Leading to achieve universal connectivity

Born into poverty in Senegal in the 1970s, Lady Mariéme Jamme had the odds stacked against her. Marginalized and neglected, she lacked education and was trafficked as a young girl, she said. Yet she did not allow difficult circumstances to stop her from finding purpose in life, eventually becoming a leader and role model for women in the world of information and communication technologies (ICTs).

Lady Mariéme found safety and made a new life for herself in the UK, where in just two years she learned seven coding languages at a local library in Surrey.

Transforming her newfound passion into activism, she now drives digital transformation for marginalized women and girls across the globe.

Her organization, iamtheCODE, aims to train one million women and girls as coders by 2030.

“I didn’t have big degrees and education,” she says. “But the one thing I did have was impatience for change. I wanted to make sure that as I grew up as a woman, as I got my influence and my seat in this world, we create and change systems.”

Impatient for change
Lady Mariéme describes iamtheCODE as the first African-led global initiative of its kind. Her quest aligns with the global mission of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to connect the estimated 3.7 billion people who still lack access to digital services that could improve their lives.
At an ITU Road to Addis event on Leadership on 22 June, Lady Mariéme, a Generation Connect Visionaries Board member, said the world’s digital transformation was taking too long. “We must not wait anymore for people to beg for connectivity,” she stressed.
“Connecting the unconnected and enabling equitable digital transformation, above all, require leadership,” observed Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau.

“Leaders have often had a defining quality in common: the ability to identify a problem and mobilize communities to work with them in creating solutions,” she said. “We now look to leaders from all walks of life to provide the vision and the guidance that will mobilize global will, as well as direct actions towards achieving meaningful universal connectivity.”

Channelling youth activism

Lack of connectivity affects mostly young people in developing countries. Almost 60 per cent of Africa’s population is under 25, remarked Francis Xavier Inyangat, a Generation Connect youth envoy from Uganda. He called on his peers to look optimistically at the many opportunities offered by the ICT sector, including satellites, which he said could allow everyone high-speed data access, creating true Internet equality.

Another Generation Connect member, Sofia Valle from Brazil, pointed out how technology can expand participation and give voice to marginalized groups. “But to overcome the gender, digital or any other divide, we as young people need to mobilize and engage in politics.”

Youth can shape the future world by using the knowledge available thanks to technology, said Rula Ghani, First Lady of Afghanistan.

Sharing insights from her country’s recent history, she said that acquiring digital skills could help to rebuild communities, reconnect people, and allow them to find their place in society and reap the benefits of digital development.

Stephen Spengler, chief executive of Intelsat and chairman of ESOA – the EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) Satellite Operator’s Association – noted the importance of outlining an inspiring vision, purpose and mission for young leaders and young employees today.

Cause and effect

Reflecting on successful types of leadership, Badri Younes, Deputy Associate Administrator for Space Communications and Navigation at the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), said leaders need to inspire teams to explore the boundaries of their imagination. “In order to inspire others, leaders must be able to communicate a great vision,” he explained. “The knowledge and capabilities of the many will very often outweigh the knowledge and capability of the one.”

Achieving global broadband connectivity will require a focus on inclusion, innovation and responsibility, particularly to design and accelerate products that are socially and environmentally responsible, added Yolanda Cuba, MTN Group Vice President for Southern and East African Markets.

To Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, Minister of Communications and Digitalisation of Ghana, “Leadership is cause, and everything else is effect.”

Without the right kind of leadership, involving all stakeholders in the decision-making process, not much gets done, she said. She cited an ongoing project to train more than 14,000 Ghanaians in digital skills as an example of a successful and inclusive leadership approach.

R.S. Sharma, Chairman of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, said leaders need the courage to follow their own compass. “In technology, you should find your own path and not take the path travelled by others.”

Next stop on the Road to Addis

ITU’s Road to Addis discussion series aims to build awareness, engage key stakeholders and communities, and provide an inclusive platform to discuss some of the key themes that will be addressed at the next World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC). It focuses on six enablers of connectivity for sustainable development: partnerships, inclusion, financing, leadership, innovation, and youth.

The event focused on innovation took place on 21 July. The next event in the series, focused on youth, is set to take place in August.