Q&A with Martha Polla, ONE AU Youth Voices finalist

Women and girls represent half of the world’s population and therefore also half of its potential.”

Tell us about yourself? What do you do, what do you want to do in future?

I am Martha Polla a 24-year-old woman from Namibia passionate about transforming Namibian cities into sustainable and smart cities which enhance the quality of life for all its inhabitants. I am currently pursuing my Master’s Degree in Transportation Engineering at Budapest University of Technology and Economics. I hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Town and Regional Planning from the Namibian University of Science and Technology where I graduated as the best student. As a Town Planner and Transportation Engineer my aim is to integrate land use policies and transportation systems to achieve sustainable urban mobility through research and innovation. As a professional I would like to play an integral role in institutions which aim to innovate sustainable solutions for transportation problems and deficiencies across the African continent. In addition to that, my greatest career goal is to be part of the decision makers who influences policy and funding towards innovation hubs which would create innovative solutions ensuring that cities provide better for its people.

What inspires you?

I am inspired by the vision of having cities that are inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable in Namibia which ultimately contributes to a Sustainable planet. It is significant that we build cities where all citizens lead a decent quality of life, and form a part of the city’s productive dynamic, creating shared prosperity and social stability without causing harm to the environment. Transportation is the backbone of every city, it is essential to foster socio-economic growth and a common tool for development. Moreover, it plays a vital role in building sustainable cities; mainly its overall impact on environmental sustainability, climate change and human mobility. As the world keeps evolving there is a need to be innovative and ascertain transport systems that are sustainable and resilient.

The world is experiencing a “Tech-boom”; scientific and technological innovations have become increasingly imperative as we face the benefits and challenges of both globalization and a knowledge-based economy. I am therefore, inspired by the vision of getting young people, especially young women, to have access to education particularly, STEM education. STEM education pervades every part of our lives and in order for Africa to succeed in this new information-based and highly technological society, the young generation needs to develop their capabilities in STEM to greater heights than what was considered acceptable in the past.


Why are you passionate about human rights specifically girls right and access to education?

My passion is substantiated by the drive to be a part of purposes greater than myself. Therefore, being a woman in a male dominated field has reminded me of the low representation of women and especially the lack of African women in the field of engineering. Currently we are three females in a class of 20 students and I am the only African girl in class. Often when I attend industry related forums and conferences I find myself being the only woman and mostly the only African woman. It is due to this reason that I want to contribute to increasing the number of African women represented in these forums and in STEM fields. Women and girls represent half of the world’s population and therefore also half of its potential. The lack of the female perspective is problematic for fields such as engineering because as a creative profession, such fields require diverse teams to yield different points of view resulting in better innovative solutions. I am of the belief that this gap is related to the lack of opportunities available to girls to explore STEM fields when they are younger. It is for this reason that I am in the process of establishing an organization that will help provide young girls with access to information, resources and mentorship in STEM fields. My profession has given me an opportunity to pave way for young girls and women that would like to pursue careers in male dominated fields. In my aspirations, I am constantly motivated by the understanding that whatever I accomplish, I make it a bit easier for the women after me.

Name one woman that inspires you?

My mother is my greatest inspiration. She is a woman who dreamt big, had the ability to fulfil but chose my dreams instead of her own. As a single parent, my mother reared and groomed me with an immense amount of love, care and set a benchmark to parenting. She is the backbone of who I am today and remains my beacon of hope. She is the true symbol of dedication, determination, and perseverance. The most selfless and pious woman I have ever encountered, always putting the needs of others before her own. My mothers’ strength and sacrifices are the vehicle to my success in life!


Plans for international Women’s Day:

I recently got an invitation to do a motivational speech at a secondary school on International Women’s Day. So, I will be spending my day inspiring young girls and informing them about the importance of education. As well as speak about the opportunities (such as scholarships, grants and international studies) available for Namibian young people and provide information on how to access those opportunities. My speech will be based on a quote by Oprah Winfrey: “Education is the key to unlocking the world, a passport to freedom”.

What one BIG idea should African leaders adopt to harness the power of girls and transform all our futures? Read our top youth voices’ ideas here.


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