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The fourth industrial revolution is increasingly changing the pace and dynamics of information and communication technology. By 2022, 60 percent of global GDP will be digitized, the impact of this will be felt across industries and sociopolitical structures birthing huge transformations, but will the benefits of these transformations be distributed equally amid the reality of a digital gender divide? 

In recognition of this challenge, women like Delphine Remy-Boutang are working to improve digital equity. In 2013, Remy-Boutang created and launched Journée de la Femme Digitale(JFD), French for Digital Women’s Day, a platform dedicated to honoring and connecting women who are working to revolutionize the world through digital technology. 

To further encourage and reward the creativity and innovation of these women, JFD launched the les Margaret Award in 2014. The award highlights women who address global issues by developing innovative solutions that reflect the dynamism of today’s enterprising and entrepreneurial women. 

In this interview, Remy-Boutang explains what is unique about this year’s les Margaret Award and how the COVID-19 pandemic is shaping the digital future. 

Ventures Africa (VA): What’s the story behind the DWD platform and the les Margaret award? 

Delphine Remy-Boutang (DRB): The 1st edition of JFD took place in 2013. At that time, no one was talking about women working in digital or the difficulties women entrepreneurs faced compared to men, in sourcing for funds for example. 

I was the only woman on panels talking about digital transformation and I was often looked at with surprise when I spoke about gender imbalances or lack of inclusion in the tech world. 

While founding my communications group, the Bureau, I decided to launch JFD to honor and connect women who are working to revolutionize the world through digital. 

Today our ambition is to inspire, encourage women to reveal themselves and innovate. We value the synergy of talents and initiatives of today’s women and men working for a better, fairer and more creative world in Europe and Africa.

That’s the reason why, at the same time, in 2013, les Margaret Award celebrates every year women who innovate for a better world in four categories: entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs Europe & Africa. Our award is named after Margaret Hamilton, Director of the Software Engineering Department at MIT, she designed the embedded software for the Apollo spacecraft program. 

Delphine Remy-Boutang, Founder, JFD

Through les Margaret Award, we recognize creativity, innovation and boldness of committed and inspiring digital women who are responding to the major challenges of our society. And to support these women, we offer the laureates a business boost and huge media visibility in Europe and Africa. 

VA: What’s unique about this year’s les Margaret award? 

DRB: Because of the Covid-19 crisis, we were confined for several weeks like more than half of the world’s population. We were unable to welcome the winners of les Margaret on April 21 in Paris for the award ceremony so we decide to organize a live broadcast simultaneously on our social networks and hosted by international journalists, we revealed to the public (more than 12,500 spectators) the Margaret 2020:

Jacqueline Mukarukundo, Margaret Entrepreneur Africa, a co-founder of Wastezon, Rwandan Clean Tech startup. Her mobile application connects households and recycling industries to treat waste in an environmentally friendly process. Wastezon has established itself as the leading provider of e-waste management solutions in East Africa in 2019.

Vanessa Moungar, Margaret Intrapreneur Africa is the Director of gender, women, civil society department of the African Development Bank.  Vanessa organized the Global Gender Summit, which aims to share best practices and catalyze investments to accelerate progress on gender equality and women’s empowerment in Africa and around the world.

Afua Osei is our Margaret of Honour. Based in Nigeria, Afua is a digital media entrepreneur, coach and co-founder of Motherland Mogul Media which includes She Leads Africa, a digital platform that reaches more than 700,000 women worldwide, and the SLAY festival, the first experience of live culture and innovation, whose editions in Lagos, Nigeria, and Johannesburg bring together more than 8,000 women. 

Among les Margaret 2020 we also have Aline Muylaert, Margaret Entrepreneur Europe who founded CitizenLab and Karen Vernet, Margaret Intrapreneur Europe, Director of E-commerce Development, who worked on and launched the new website, a committed vision of Luxury Fashion Designers that is resolutely inclusive, exclusive and caring.

Finally, we wanted to salute the actions of Ukrainian journalist and director Anastasia Mikova through the special jury prize les Margaret. Co-director of the film Woman, Anastasia’s work has always focused on social and humanistic issues.

VA: As a woman in tech, how has the pandemic affected your work/that of your organisation? 

DRB: Like many of us, we are affected by this unprecedented health crisis. Unable to welcome participants in Paris for the 8th edition of JFD Europe and in Kigali for the 2nd edition of JFD Africa, we quickly proposed digital alternatives: 

Connect live with #JFD is a format that hosts weekly live panels and workshops on our social networks or Masterclasses with European and African digital economy and political personalities, who we were to meet in Paris and Kigali. July 2nd will be dedicated to Africa. You can check the agenda on our website.  

Regrettably, I noticed that the pandemic affected even more women. They are too often forgotten in the media. Simone de Beauvoir used to say, “Never forget that it only takes a political, economic or religious crisis for women’s rights to be reconsidered. Women’s rights can never be taken for granted. You will have to remain vigilant for the rest of your life.”

For many years, JFD has been working to ensure that there are more women in the digital world. This includes highlighting role models. And what is true for digital is also true for all sectors where women are too often invisible, such as science, entrepreneurship and politics. Without the support of the media to promote women experts, it will be difficult to fight the gender prejudices that are attached to certain so-called male professions and to encourage vocations. 

VA: The pandemic has made digital access essential. In what way is this going to shape the future post COVID-19? 

DRB: We must seize all the opportunities that digital offers and redouble our creativity. Because yes, we are taking this time of health crisis to rethink our model and propose new responsible and sustainable solutions.  

Digital technology has proven that during the crisis, it is the solution to boost employment and build a fairer world. It is important to know how to adapt and not to endure, but to anticipate the future and prepare the future that must and will be different for all of us. Everything we do differently today will help us in the future. 

Let’s remain optimistic to rethink our models instead of suffering like a punishment at this time. As Eckhart Tolle said, “Whatever the present moment is made of, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it”. 

VA:  One of Margaret Hamilton’s quote reads, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can accomplish great things.” What’s a motivational quote by Delphine Remy Boutang? 

DRB: “It’s not women who are fragile, but their condition”. We can do whatever and can be whoever we want. We are not fragile little things; we are equal human beings. 

The Global Gender Gap Report said that parity will be achieved in 2120 worldwide. 100 years to achieve parity if we don’t act, this is unbearable! 

With JFD we raise public awareness of the persistent inequalities between women and men. 

Among our last actions, the “2120: parity doesn’t wait!” campaign in France and Gabon. 2120 was displayed all over Paris, on all the city’s illuminated signs, but also in high-traffic areas. 

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