From July 15-17, the international web-conference ‘Women in Innovation and Industry’ was organized by UNIDO with the support of the Italian government, the FAO and UN Women. It focused on the importance of women in the digital age and in overcoming the global crisis, first and foremost the one caused by Covid-19. In addition to representatives of governments and international institutions, taking part in the event as speakers, role models or participants were women of very different backgrounds who all had something in common: a belief that technological innovation will lead to gender equality, social justice and the protection of the environment and that the world has to restart on different foundations.
These women all share the same viewpoint and they see technology as the principal means to creating a healthier, fairer world, both during and after this pandemic. So, is there a new “female philosophy” to tackle the challenges the future brings? If you think the answer is ‘no’, then read these ten portraits.
Sana Afouaiz (Morocco, main photo) is an activist for women’s rights and an expert on gender issues with an in-depth knowledge of North Africa and the Middle East. For some years, she has been advising the European Commission, the United Nations and various organisations. In 2016, she founded Womenpreneur which now has a community of 10,000 female entrepreneurs in 20 countries. She takes the view that gender discrimination is a reflection of an age-old, die-hard sexist mentality and on this point says: “If you want to stamp out this evil, aim for the roots not the branches.” Sana is just 26 years-old and was 12 when she decided to fight for a more just world.
Lisa Di Sevo (Italy) is President of the not-for-profit SheTech Italia which incentivises and supports a greater female presence in digital entrepreneurship. Di Sevo believes that gender inequality in the tech sector is cause for concern, considering the importance of technology in the lives of everyone, today and increasingly so in the future. To support Italian female entrepreneurs, SheTech has already raised 45 million euro, a remarkable result for Italy. Lisa Di Sevo’s favourite slogan, which she happily admits is borrowed from Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg, is: “Done is better than perfect.”
Megan Reilly Cayten (USA) is co-founder together with Alexandra Cousteau, of Oceans2050 whose mission is to mobilize a global alliance to restore our Oceans to abundance by 2050. She is also an environmental adviser for companies and investors, providing concrete business models so that productivity does not have a destructive impact on the environment. The health of our planet is her main mission because “there’s no point in fighting other battles if we don’t have a planet to live on.”
Shahira Amin (Egypt) is a freelance journalist and documentary producer who has worked with the BBC and CNN. Her focus is on women’s rights and over the years she has been concerned with issues such as sexual harassment, domestic violence, genital mutilation and virginity tests on female demonstrators in Tahrir Square in Cairo. Her commitment has led to concrete social and legislative changes in her country and as a result Shahira Amin was honoured by Egypt’s National Council of Women. Despite having received threats, she will not be stopped. “Women and men have to fight together for equality,” she says, “as a fundamental human right for everyone.”
Liat Shentser (The Netherlands, originally from Israel) is Director Global Systems Engineering, Sales at multinational Cisco as well as the first woman ever to manage its Virtual Systems Engineers. Shentser believes that women entrepreneurs can make a key contribution with their soft skills, such as emotional intelligence, empathy, tolerance and teamwork. “An approach based on egos does not work,” she explains, “especially on a global scale when many players and various cultures enter the field. And women are very good at navigating these environments with agility.”
Mona Itani (Lebanon) is a social entrepreneur with an engineering background who believes in two things: young people and the opportunity we have to use innovation to resolve society’s problems. “A profit-oriented mindset has not got us very far nor has it helped us,” she says. In addition to having founded Riyada for Social Innovation, she has also launched Girls got IT, to provide essential technology skills which has trained more than 2,800 girls so far, including a group of Syrian refugees for which she earned the support of Unicef Lebanon. “My goal is to create a new generation of social innovators” she says. “And my hope is that they make the world a better place.”
Doa Wadi (Palestine) is a business leader with over 25 years’ experience. In 2006, she created the Business Women Forum Palestine which helps women entrepreneurs to become leaders in their fields and is today one of the main NGO organisations for the economic empowerment of Palestinian women, with members and beneficiaries from all the West Bank cities and Gaza. Additionally, the Business Women Forum has established connections with politics, contributing to the abrogation of archaic laws affecting female dignity. Doa Wadi loves quoting an ancient Arab proverb: “A strong woman is worth a hundred men.”
Carla Licciardello (Italy) is Digital Inclusion Coordinator of the International Telecommunication Union and the focal point for the online protection of children, young people and women. She previously worked for the Permanent Mission of Italy to the International Organizations in Geneva and for the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, with a focus on assisting victims of natural disasters. Carla Licciardello’s highly-developed skills in the technology sector are matched with a humanitarian component and she provides support to the weaker and more vulnerable members of society.
Amel Saidane (Tunisia) is an expert in innovation and member of the BMW Foundation Responsible Leaders Network. She believes that gender inequality is still a very serious concern and states: “More than 95% of capital investment in the world is invested by men in men.” She thinks that women have the skills required of leaders in the digital age and believes that if more of them enter the science and technology sector, the driver of the modern world, then they can be truly emancipated and contribute to the progress of the world’s economies.
Shereen Allam (Egypt) is a ‘serial’ entrepreneur and business consultant with 29 years’ success behind her. In Egypt she founded a printer cartridge recycling company that has become the country’s number one distributor, as well as making a concrete contribution to combat the problem of waste disposal afflicting Egypt. In 2008, she established the NGO AWTAD aimed at developing entrepreneurship among women and youth with the goal of overcoming discrimination and at the same time transform society to become fairer and sustainable. “Tomorrow begins today,” Allam says, “and it is never too soon or too late to help a woman become emancipated.”