“Access to information is like access to life, information is life. Access to information […] is the leveler for all inequalities,” said Nnenna Nwakanma as she delivered a speech at last year’s IPDCtalks in Paris.
Nnenna is a free and open-source software activist, community organizer and development adviser. Her interest in information technologies and her determination to make them accessible — especially to women — can be traced to her early childhood. She was born the last of three girls in the Eastern part of Nigeria. “My uncles decided they did not want my mother. They did not want the three girls, because the investment has come to zero.” Nnenna explains. “So I was this kind of unwanted and un-named child. Nobody will invest in your education; you get the gift of poverty, and early marriage. You would not have access to water, or electricity or health service. And most definitely, you would not have rights to inheritance or own property”.
Initially destined to lead such a life, Nnenna’s story is one of a dramatic turnaround. Her father, who had been separated from the family, came back and supported his youngest daughter to establish her own identity. He gave her a name and sent her to the best school the family could afford. Today Nnenna holds several degrees in the fields of social sciences, linguistics, religion, law and international relations.
However, a good education is not the only factor behind Nnenna’s success. “I was one of the very early proponents in Africa to click and to connect. And when I understood the power of technology to give me an identity, to make me a global citizen, and to even serve as a job for me, then I thought: This is me”, explained Nnenna in her speech during the last year’s IPDCtalks.
Today Nnenna is the Senior Policy Manager of the World Wide Web Foundation, an organization founded in 2008 by Sir Tim Berners-Lee to fight for a world where everyone has access to the web and can use it to improve their lives. While the web has been instrumental in Nnenna’s life, many people around the world are still unable to access its benefits. One Web Foundation study shows more than half of the world’s population is still unconnected, with women particularly affected.
With the goal of bridging the online gender gap, Nnenna is deeply involved in fighting for online rights for women, providing relevant content to help women understand their basic human rights, and making the web a safe place in general. To this end, Nnenna strongly advocates for the open data agenda across Africa. She recently pioneered TechMousso, a competition using gender data to bring the tech community together with civil society working on women’s issues in Cote d’Ivoire.
For Nnenna, global efforts to expand internet access, education and online rights can’t come quickly enough. “Let us make it a point of duty that all the people, especially women, should be free and able to access all parts of the Internet all the time.”
In recent years, Nnenna co-founded several organizations working on information-technology issues such as The Free Software and Open Source Foundation for Africa, The Africa Network of Information Society Actors, and the African Civil Society for the Information Society. She has served as a board member of the Open Source Initiative and as the Information officer for Africa at the Helen Keller Foundation.
Join this year’s IPDCtalks on 28 September at the Paris HQ in order to listen to more stories like the one from Nnenna Nwakanma. For more information on the IPDCtalks, please visit our website: http://en.unesco.org/ipdc-talks