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. 


Help Support Open Transcripts

If you found this useful or interesting, please consider supporting the project monthly at Patreon or once via Square Cash, or even just sharing the link. Thanks.