MEET SOPHIA BEKELE
What has been your biggest motivation in pursuing technology projects impacting Africa?
Having to study in the USA in the fields of Computers and Business gave me the opportunity. Post my undergraduate studies in the US, I was recruited and joined the best of multinational industries and consulting firms in Corporate America, which opened my eyes to the many possibilities. This vision of - bridging the digital divide - came after taking a year of travel around the world at the height of internet and satellite, where I noticed was shifting the economies of scale of emerging countries such as Asia, Africa and Latin America. This then led me to start my own initiatives do something meaningful for Africa.
Africa is a continent with a major potential, great raw untapped resources that is yet to be exploited, internet technology offers the short cut, of what most people would call leap-frogging, therefore I found this to be the best formula to conquering the digital divide and thus here we are. A caveat though is that it has not been an easy digital ride.
Can you talk to about your long-standing initiatives in bringing the internet to Africa?
Indeed looking back at what my various companies achieved in Africa, CBS International based in Walnut Creek California was delivering IT services and large scale fiber optic network infrastructures and Campus Area Networks to include internet/intranet capabilities for our Clients, since early 2000. I had also set up new local company to provide the requited support and integration services, as well as invested in companies to provide in-country IT based training to anyone who was willing to learn the basics of computing and Internet.
Subsequently, my companies introduced the first DNS business, to enable organizations to register domain names, web design and hosting. Such projects and innovations provided enhanced platforms for internet access, marketing and branding businesses, and email communication abilities.
Presently, where we have made our greatest impact is when I went ahead and started a very ambitious global digital awareness campaign called Yes2dotAfrica to brand Africa through the dotAfrica (.africa) domain. This has multiplied and created more avenues that allowed us to launch and run corporate social responsibility programs such as Miss.Africa, Generation.africa to empower girls and youth in the use of technology. These two schemes are about digital empowerment and increasing digital opportunities for fostering e-Learning which have led us to establish the DCA Digital Academy. We are also well established in the New Media space and various mobile platforms that we are currently pursuing, and others which we have not unveiled yet.
Can you talk to us about ICANN Africa strategy and its ability to accelerate the continent in the coming decade?
I will be quick to say that much as we want to be optimistic about increasing ICANN’s foot print in Africa, it has not been easy for ICANN. The DNS business is at its infancy in Africa, probably a last mile project. For those interested, I have written a critical commentary on CircleID an industry news and commentary blog, that discusses what the ICANN Africa strategy is and is not. Here is a link to it.
As you know our theme this year is "Africa: the next frontier for mobile technology," Can you talk about how the importance for the participation of the private sector in overall development of the continent to turn it to a "technology hub"?
As a long term entrepreneur and an advocate of a private sector led economy, I know the stakes the private sector hold in what internet has become. If we count all the organizations that have driven the internet platform to the success that it is currently, we will notice one denominator, and that is private firms.
The best model for catalyzing growth in Africa will be to continuously review the standards that that are in place for best delivery, while also building a private public partnership (PPP) where governments can develop legislations that encourage fair competition and also protect this private initiative through incentives, tax reliefs among others.
I think the creation of more hubs that can spur technological innovations, the kind of what we see in the Bay Area is will also be paramount. Thus we need to enable more Silicon Savannas in the developing regions. You can already see what Apps
such as Mpesa of Safaricom are doing in the world.
Shifting to you, you serve as a corporate executive, international entrepreneur, taking part in corporate governance & risk management specialist, international policy advisor on ICT and a governance activist and philanthropist.... First, how do you find the time? and what has been your greatest driver?
I have a modern work routine, which allows me to leverage technology, social media and geographic independence to achieve my goals. Aside from that, those skills that I honed independently at one time or another in my career makes up the person I am. Therefore, when I juggle my daily chores and responsibilities, just like solving a puzzle or a card game, I continue to draw from all those skills sets either complementing each other and/or challenging each other. When I then finally solve the puzzle, I say bingo! It is not always pink out there and sometimes I still fall on my face, and that is when I sing along with Jessie J, that “I am perfectly incomplete and am still working on my masterpiece”
My greatest driver is that Africa is still work in progress, and has not yet reached the level it deserves in terms of technology, governance, accountability among others, so this desire to see such a success makes me wakeup early and stay late.
My motivation to you is “Don’t just scratch the surface and think you have arrived, stay hungry”
".My motivation is ... “Don’t just scratch the surface and think you have arrived, stay hungry...”
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