Safa Almukhaini's first steps toward app building started with dyslexia: not her own, but her 9-year-old cousin's. Almukhaini was trying to teach him the alphabet, but he wasn't learning, and she kept scolding him for not paying attention. "I won't forget what he said," recalls the 22-year-old computer science student from Muscat, Oman. He really was trying, her cousin pleaded. He just couldn't understand why everything felt so hard to grasp. His speech moved her to tears--and to action. She took her cousin to get tested for dyslexia and then started thinking about how she herself could help. Almukhaini rounded up two of her fellow students and together they created an app called ReadX, which helps dyslexic children learn and lets parents keep track of their progress. The app was good enough to win a national Imagine Cup, a Microsoft-sponsored student competition; that earned Almukhaini and her friends--Marwa AlHabsi and Asya AlJabri, both 22--a spot representing Oman in the international Imagine Cup, July 8 to July 11 in St. Petersburg, Russia.
At the Cup--which brings together teams from 71 countries with the goal of helping to solve tough global issues--the Omani team was in many ways just like the rest of the competitors, eager technology students hoping to launch careers and change the world. But they were different in one significant respect: They're all women. Almukhaini and her friends were one of just three all-female teams competing in Russia; another one came from a Gulf neighbor, Qatar. (The third was a one-woman team from Portugal.) Both Oman and Qatar fielded all-women teams last year as well.