Anar Simpson works on improving the prospects for women by leveraging digital technologies. At the policy level Anar was the Deputy to the United Nations High Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment and Special Advisor for Women, Girls and Technology at Mozilla. At the grassroots layer, as Global Ambassador and Director for Technovation, Anar has helped inspire tens of thousands of girls from over a hundred countries to embrace entrepreneurship and digital literacy. Anar is also active in the US State Department TechWomen initiative, helping to connect emerging female tech leaders across the world. She is also a member of the Board at CARE Canada whose mandate goal to end inequality is aided by developing solutions with women and girls and their communities. Anar has been recognized for her leadership and outstanding contributions to closing the tech industry gender gap by the University of Calgary as a Distinguished Alumni, with an EQUALS Award, and as a GSMA & Silicon Valley Women of Influence.
IsmailiMail caught up with Anar recently for a Year in Review interview:
IsmailiMail: What has 2019 been like for you and can you share some highlights?
Anar Simpson: I’m happy to report that my work with women, girls and technology accelerated this year. Technovation Girls continues to grow and we now have participation from over 100 countries in the program. Technovation not only teaches them how to make an app for a mobile phone but more importantly about entrepreneurship skills so that they can build a viable business.
Each year these teams of girls come up with amazing ideas to address problems that they identify in their societies. This year, at the World Pitch event in Silicon Valley, the awardees included teams from Albania which created an app (GjejZ) to assist victims of domestic abuse as well as a team from Cambodia who focused on preserving Khmer poetry which is at risk of being forgotten due to its massive loss during the Khmer Rouge Genocide.
IM: It’s almost the end of the decade – As we enter 2020 what are your thoughts on the technology landscape?
A: There seems to have been a shift in the tech world on the need for more inclusive shaping of technology, more diverse voices and thus hopefully technology that serves everyone equitably or at least does not disadvantage certain populations. The “tech-lash” accelerated this year – the realization of the scope and impact of applying technologies which harmed, or giving voice to bad actors or rogue governments. A more diverse and inclusive workforce should help to shape technology to be more holistic. In the past few years many companies have created Diversity and Inclusion departments. Just as diverse Boards have led to better companies, I expect that better D&I will also lead to improved results, not only financially but also in the types of products that are released and how they impact the world.
IM: Do you see these efforts at the policy level?
A: Some countries are making efforts to ensure that government funded programs are more equitable. In Canada, the Women and Gender Equality Canada department provides online training in gender-based analysis to more than 150,000 federal public servants, MPs, senators and parliamentary staff. The online training module encourages analysts, or anyone dreaming up a policy proposal, to challenge their own assumptions, including implicit biases, as well as those in the previous research and data they rely on to further develop their plans.
We should start to see regulation arounds how large online platforms are run as well. There has to be more accountability and responsibility into how people live their digital lives. Many governments are looking at those regulatory frameworks.
At a broader level, like at the World Bank, there is also interest in gaining varied perspectives to make informed decisions. Recently I was able to organize a round-table discussion on gender, innovation and digital development with representatives of the World Bank Group and TechWomen mentors from many tech companies including Twitter, Google, Amazon, Microsoft etc. The prepared remarks from the mentors were keenly welcomed and shared widely at the WBG.
IM: You were also at the 2019 International Women of Courage Awards?
A: The US Dept. of State’s International Women of Courage Award (IWOC) Award recognizes women around the globe who have demonstrated exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality, and women’s empowerment and I was delighted to attend again this year. What an amazing group of women and their efforts which are so diverse were inspiring.
IM: What do you look forward to in 2020?
A: The work continues! I’m particularly excited about the Technovation Families program which has a focus on AI and has garnered the support of many tech companies. AI will impact all of us, and it’s essential that we all understand the implications and tradeoffs. Tackling that challenge at the level of families is interesting as these technologies increasingly enter our living rooms and family lives. I’m also looking forward to assessing the role that technology can play in
CARE Canada’s focus on developing solutions with women and girls and their communities to tackle the big issues like climate change, economic empowerment, food security and emergency relief in times of crisis or disaster. This is where the intersection of the initiatives I’ve been involved with will help to pay dividends. Stay tuned!