Meet Nnenna Nwakanma – Interim Policy Director at the World Wide Web Foundation. She advocates for policy and systemic changes that are needed for meaningful internet access, open data, open government and the open web across Africa, bringing together local and international stakeholders to advance the digital agenda.
What role does technology play in your job?
I work with the World Wide Web Foundation. I work from home, with teams scattered across the continents. Almost all of my work is planned, organized, coordinated and reported online. So technology is everything to me and my job. Like I normally say, “My name is Nnenna. I come from the Internet”.
What is the greatest transformation in technology you’ve witnessed in your career?
Mobile technology, I must say. I am from the laptop generation. I did manual typewriting in College, then migrate briefly to desktops, and settled for laptops. But I must confess that the way mobile technology arrived and bypassed all of the above is, to say the least, overwhelming. As at today, my phone is more valuable to me than my laptop. I have about 150 apps running on it.
What is the hardest thing about your job?
I work on policy, research, coalitions, and actions to realise the founding vision of the web as a public good and a basic right, for everyone, everywhere. Getting governments and decision makers to buy into this vision is hard, very hard.
Every time I hear that a government has shut down the Internet, I feel that a full year of my work has been wiped out.
Women in the field of technology are definitely in the minority. How are you helping to attract more women to tech?
You should know more about REACT: Rights, Education, Access, Content, and Targets.
First we must let women know that our place in technology is a right, not “help”. We must then educate ourselves, to acquire the needed skills to make the most of tech opportunities. Affordable and meaningful internet access is also key. Then creating content that responds to the needs of women is a must. And yes, it is not enough to have a few women in a few places, we need to set targets for gender-responsive digital equality and resolutely work to achieve those targets.
What would you say are the most important skills women need to bring to the table if they want to be successful in tech?
If you had asked me 20 years ago, I would have said coding. I did coding then. But now, I know better. Leadership skills are #1. Business and management skills are #2. Communication and marketing skills I will put at #3. The major hurdles are not technological, they are human. People skills matter the most.
What and who were the influencers of who you are today?
- My father: who played soccer with me… enrolled me in school for talented kids, and taught me that anybody can be anything if they work hard at it.
- The Internet: I was lucky enough to be one of the first Africans to get involved. 20 years on, I am grateful
- The Open tech movement: Open source, open data, open government, open web. Communities matter a lot.
- Education and continuous learning: Girl, I am always learning something new.
- Faith: I am openly and unashamedly Christian. The principles there have helped me maintain integrity.
- Other women who have mentored me: Fatimata Seye Sylla, Dorothy Gordon, Aida Opoku-Mensah, Nnenna Nwabufo, Chioma Onukogu, and my own mother.
What steps should be taken to attract more women to tech?
Start early. Deconstruct the taboos. Make sure girls remain in school and finish. Access to capital for women tech entrepreneurs. Equip women with people skills. Change our policies to be gender-responsive.
What would be your message/advice to women trying to get into technology?
Do it. Just do it. Be the best of yourself. You will be called names if you do. You will be called names if you don’t. So do it. Set your objectives and go for them. You can apologize later if you have the time.
Just do it.
Nnenna Nwakanma is the Interim Policy Director at the World Wide Web Foundation. Nnenna advocates for policy and systemic changes that are needed for meaningful internet access, open data, open government and the open web across Africa, bringing together local and international stakeholders to advance the digital agenda. She works to drive affordable internet access, data rights, digital freedom and digital responsibilities of stakeholders, sectors, and actors.
Nnenna is a respected technology voice and leader in Africa. Her capacity to network and bridge the gap between the local and the global has made her a voice bearer for women, rural populations, the unconnected and the civil society across the world. She is a Diplo alumnus, an ICT4D Strategist, an expert in eParticipation and Citizen Engagement, one of the early pioneers of the Africa Data Revolution, a respected voice in the UN’s Internet Governance Forum, a pioneer and continued advisor on internet governance in Africa, and Faculty at the Schools of Internet Governance. She has over 15 years of experience working with the United Nations Systems in human rights, information society, gender, data digital equality, and sustainable development.