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Women in the Digital Economy Fund (WiDEF) Announces Advisory Council Members

The Women in the Digital Economy Fund (WiDEF), a five-year $60 million investment to accelerate progress on closing the gender digital divide, today announced the appointment of nine global leaders in digital inclusion, 70% of whom are women, to its first Advisory Council.

Announced by the White House in March 2023, WiDEF is a joint effort between USAID and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to accelerate progress on closing the gender digital divide.

The WiDEF consortium – CARE, Global Digital Inclusion Partnership and the GSMA Foundation – is deeply committed to ensuring the perspectives and institutions closest to the gender digital divide are at the center of this work. This is why the initiative’s first action after formalizing WiDEF in October 2023 was to recruit and engage a global Advisory Council.

Advisory Council members – primarily from across South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa –represent the private sector, civil society, government, and research communities and will bring their expertise and passion for digital inclusion to inform WiDEF strategy. The Advisory Council will guide work including informing WiDEF’s evidence standards, helping to identify the challenges the initiative should prioritize, and recommending program scope.

The inaugural WiDEF Advisory Council members are:

  • Helani Galpaya, CEO, LIRNEasia
  • Shikoh Gitau, CEO, Qhala
  • Aamir Ibrahim, CEO, Jazz
  • Neema Iyer, Founder, Pollicy
  • Osama Manzar, Founder and Director, Digital Empowerment Foundation
  • Dorothy Okello, Dean, Makerere University School of Engineering
  • Araba Sey, Deputy Director, Research ICT Africa
  • Karen Smit, Head of Specific Needs/Accessibility, Vodacom
  • Camilo Téllez, Deputy Managing Director, Better than Cash Alliance

“I’m thrilled to join WiDEF’s advisory council because it focuses on the internet as a catalyst for women’s empowerment. This initiative speaks to my personal passion of building digital spaces where women and girls can innovate, thrive, and find joy. It’s an honour at this pivotal time to be part of a movement that champions meaningful digital access and education, ensuring women across the globe have the tools to succeed and shape their digital futures,” said Neema Iyer, WiDEF Advisory Council member and founder of Pollicy, an award-winning feminist civic technology collective.

“At CARE, we’ve always recognized the importance of centering the voices and ambitions of women and girls. Along with our partners, Global Digital Inclusion Partnership and the GSMA Foundation, we aim to put that conviction into action on WiDEF. I could not be more excited by the amazing and talented group of individuals that have offered to join the WiDEF Advisory Council and guide this effort,” said Christian Pennotti, CARE Senior Director, and WiDEF Managing Director.

“As we officially launch and roll out WiDEF, we are excited to be joined by such a highly experienced group of digital inclusion experts who will help us steer the strategy and direction of the Fund. We are also proud of the composition of the Advisory Council, which includes diverse voices from the majority world and reflects the global nature of our mission and ambition,” said Onica Nonhlanhla Makwakwa, GDIP Executive Director.

“At the GSMA we are strongly committed to driving women’s digital inclusion and economic empowerment and, along with our WiDEF consortium partners, CARE and GDIP, we are looking forward to working with a fantastic group of WiDEF Advisory Council members who are passionate about closing the digital gender divide. Accelerating progress is no simple task and we are delighted to have the input from a group of individuals who bring a wide range of deep experience and expertise,” said Claire Sibthorpe, Head of Digital Inclusion, GSMA.

WiDEF will open an initial Call for Proposals at a March 12, 2024 launch event. With progress to close the gender digital divide stalled in Sub-Saharan Africa and reversing in South Asia, WiDEF will prioritize these regions in its initial efforts.

About WiDEF

The Women in the Digital Economy Fund (WiDEF) will support and fund programs that advance digital access and affordability; develop relevant products and tools; provide digital literacy and skills training; promote online safety and security; and invest in sex-disaggregated data and research. It will support, wherever possible, women-led, feminist, and gender transformational solutions, products, and tools.

For media inquiries, please contact: usa.media@care.org

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