I’m Nancy Hafkin. I live now in Boston, Massachusetts in the US. And the bulk of my work years were spent in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where I was work­ing at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.

In my own back­ground, I start­ed pro­fes­sion­al­ly work­ing in the first inter­na­tion­al pro­gram on women and devel­op­ment, which was right before the Mexico City con­fer­ence on it. And it was through that work that I got inter­est­ed in dis­sem­i­nat­ing infor­ma­tion and mak­ing infor­ma­tion avail­able to those who were severe­ly deprived of it. And that is what brought me towards infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy and to get incred­i­bly excit­ed by the pos­si­bil­i­ty of the Internet when it came along.

I think my proud­est achieve­ments were to be able to set up and launch the first pro­gram at the United Nations to pro­mote infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy in a region. And the region was of course Africa. I got into it, as I’ve got­ten into many things, start­ing out from a per­son­al inter­est. I had been in charge of a research and pub­li­ca­tions pro­gram on women and devel­op­ment. And in order to do it, pub­li­ca­tions were pro­duced using Selectric type­writ­ers and pink cor­rec­tion flu­id. So I got extreme­ly inter­est­ed in the pos­si­bil­i­ties of elec­tron­ic pub­lish­ing when that came along, and got very involved in that for the UN. And then I said to myself, So why am I think­ing only of the UN? Doesn’t this have any appli­ca­tion for where I’m work­ing and liv­ing, Africa?” And I pro­posed to the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission a pro­gram to pro­mote infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy in Africa. But the Internet was­n’t even heard of at that time. This was still in late 80s.

And he said, If you want to do it, and if you can raise the mon­ey for it, go ahead. No one else is inter­est­ed in it.” And it became the sin­gle largest and most suc­cess­ful pro­gram there, and I think had an impact on light­ing the fire for the Internet and infor­ma­tion soci­ety in Africa.

Our approach always was to think of inclu­sion and to get the Internet—not as peo­ple talk about the dig­i­tal divide, but as a dig­i­tal con­nec­tor. And to be a dig­i­tal con­nec­tor, it means inclu­sion, and inclu­sion of everyone. 

I think that the most impor­tant change that the Internet has brought to soci­ety is con­nec­tion, is an end to iso­la­tion. This is so impor­tant to me, par­tic­u­lar­ly from the per­spec­tive of liv­ing so long in a very poor, devel­op­ing coun­try, and where the thought of infor­ma­tion over­load is absolute­ly unknown. And the pos­si­bil­i­ty that you can live in a rur­al vil­lage in Tanzania and have the same access to all the infor­ma­tion that some­body would have at the University of California Berkeley, that’s a game chang­er. That’s a real game chang­er and I think that’s tremen­dous­ly impor­tant. And I think that’s prob­a­bly among the most impor­tant con­tri­bu­tions that the Internet has made.

How all my work and pro­fes­sion­al expe­ri­ences have changed my life, I think it’s been to give me a reli­gion. It’s a reli­gion that I want to pur­sue, that I want to pros­e­ly­tize. I offi­cial­ly retired from my employ­ment twelve years ago. But I can’t stop. It’s a bug. And I want to go on pro­mot­ing a knowl­edge soci­ety, an Internet-based knowl­edge soci­ety, for the whole globe. Because it does­n’t take the infra­struc­ture that so many oth­er kinds of devel­op­ment have tak­en. It’s pos­si­ble now, every­where, and it offers enor­mous oppor­tu­ni­ties, and I want to con­tin­ue to work on get­ting that mes­sage out.