Millennials are often criticised for “being entitled” but public perception has not halted the steady ascension of what is arguably a disenfranchised generation. One current example of millennial excellence is the Kenyan digital equality advocate Nanjira Sambuli.
Nanjira is a researcher, policy analyst and advocacy strategist who is working on understanding the unfolding impact of ICT adoption and how it impacts on governance, innovation, entrepreneurship and societal culture, with a keen focus on gender implications. She is currently the digital equality advocacy manager at the World Wide Web Foundation, where she leads advocacy efforts to promote digital equality in access to and use of the Web, with a particular focus on the foundation’s Women’s Rights Online work.
With a profile like that it is no wonder that United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres invited her to join the High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation.
“The scale, spread and speed of change made possible by digital technologies is unprecedented, but the current means and levels of international cooperation are unequal to the challenge,” Guterres said in a statement.
“Digital technologies make a significant contribution to the realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals and they cut uniquely across international boundaries. Therefore, cooperation across domains and across borders is critical to realising the full social and economic potential of digital technologies, as well as mitigating the risks that they pose and curtailing any unintended consequences.”
Nanjira will be on the panel as one of 20 members who represent a cross-section of expertise drawn from government, private industry, civil society, academia and the technical community. The panel will be co-chaired by Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Jack Ma, executive chairman of the Alibaba Group. Other Africans invited to join the panel include Akaliza Keza Ntwari from Rwanda, another millennial woman ICT advocate and entrepreneur, and Bogolo Kenewendo from Botswana, who is that country’s Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry.
Sharing her thoughts about the invitation with This is Africa, Nanjira said, “I am honoured that the UN Secretary-General extended this invitation. Having worked at this intersection of tech and society, I am stoked about working with leaders from around the world, with diverse backgrounds, to engage, consult and ultimately contribute to ensuring that this era of digital leaves no one behind – as the Sustainable Development Goals mantra urges us all to do.”
Technology is a powerful tool
The High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation is expected to identify policy, research and information gaps and to make proposals to strengthen international cooperation in the digital space.
“Technology is neither good nor bad. It is just a tool — a very powerful tool — and what matters is how the world uses it. If all people, especially the poorest and most vulnerable, have equal access to digital technology, they will use it to improve life for themselves and their families and raise their voices in conversations about what the future holds. Enabling this wide-scale empowerment is what this panel is about,” said Melinda Gates.
In carrying out its work, the panel will undertake a wide range of public consultations, including at least two public events and an open process inviting global inputs, including through online engagement activities starting in September.
“Soon, every industry will be digitised, and this will have a tremendous impact on every aspect of life. In this digital era, data and technology are more broadly available, enabling entrepreneurialism, economic growth and improved quality of life for those who have the access and training to leverage it. Global, cross-sector collaboration is critical to ensure the benefits of the digital era are possible for all,” said Jack Ma.
This is not Nanjira’s first appointment to an international panel. She also served as a deputy on the United Nations High-Level Panel for Women’s Economic Empowerment in 2016-17. The panel’s final report, titled “Leave No One Behind: Taking Action for Transformational Change on Women’s Economic Empowerment”, spells out concrete action for accelerating progress towards women’s full and equal economic participation.
At the time of the report’s release, UN Secretary-General António Guterres stated, “Women’s economic empowerment is at the heart of the 2030 Agenda. We will not achieve the Sustainable Development Goals if there is no accelerated action to empower women economically. We know that women’s participation in all spheres of life, including in the economy, is essential to sustainable and durable peace and to the realisation of human rights.”
Before joining the World Wide Web Foundation team, Nanjira worked at the iHub in Nairobi, where she provided strategic guidance for the growth of technology innovation research in the East Africa region. She is also currently a member of the UK Department for International Development’s Digital Advisory Panel, board member at IRIN News, UK Citizens Online Democracy (which runs the website mySociety) and Digitally Responsible Aid.