Technology for Good Podcast: Sinead Bovell, Founder, WAYE and Youth Tech Leader

“We always think about the socio-demographic factors of how technologies are built, intersect with socio-demographic factors such as race, gender and sexual orientation. And it is really important that those who are building these technologies are aware, are reflective of our diverse backgrounds, ideas, our beliefs, all of that. That is how we get our future technology right.” Sinead Bovell, Founder, WAYE and Youth Tech Leader

For 5 episodes of Technology for Good, we are focusing on technological challenges and opportunities through the eyes of some incredible and inspirational women in tech, in the run up to and during the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference, or PP-22. This major event will gather policymakers from ITU’s 193 member states to take decisions that will shape the future of technology, making it greener, more gender and youth inclusive and more accessible to everyone on our planet.

This podcast is the seventeenth episode of Technology for Good- an ITU podcast series that focuses on how technology is helping to shape the world around us.

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Available on Soundcloud, Spotify, Apple Podcasts and more.

Presented and Directed by: Maximillian Jacobson-Gonzalez
Co-presented by: Adeleh Mojtahed

Produced and Edited by: Gianluca Allaria

Production Assistants: Tiziana Balleste, Martina Camellini

TRANSCRIPT


Technology for Good – Sinead Bovell, Founder, WAYE and Youth Tech Leader

Interviewers:

Maximillian Jacobson-Gonzalez, Senior Communications Officer, ITU

Adeleh Mojtahed, Consultant, ITU

Maximillian Jacobson-Gonzalez:

Welcome to ITU’s flagship podcast series, Technology for Good. I am Max Jacobson-Gonzalez and I’m Senior Communications Officer at ITU. And for the last 11 or so years, I have been interviewing a plethora of interesting people in the worlds of technology, technological innovation, government, academia…from fledgling entrepreneurs to Presidents and Prime Ministers, from chiefs of industry giants to young people taking their first steps towards scientific or engineering careers and even Hollywood film stars, but to balance things out a bit for the next five episodes of Technology for Good, which we have decided to devote to Women in Tech, I am going to be joined by a female co-presenter for every episode. And today I have the pleasure of introducing you to Adeleh Mojtahed. Adeleh, why don’t you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself?

Adeleh Mojtahed:

Thank you, Max. I am Adeleh. I am a digital specialist, foresight strategist and a multidisciplinary artist and I have been moderating a few panel discussions related to immersive technologies. I am passionate and dedicated in helping and educating others, particularly those from marginalized communities. Considering the inequalities and help to bring them to the center of the new solutions in digital transformation. My work at ITU primarily focuses on using data to optimize digital projects, building new strategies, and enlightening UN organizations on how to make digital products and web more accessible for people with no broadband and people with disability and also, how to reduce digital carbon footprint to help with climate change.

Maximillian Jacobson-Gonzalez:

A very important topic indeed. Thanks, Adeleh. Now before we meet our guest, why don’t we also tell the listeners what ITU is?

Adeleh Mojtahed:

ITU, the International Telecommunication Union, is one of the oldest agencies of the United Nations. ITU aims at uniting and connecting people all over the world through information and communication technologies, ICTs. ITU is involved in change and creating bridges among communities through ICTs. Max, I know you are a veteran of ITU. Would you share a fun fact with me and our listeners?

Maximillian Jacobson-Gonzalez:

Well, you are making me sound as old as ITU, which is 157 years old, in fact! I’ve been around a while, but I’m not quite there yet. Well, how about this – did you know that ITU is behind the technical standards in country codes that make international phone calls possible? So that when you dial +1 for North America or +33 for France or +86 for China, your call always gets to the right country and hopefully the right person, no matter where you are in the world.

Adeleh Mojtahed:

Oh, I did not know that.

Maximillian Jacobson-Gonzalez:

Okay, well, how about this one: ITU is also responsible for managing the radio spectrum. Without careful management of the system, many forms of telecommunication that we rely on daily, such as cellular technology, Wi Fi, and emergency radio services, would be subject to interference and possibly would not work at all.

Adeleh Mojtahed:

Great. So, I guess it is thanks to ITU if we are able to connect to our amazing guest today.

Maximillian Jacobson-Gonzalez:

Exactly! And that is why it is one of the most relevant organizations on our planet. And what is more, next month, ITU is going to be holding Plenipotentiary Conference PP22, which will bring decision makers together from 193 Member States to discuss, study and make decisions on the technology, standards, developments, and infrastructures that affects us all – computers, smartphones, broadband, standard spectrum, satellites, AI.

Adeleh Mojtahed:

Whoever people are, whatever their backgrounds, geographical location, economic situation, gender…

Maximillian Jacobson-Gonzalez:

And talking about gender…

Adeleh Mojtahed:

That’s why ITU wants to hear from women in tech related jobs who have often got there with the odds stacked against us. So, people can be inspired, in particular the next generation, to not only inherit the future but also shape it.

Maximillian Jacobson-Gonzalez:

Our guest today is Sinead Bovell, a successful digital entrepreneur and fashion model who combines her time in front of the camera with championing the voices of young people in the digital development world. In January of last year, Sinead was appointed to the ITU Generation Connect Visionaries Board, which strives to offer strategic guidance on youth participation and empowerment in digital cooperation. She is also a member of the IEEE Global Initiative Education Committee. IEEE is the world’s largest technical, professional organization dedicated to advancing technology for the benefit of humanity. Sinead, thank you very much for joining us today.

Sinead Bovell:
Thank you so much for having me. It is such a pleasure to be here.

Maximillian Jacobson-Gonzalez:

And you are up very early this morning in New York, so we very much appreciate your presence here. Please tell us what inspired you to combine your role as a fashion model with that of a technology champion? And is that, is that how it happened?

Sinead Bovell:

So it is a little bit unconventional, I will say. I did study business in school, strategic foresight and strategy overall were a big focus. And then I went into the world of fashion modelling, and it was there that I realized all the conversations I was having in these boardrooms or in these academic rooms about AI, the future of work was happening in these creative spaces. But it what because creative people and people in the arts did not want to have these conversations. They just were not invited to them. And that is when I realized I could maybe serve as this bridge, this kind of tech translator, because I fundamentally believe everybody has a right to prepare for the future, which means everybody needs to be in the rooms where we are having conversations about it.

Adeleh Mojtahed:

That’s amazing – tech translator! What are the particular challenges that young people face in the rapidly changing world of technology; you think?

Sinead Bovell:

There’s a quite a myriad of challenges, I would say, when it comes to regulation. We are not usually invited to the rooms where these technologies are regulated. So we cannot really influence yet how we can use these technologies. So, think about something like social media. It is not like it is 10,000 years old, so it is still quite young. But there are some massive implications of social media on mental health. And because there is that lag with our legacy institutions which are designed to be stable and slow, it does not necessarily correlate to the pace of change when it comes to technology. And I think another thing for young people, it is our lack of resources. So, under the age of 25, you are just getting your bearings in the workforce. It can be very challenging for you to access the technologies you need to be a part of the economy, and these conversations become even more challenging when you look at emerging market economies and landlocked nations for young people – a significant portion of which cannot access the Internet.

Maximillian Jacobson-Gonzalez:

Now you are combining a number of different careers here, which not necessarily always combined together. I wanted to ask you, what part of your life journey or career to date are you most proud of?

Sinead Bovell:

Well, I would say what makes me the happiest is when we host these talks on technology in the future and you look at the audience and it is reflective of everybody who would use these types of technologies. And that is how we can get our future right. Everybody can weigh in on it. And you see the break-up of women, people of colour, all sorts of people all under one group learning about technology. When it comes to tech in particular, you usually do not see that type of demographic. Unfortunately, it is quite homogenous, which is why we end up with some of the problems that we have today. But I think that is what I stand to most proud of so far in my career today.

Maximillian Jacobson-Gonzalez:

Okay. We’ll come back to some of the problems that we might be facing today and for the future in a bit. But I wanted you to talk a little bit about WAYE, you’re the founder of WAYE which stands for Weekly Advice for Young Entrepreneurs. It is a formidable task. It is an organization that prepares the next generation of leaders for a future with advanced technologies. One of our previous guests, Justyna Orłowska, in fact, from the Polish government, spoke to us about the importance of training young people to a changing and sometimes unpredictable future. How important do you think it is to encourage young people to prepare for a sometimes unknown pace in which advanced technologies are always evolving?

Sinead Bovell:

I think it is incredibly important and I think it can seem overwhelming when I think they do not necessarily know what the variable X, the future is going to bring.  But I would like to shift the focus. We are not preparing for anything in particular. We are preparing to be prepared for that case of dynamic change, we are being prepared so we can face anything, not one thing in particular.  That means something, like I said, “nonskilled”, so to speak, or learning how to pivot, that in itself is a skill that prepares you. So, I think it is incredibly, incredibly important, as is almost shifting the dialogue in the narrative to encourage young people to want to take the initiatives to step up and claim the future that they so rightfully deserve.

Maximillian Jacobson-Gonzalez:

And what has been the response been like to WAYE and WAYE talks, which is obviously what you are running as well. Can you give us an example of how young people are benefiting from the platforms?

Sinead Bovell:

Absolutely. So, we have a lot of digital platforms and that is where mostly our millennial and our gen-Z market are. And that has been really effective at preparing things like “Girls of the Future” and how jobs and career paths are going to change. So we have had people actually already shift careers, kind of preparing of shift lanes, kind of preparing for the jobs of the future. People have been telling us about the programs they are choosing to major in in school as a result of what they learnt, what are the side skills that they are also building. And then we have had people who see themselves as not particularly interested in technology, but now pick up and read tech review every morning and see what is happening in the world. So those are some of the ways that people have responded to the information. And it has been really effective and motivating for us to continue forward.

Adeleh Mojtahed:

Sinead, you have done many talks, motivational talks, inspiring talks. Recently I was listening to your TEDtalk in which you talk about Shudu Gram, a computer generated South African woman model, an avatar created and monetized by a white man. And you raise these some very interesting and important points. You referred to robot’s culture appropriation and said that there are many possibilities for misrepresentation or stereotyping when creating avatars and how new technologies may provide an opportunity to exploit people’s racial and gender identities. You call for paying attention to who is in the coding group, who is designing, coding these avatars. Who would you like to see in that coding room and what considerations should be in place?

Sinead Bovell:

Yes. I think there are a lot of technologies that are in the pipeline that intersect with marginalized demographics or socio-demographics that just race, gender and sexual orientation. I think one of the most important questions we can ask ourselves as we step into a decade with artificial intelligence, the metaverse, is who is in the room when we are coding this future. And if it is not reflective of the societies that are going to be using these technologies, we can be quite sure that it probably won’t work effectively for everyone. It is going to be reflective of those who are in that room. So I think that is incredibly, incredibly important as we move into a world where it is entirely underscored by technology. And we always think about the socio-demographic factors of how technologies are built, intersect with socio-demographic factors such as race, gender and sexual orientation. And it is really important that those who are building these technologies are aware, are reflective of our diverse backgrounds, ideas, our beliefs, all of that. That is how we get our future technology right. And that is how we prevent technology from, unfortunately, reflecting societal biases that the past.

Maximillian Jacobson-Gonzalez:

Talking about being in the room. We met briefly at the Generation Connector Youth Summit in Rwanda. I wanted to ask you about attending events such as that. How relevant do you think they are and how much difference do you think that they make?

Sinead Bovell:

I think if you talk to any young person who attended that summit we have nothing but great reviews and I think it is events like that that mobilize all these people that you know are out there trying to build the same future with you, and as you, to come under one roof and to get to co-create our vision together. It is incredibly inspiring. And for all of us, it was kind of the week that changed our year, I’ll say. So, I think the more of those types of events, the better and faster I think we can mobilize forward and better.

Maximillian Jacobson-Gonzalez:

And I think we have got time for one last question. Adeleh, why don’t you go for it?

Adeleh Mojtahed:

Well, thanks, Max. I could talk to Sinead for hours and never get tired of hearing of her amazing experience. But what I would like to know is your opinion on how you think ICTs can be inclusive and how can we overcome the problems of accessibility for marginalized communities?

Sinead Bovell:

I think it is a really, really critical question because if you do not have access to technology, you do not have access to the economy, you might not have access to education. So I think the first and most important step is really breaking down what the barriers to access are, because a lot of times I think it is a resource constraint, but we realize that it is incredibly nuanced. In some areas there are these technologies, there is access to the Internet, but there’s different cultural barriers preventing access or there is a skills barrier preventing access. So I think really doing the groundwork to uncover why certain communities do not have access and filling that gap. And we have as private sector, public sector combined, we have the capabilities to be able to do that, to be able to do that groundwork. I think that is the first and most important step because a lot of times we focus on things like let’s just send broadband, but that might not be effective if you have not done the groundwork of why certain communities may face a barrier to access.

Maximillian Jacobson-Gonzalez:

Well, thank you very much, Sinead. It has been an absolute pleasure talking to you. And we hope to catch up with you again in the not-too-distant future. Final word to our listeners?

Sinead Bovell:

I think when it comes to the future, it can be overwhelming. But the best thing we can do is prepare for it. So I would encourage you to lean into it and do not be afraid to take the reins.

Maximillian Jacobson-Gonzalez:

Very fine words. Thank you very much indeed. We have been talking with Sinead Bovell, a pioneer in supporting youth participation and empowerment in advanced technologies and successful fashion model, too. I’m Max Jacobson-Gonzalez

Adeleh Mojtahed:

and I’m Adeleh Mojtahed. Join us again for some more fascinating insights from enterprising and inspiring women in tech. In the meantime, why not send us your feedback on Instagram @ituofficial

Maximillian Jacobson-Gonzalez:

And if you have any comments or suggestions, anything or anyone that is inspired you and that you would like us to feature, do write to us at podcasts@itu.int. And you can also visit our website at www.itu.int. And finally, if you have enjoyed listening to this program, please do not forget to subscribe to ITU Podcasts. You can find us on SoundCloud, Spotify, Apple Podcasts and more as we try to dig ever deeper into how technology can truly serve the greater good for all the residents of our planet.

Adeleh Mojtahed:

Thank you so much for tuning in today.

You have been listening to Technology for Good, an ITU digital production.