computer science degrees in Afghanistan. She became a tech chief executive officer at the age of 23.

“When I started my company I wanted a place that allowed women to work in a safe environment and we can bring opportunities to this society by building the technology,” Mahboob said. “That is the reason that I started. … I also wanted to show other women they can do it, too.” 

Now a New York resident, who has launched a series of four enterprises, launched the non-profit organization, Digital Citizen, which empowers and educates women and children through digital literacy, there just hasn’t been time to finish her Ph.D. — a lifelong dream.

“I want to tell young women that they can be the next designer, inventor or creator. They can be anything.”

On Friday afternoon, Mahboob will receive an Honorary Degree, Doctor of Science, from McMaster University’s Faculty of Engineering. It is an accomplishment dear both to Roya, and her parents. 

As a busy entrepreneur, her aspirations to get her graduate degree never materialized — until now.

“Any award you get is great, but this one has a lot of meaning for me. I’m so honoured to be part of this group of people who have accomplished a lot. I really appreciate that McMaster University has selected me for this.”

But above all, her goal is to keep inspiring young women to engage with technology. She’s had lots of success, including mentoring and funding through her charity, the Afghan Dreamers, aged 15 to 16, who were partnered with students and their families from St. Mildred’s-Lighbourn School in Oakville, and competed in FIRST Canada competitions. 

“This is about Afghanistan and what is happening there, and I felt there was a light that was coming and our leaders, communities and families had changed their view and it was a victory for us because for centuries men in our societies have ignored women’s ability in science and technology and I felt that this light should be shining. We should not be in darkness.”