Internet for all

Meet Nigeria’s Nnenna Nwakanma, a web advocate for African women

By Kévin Poireault

Posted on April 16, 2021 09:35

Firefox_Screenshot_2021-04-15T12-48-32.599Z © Nnenna Nwakanma is the World Wide Web Foundation’s chief web ambassador. DR
Nnenna Nwakanma is the World Wide Web Foundation’s chief web ambassador. DR

Nigerian Nnenna Nwakanma is using her role at the World Wide Web Foundation along with the UN and Gafam to improve women’s access to the Internet, helping them develop their leadership skills and limit the violence they suffer from online.

From Abidjan, Nnenna Nwakanma recounts how she accompanied “a woman in her thirties and a woman over 75 years in choosing their first mobile phones” at the beginning of March.

As chief web advocate for the World Wide Web Foundation, she has made improving women’s access to the Internet one of her main missions. “Because it is a way to develop their leadership skills,” she says.

In 2016, she launched TechMousso (Mousso means “woman” in the Bambara language) in Côte d’Ivoire, a unique competition aimed at financing projects that uses data relating to women, with the support of the Web Foundation and the UN, in partnership with the Millennium Challenge Corporation.

The initiative breathed life into the Pass Mousso, a connected accessory developed in 2019 by Corinne Maurice, on which the wearer can store their digital medical records.

The daughter of human rights activists

Today, Nwakanma continues this battle via the Web Foundation’s new digital agora: the Tech Policy Design Lab. “Violence against women online is one of the first issues we invited the major web platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, etc.) to discuss with human rights organisations,” says Nwakanma. “We will now lay out our expectations for these web giants on this very issue.”

The activist has fought for free software, data protection and internet access. “I’m hard to put in a box,” she says while laughing. She’s difficult to follow too.

Born in 1975 in rural Abia State (south-eastern Nigeria) to parents who were “both human rights activists”, she first attended a girls’ high school in Aba, near Port Harcourt, before crossing the Atlantic to study English, social sciences, history and religion at Andrews University, in Michigan. She then moved to Côte d’Ivoire, where she worked in the AfDB’s treasury and completed a master’s degree in international relations at the Université de l’Atlantique.

Three flagship projects

It was a seminal experience. In 1999, when she was in charge of moving the organisation from the old Telex system to the current Swift banking system, she discovered the web for the first time. And she hasn’t left it since. In 2013, she was recruited by the Web Foundation.

In recent months, her agenda has been occupied by three flagship projects:

  • Contract for the Web, which involves nine principles established by the Web Foundation in 2019 that governments, private actors and citizens must agree to in order to access better internet;
  • Meaningful Connectivity, a new initiative established by the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) to improve access to the web;
  • Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, which is a set of eight missions led by the UN that aim to reduce the digital divide.

“I manage to devote time to all this in less than 24 hours a day, as I sometimes manage to sleep, and even put on make-up from time to time,” she tells us jokingly.

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