Friday,15 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1303, (14 - 20 July 2016)
Friday,15 December, 2017
Issue 1303, (14 - 20 July 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Empowerment thorough ICT

Middle Eastern women can benefit from the innovative use of information and communication technology, Intel Regional President Çiğdem Ertem explains to Nesma Nowar

Empowerment thorough ICT
Empowerment thorough ICT
Al-Ahram Weekly

Çiğdem Ertem is the regional president for the Middle East, Turkey and Africa at Intel Corporation. She is responsible for all of Intel’s operations in the region, including investment, social responsibility, sales and marketing. Ertem also leads initiatives that empower women in the region through the use of technology, offering women equal access to resources, education and employment opportunities.

In an interview with Al-Ahram Weekly, she spoke about the opportunities and challenges of Egypt’s information and communication technology (ICT) sector and how women can be empowered through the use of technology.

 

How do you see Egypt’s ICT market?

Egypt was always and will continue to be one of the very important focus areas for us because of its sizable population and large proportion of young people, as well as its strategic location. We think Egypt’s market will grow, and its young people will be the catalyst for building new innovations and helping to be the bridge between the Middle East and Africa.

Of course in the past few years the economy has been down, but we also see a takeoff and a different approach on its way. During my meetings here I have seen great enthusiasm to do things differently. So Egypt’s market, from an ICT perspective, is a good one because of the country’s young educated people. We fully believe in the market’s potential.

 

What are the investment opportunities that Egypt’s ICT market offers? Could the current political and economic situation hinder new investment?

Investment is a balance between the market’s situation and its potential. So when you have a good market that absorbs ICT and has good potential, I believe that more and more investors will come. From a market perspective, Egypt has resources and many educated young people. During our talks with the Egyptian government we found that it is thinking of building innovation hubs in universities and other places, which is a potential that can be tapped into.

However, currently Egypt’s market is not big because of the political turmoil over the past few years. But it has the potential to attract investors over the coming years. For this to happen, Egyptians should focus more on innovation and take advantage of the country’s location and cost advantages. Innovations will bring investment, and that is why Egypt should support start-ups and create incubation areas.

 

What are the main challenges facing the Egyptian ICT market?

All of us in the industry should understand that the industry is moving at a rapid pace, and thinking the same old kind of thinking is not good for any of us. We have to change. I see the biggest challenge in the Egyptian market as that it is not moving at the right speed, so it is very important for Egypt to accelerate change and embrace the innovative spirit of entrepreneurship and start-ups.

 

How important is ICT for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Egypt, and how can it help them to grow?

When we compare SMEs in Germany and other established economies with the ones in the region, we see that despite there being many SMEs their contribution to GDP is much lower than that of their peers in the established economies. In Egypt, SMEs are usually very local, and they are not open to other regional or global markets.

So these businesses can utilise ICT and the Internet to develop, and they can be really quick in reaching new markets and opportunities compared to big companies, because they are more agile and can do things more quickly. But if the SMEs do not use ICT, they will get smaller and smaller over time and sometimes not survive.

We are now living in a digital economy, which means that without ICT you cannot survive or create different business models and differentiate yourself. If you look at the Internet platforms Uber and Airbnb, they are small start-ups but by using ICT they revolutionised their business models.

This is why we believe that SMEs’ adoption of ICT is very important, and it is one of the areas we are working on in Egypt, to help SMEs grow and increase their contribution to the economy and help create new job opportunities.

 

You lead several initiatives to empower women in the region through the use of technology. How can technology empower women?

Worldwide, women’s access to technology is lagging behind compared to men’s, and in emerging markets the gap reaches 25 per cent while in Africa it reaches 45 per cent, which is a really big gap. When women are empowered with technology and have economic power, they can be useful to their communities because women give back to their communities much more than men do. They share what they know, and they do not only think about themselves.

So investing in women is a returning investment because it distributes well to the community, and we decided to support women in different ways after looking at these statistics. We wanted to help women access technology and improve women’s representation in the workforce, especially in ICT.

Our CEO launched an initiative two years ago for diversity and inclusion, not only for women but also for underrepresented minorities, so that they could have the same opportunities to reach technology jobs and proceed in their careers.

There’s also a problem worldwide in that there are fewer women going to engineering schools. So we work with governments in the region to promote science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) education.

When you look at the population, girls are more likely to choose the social type of education and less likely to go for the STEM type of education. In Egypt we have a couple of STEM schools that operate under the umbrella of the Ministry of Education and they are doing very well.

Intel is also working on an initiative in Africa called “She Will Connect,” which is about educating women on using technology and the Internet. We also give women entrepreneurship training and introduce them to a community where they can talk and ask questions of each other. We started in Africa, and we are now expanding the programme to reach our goal of five million participants. Currently, we have around 800,000 participants.

Additionally, we organise the Intel Science and Technology Fair (ISEF) annually in the Middle East. It is a pre-college science fair competition where students are encouraged to tackle challenging scientific questions using authentic research practices. In this year’s ISEF, four girls from Egypt won important prizes in this competition.

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