By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues
Silicon Valley is well known as the global hub of innovative technology. Can four weeks immersed in its unique ecosystem help inspire a new generation of global tech leaders? That’s the hope behind a program called Tech Women, launched by former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton and now sponsored by the State Department.
Last month, over seventy tech women from Africa and the Middle East made a month-long visit to Silicon Valley. I met with several of them to explore what they learned, and how they plan to leverage technology to tackle their countries’ challenges when they return home.
A version of this story aired on BBC’s Tech Tent on Nov. 14, 2014. Listen to the podcast below: @20.00
Here is the full length transcript:
Tech Tent Host, Rory Cellan-Jones: One interesting aspect of the tech revolution is that women are playing a bigger role in the developing world than in places like the U.S. and U.K. Over 70 women from Africa and the Middle Easter have just wrapped up a month long visit to Silicon Valley, with the aim of picking up ideas for the technology they can use to tackle their country’s challenges when they return home. Alison van Diggelen met two of them…
Alison van Diggelen: They are two women with ambitious missions. They’ve got the tech savvy and now, after a month building connections and wisdom in Silicon Valley, they’re eager to launch their dreams back home.
Meet Asal Ibrahim who wants to bring massive deployment of solar power to Jordan; and Serah Kahiu from Kenya who wants to jumpstart the science and tech economy in Africa by developing a network of science museums and labs across the entire continent.
Both have lofty goals, but they talk with such conviction and enthusiasm, it’s hard not to believe that these young women will change the world, at least their little corner of it.
I start by asking Kahiu about the current state of technology in Kenya.
Kahiu: “I use mobile technology in Kenya, it’s HUGE. It’s like magic because you can do transactions, money transactions on your mobile. You can pay someone from wherever in a country: school fees, bills. That one has revolutionized life in Kenya.”
She explains how Facebook is a vital tech tool for small businesses in Kenya.
Kahiu: “You can use your phone for Internet. That has really sparked business because you can advertise your product on Facebook, get someone to pay you through M-pesa and then put stuff on a public transport system and it’s transported to your client. That has made it so easy for people like farmers. You cut out the middleman. The farmer gets all the profit. This is huge, especially for women. The majority of small scale farmers in Kenya are women, so that has improved standards of living for many women in rural areas.”
We discuss her grand vision of creating a network of hands-on science and tech centers across Africa, starting in Juja, Kenya, a university town she describes as having “the same vibe as Silicon Valley.”
Kahiu: “We need to embrace more technology because 60% of Africans and youth in Kenya are under 35. We have a bulge of youth who’re not employed. Science and technology is the last frontier for job creation. We must prepare people for that. We import 80% of whatever we’re using. Why do we import? Why not make it in Kenya?
“If the governments of Africa invest in science and technology and put it on its pedestal as an accelerator of development, youth are encouraged to understand science better, and more importantly, to start companies.”
van Diggelen: “So you feel it needs an entrepreneurship spirit kick-started?”
Kahiu: “Yes, kick-started! There’s a need for that entrepreneurship. They’re learning theory, theory, theory.”
van Diggelen: “So commercializing these ideas?”
Kahiu: “It’s very hard…That’s what I want to do. I’ll sit in the gap between the education system and the industry and help people to see the possibilities that there are in science, technology, engineering and math.”
“Every Kenyan child that is being born deserves to know and understand technology. We don’t have a choice. If the world is accelerating the way it is doing, we’ll be left so far behind, we won’t even see the dust. I’m serious.”
“Science and technology should answer your problems. So, I meet people where they are and then we walk together …People care about drinking water, safer roads and availability of healthy foods for their kids. So these are their needs. So I’ll walk with my people from that point and we’ll walk towards particle physics…flying to the moon, or Mars…who knows? (laughter)”
(This interview took place at the Los Altos History Museum, which is currently featuring an interactive Silicon Valley exhibit, now through April 2015)
Asal Ibrahim is a 24 year-old student from Amman, Jordan. She’s been working at a (Vista Solar) solar company in Silicon Valley, soaking up the “can do” attitude.
Ibrahim is enthusiastic about the state of technology in Jordan today, but admits there are many opportunities for improvement.
I asked her how Silicon Valley’s tech obsessed culture compares to that of Jordan.
Ibrahim: “It’s very similar. Everyone is obsessed with technology: holding a smart phone, interacting on social media, using it in almost every aspect of life. On an infrastructure level it needs to be improved: transportation, education is employing technology a lot…we need to improve it way more.
“You can find anything from high tech schools to poor schools in Jordan. We have schools that are winning international competitions like Intel Science Fair or Microsoft Imagine Cup and compete worldwide with their Robotech, with their programming skills, website software. Some schools are more advanced than some universities in Jordan. We’re still lacking equipped labs for example, not only technological advances like IT, but also scientific labs.
“Jordanians are very into technology. They can contribute a lot if they get the chance. We have a lot of international companies that have offices in Jordan, and employ large amount of engineers, like Microsoft, Sony, Yahoo.”
Ibrahim’s goal is to encourage the massive deployment of solar power in Jordan, but she faces an uphill struggle.
“It’s not easy to push this kind of alternate power and challenge the big oil companies. We have to combine all the manpower we have, all the technology, knowledge, NGOs, advocates, to make this happen. It’s a dream that needs to be worked on at a national level.”
Ibrahim was part of a public private partnership that brought 200 Mega Watts of solar power online this year, but she’s determined to keep up the momentum.
“97% of our energy is imported, so if any of surrounding countries that provide us with oil or electricity have bad political situations, which is the case most of the times, we will be out of energy. Renewables are now 2% of energy share. It’s mostly oil now.”
So how has Ibrahim’s month in Silicon Valley inspired her?
“The most special spirit of Silicon Valley is how diverse it is. Having people from all over the world working for the state of technology, for the sake of entrepreneuring, for the sake of innovating, creating new things. How excited people are on the train in the morning – they feel happy, on a mission to accomplish…it has reached me.”
She’s learned an important lesson from her month in Silicon Valley:
Ibrahim: “No idea is bad. If you have a single idea, whether it’s a website, app, any innovation you think can change the face of technology, you should pursue this, because an idea dies if you don’t pursue it.
“It’s all inspiring to me. Everything is possible if you have the persistence and determination to make it happen. The Jordanian culture encourages girls and boys, men to study equally; they’re very encouraged to pursue careers in STEM, to pursue technological and scientific degrees. Being in a male dominated environment in technological companies, can be a bit frightening for girls and women…there is no challenge if you show confidence and if you have a dream to pursue, no one will stand in your way.”
Check back soon for my interview with Sierra Leone’s Fatmata Kamara who wants to bring solar power to rural areas of her country to improve the livelihood of rural communities and help in the fight against Ebola.
Find out about more inspiring women at Fresh Dialogues
By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues
The dynamic new CEO of SVForum, Adiba Barney rolled out the red carpet this week for the 17th Visionary Awards. But despite all the glitz and glamor, there was a strong message: use tech to make the world better. Of course, each recipient has an impressive resume: Jessica Jackley, cofounder of Kiva; Tim O’Reilly, open source advocate and media producer; Tina Seelig, director of Stanford Tech Ventures Program; and Tim Draper, founder of Draper University and partner at DFJ Ventures. But how did each get where they are today and what can you learn from their journey?
Here are some of the lessons the visionaries shared at Tuesday’s event:
1. Ask: what if?
Jackley witnessed a new level of poverty while working in Africa and when she returned to Silicon Valley, she wanted to help change some lives, especially those with an entrepreneurial drive. She said, “People in Silicon Valley are always talking about the future…so ask: what if?”
Her inspiration? She was killing time at Stanford University one evening, and just happened to attend a talk by Muhammad Yunis, the Nobel Prize winning founder of “banker to the poor” Grameen Bank. His success helped launch the microlending phenomenon and inspired Kiva, a nonprofit microlender that’s now shared over half a billion dollars in startup funds with entrepreneurs around the world.
2. Have some accidents
Tim Draper confessed that he often discovered and backed companies like Skype by complete accident. Often he was actually looking for, or working on something else. His message: “If you want to be a visionary, go out and have some accidents!” And he proceeded to fling his glass of water into the crowd. Fortunately there were no injuries, though fellow journalist, Tom Foremski got the brunt of the baptism.
3. Go for love not money
Tim O’Reilly said “I urge you all: do things for love, with no expectation of return…celebrate the success of people who make a difference.” He described Silicon Valley as a place “for people who dream, who care…about stuff other than making an exit.”
Although he’s a big believer in the power of the markets, he underlined the obligation to “give back” and in his great literary style, he even quoted a passage from Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables” to underline his point that an entrepreneur should think “much of others, and little of him (or her) self.” He’s recently embraced the vision of Jennifer Pahlka’s Code for America. It helps bring more top tech talent into government (e.g. the tech team that went to D.C. to help rescue HealthCare.Gov’s disastrous rollout).
“We need to fix government, not abandon it!” said O’Reilly.
4. Never miss an opportunity to be fabulous
Tina Seelig is the epitome of Silicon Valley passion for entrepreneurship and technology; and urges us all to ask big questions. Her mantra is “never miss an opportunity to be fabulous” and although she didn’t say it, her energetic body language seemed to be chanelling Adele’s line from Rolling in the Deep: “Throw your soul through every open door!”
5. Have a passion for “Yes”
Steven Levy, a senior writer at Wired Magazine, and former honoree himself, introduced Tim O’Reilly and reminded everyone that behind every “no” is a “yes.”
“At the core of Silicon Valley is a passion for yes,” he said. “This is the place where people don’t look for reasons to say no…(instead) someone comes up with a crazy idea and they have permission to do it.”
Presumably he means, if you want to be a real tech visionary, there’s no place like Silicon Valley.
Check back soon for Fresh Dialogues interviews with Jessica Jackley, Tina Seelig, Jennifer Pahlka and Tim Draper.
This SVForum event took place at the home of Kelly Porter in Los Altos Hills on Tuesday June 3rd, 2014.
Photo credit: Tom Foremski
One day after the sweeping new rules to limit power plant emissions were announced by the EPA’s Gina McCarthy, China just announced a major carbon emissions cap. Yet the climate change deniers and the the coal lobby are campaigning to preserve carbon polluting energy. It’s valuable to reflect on why these new rules are critical to the future of mankind.
As McCarthy described it, “We have a moral obligation to the next generation to ensure the world we leave is healthy & vibrant.”
Others might be more direct: It’s climate change, stupid.
I recently interviewed CBS 60 Minutes Correspondent Lesley Stahl and she shared her emotional reaction to climate change. She witnessed the rapid ice melt in Greenland and reported about it for Years of Living Dangerously, the documentary series on climate change.
“I thought global warming needed an alarm bell rung before I went, but it was extremely emotional for me to see first hand the ice melt,” says Stahl. “…knowing what it’s going to do for the rest of the planet.”
She’s talking primarily about global sea level rises, but there’s also the devastation that will occur due to rising temperatures, widespread drought and the increasing frequency of deadly storms like Hurricane Sandy.
Find out more about Stahl’s report for the Years of Living Dangerously series here. It’s produced by David Cameron and features reports from Tom Friedman, Matt Damon, Jessica Alba and Don Cheadle.
The interview was recorded at the Foothill College Celebrity Forum Series in Silicon Valley on May 15, 2014.
Check out my interview with Lesley Stahl on Barbara Walters’ legacy.
By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues
Last night, I caught up with acclaimed journalist Lesley Stahl to discuss Barbara Walters’ retirement. Here’s Stahl’s tribute to her television colleague and fellow crasher of the boys’ club:
“Barbara has been a pioneer all along,” says Stahl. “Even in hanging in there to the age of 84, she’s still leading the way.”
The 60 Minutes Correspondent and former White House Correspondent for the Carter, Reagan and George H. Bush administration gives a historic perspective on Barbara Walters’ groundbreaking role in TV journalism.
“When she started, when I started, it was generally assumed women couldn’t last in television news beyond the age of 40,” says the Emmy award winning Stahl. “Then it was 50, then Barbara reached 60…Barbara is 84, it’s fabulous!”
At 72, the vivacious Lesley Stahl continues to create newsmaking reports for 60 Minutes as well as Years of Living Dangerously. In her early days, producers told her to ”never, ever, ever smile,” she even wore glasses to look more serious. But today, the glasses are off and she frequently shows off her dynamic personality on air. She famously wrote in her biography, Reporting Live, that when she started work at 60 Minutes in 1991, joining septuagenarian colleagues like Morley Safer, she felt younger, “There simply is not a better job or a better shop in all of television news – possibly in all of journalism.”
The interview was recorded back stage at the Flint Center in Cupertino, minutes before Lesley Stahl took the stage with her 60 Minutes colleague Bob Simon, for Foothill College’s Celebrity Forum Series. Special thanks to host, Dick Henning and Foothill College President Judy Miner for their warm welcome.
Check back soon at Fresh Dialogues for Part 2 of my interview with Lesley Stahl about climate change and her eye witness account of the dramatic Arctic ice melt.
See Fresh Dialogues Inspiring Women Series featuring Meryl Streep, Susan Sarandon, Sheryl Sandberg and Belva Davis.
Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues
Fidel Castro, Muhammad Ali, Gloria Steinem. These are just a few of the icons that pioneering journalist Belva Davis has interviewed in over fifty years of reporting. This weekend, Davis receives the John F. Hogan Distinguished Service Award from the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) in Los Angeles.
Davis began her illustrious career in the 1950’s; became the first black woman to anchor the news on the West Coast and was host of KQED’s public affairs program, This Week in Northern California for almost 20 years. She talked to Fresh Dialogues this summer in Los Altos about why she admires PBS Newshour’s history making Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill; her memoir; and the need for both curiosity and passion in a successful career. Davis also explains her need to prove herself every day. “Go home if you don’t feel some sense of gratitude for the next day’s possibilities,” she says.
ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: Hello and welcome to Fresh Dialogues. Today I’m with pioneering journalist, Belva Davis. She has a new book and it’s called Never In My Wildest Dreams. Belva, thank you for joining me today.
BELVA DAVIS: Well thank you. This is a wonderful opportunity.
ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: So let’s talk about those wildest dreams. When did you feel your wildest dreams were coming true?
BELVA DAVIS: Definitely I know when I decided that this reckless course was the one I was going to take, and that is to try to break into television news reporting. And to do that without having an example of anyone that looked even slightly like me who was doing it, I think took quite a commitment, to say I’ll do what’s necessary…
ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: …And a lot of courage. So you really had no role models. Today we talk about role models and we can emulate this person or that. You had no one?
BELVA DAVIS: No one.
ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: If you were to go back to being 30 or 40 years old, what advice would you give yourself?
BELVA DAVIS: I always tell people, if you are not doing…Number one: if you don’t have curiosity about what you’ve chosen to do with your life, and if you don’t have passion for what you say you want to do with your life, you should keep looking.
ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: Right, so passion and curiosity. They’re both really important.
BELVA DAVIS: Right, because one keeps you going, and wanting to know more about what you’re doing. By wanting to know more, then you get better. You don’t just sit there from wherever point you entered whatever arena you’re in. And you have to have passion to give the extra time. You can’t just do something that at 5 o’clock you turn off a key. That just doesn’t work.
ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: And what about today? For young aspiring journalists, who are the good female role models today? Who would you point to and say: she’s got it right. She’s nailing it. Is there anyone you tune into?
BELVA DAVIS: (Laughter) I love everybody…
ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: You don’t want to pick favorites?
BELVA DAVIS: But I do think that the PBS team, you know Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill is hard to beat.
ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: Yes
BELVA DAVIS: I wouldn’t put them in the “young girl category” but they’re both really intelligent, smart, good reporters and I admire them.
ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: Yes
BELVA DAVIS: I’ve long…as a young woman…Soledad O’Brien I think has been a brave woman, you know raising her children and taking these really dangerous assignments. So, they’re still out there.
ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: I saw that wonderful interview with you and Judy Woodruff and you said something that really made me pause because there you are, you’ve been doing this for 50 years, and you said “I feel I still have to prove myself every day.”
BELVA DAVIS: Yes…I do.
ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: Talk about that. What is it that’s driving you? You don’t feel that hey, I’ve interviewed Muhammad Ali, I’ve interviewed Fidel Castro, I’ve interviewed…presidents…
BELVA DAVIS: You should go home when you don’t have anybody else you want to interview. You should go home when you can’t feel some sense of gratitude for the next day’s possibilities. The next day’s possibilities are what keeps you going forward. I mean if she (Sheryl Sandberg) talks “leaning in,” that keeps you going. Just realizing what could be, if you just do a little more, push a little harder, give someone else an opportunity.
ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: Wonderful, Belva Davis. We’ll leave it on that note. Thank you so much for taking time for Fresh Dialogues.
BELVA DAVIS: Thank you.
Find out more:
See Fresh Dialogues Interview with PBS’ Charlie Rose on the burning curiosity that got him in trouble as a youth and today drives his “great and glorious life.”
See Fresh Dialogues video: Sheryl Sandberg on why women today should “Lean In.”
Columnist Leonard Pitts on The Hard Truths of Being Black in America
Photo credits: Lina Broydo
Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues
Cisco System’s CTO Padmasree Warrior discusses the “Lean In” Movement, and what lessons she’s learned in her remarkable career. Warrior, an influential Silicon Valley tech leader, on the Forbes List of 100 Most Powerful Women, says women shouldn’t hold themselves back, they should be “out there and leaning in to opportunities.”
Warrior emphasizes the importance of authenticity in leadership, letting people see “who you truly are.” Of course, being approachable…coaching, mentoring, and brainstorming ideas with your team are also key, she says.
On the question of finding balance in your life, Warrior is blunt. “I don’t like the word ‘balance,’” she says. “To me that somehow conjures up conflict between work and family…as long as we think of these things as conflicting, we will never have happiness. True happiness comes from integration…of work, family, self, community.”
Warrior dedicates Saturday as her digital detox day where she puts down her smartphone and busies herself with family and gardening, painting, cooking, even haiku. Check out her eclectic Twitter feed to learn more.
She told me that letting go of guilt is a vital lesson. “When my son was growing up, I was always guilty, no matter what I did, ” she says. “Make decisions and be happy with the decisions you’ve made. I tell myself in the long run, it’s the love, the quality of relationships that you have with your family, your friends and giving back to the community that matters.”
Here’s a summary of Warrior’s Seven Secrets of Success. Watch the video for all the details.
1. Be authentic, approachable
2. Mentor and coach others
3. Be out there and “lean in” to opportunities
4. Forget “balance” – integrate work, family, self, community
5. Avoid guilt
6. Be happy with your decisions
7. Think long-term and focus on relationship quality
The interview was recorded at SVForum’s Visionary Awards in Silicon Valley, June 26, 2013. Warrior was one of four honorees. Find out more about Warrior and her advice for getting more women in STEM.
Alison van Diggelen asks Fresh Questions and gets Fresh Answers. Find out more about her green interview series. And join the conversation on Facebook.
This is part of a special “Inspiring Women” series at Fresh Dialogues featuring Meryl Streep, Sheryl Sandberg, Jennifer Granholm, Maureen Dowd, and Belva Davis.