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Global Citizen: Monique Morrow

3 April, 2018

“People ask me why are we still talking about women in tech. Well, it’s over with when we no longer have to talk about it”

Silicon Valley, blockchain technology, self-driving cars. Syria, the refugee crisis, statelessness. We tend to think of these two worlds as non-intersecting: the first evokes a spirit of cutting-edge innovation and opportunity; the second evokes images of desolation and despair among the world’s most vulnerable populations. But what if the radically out-of-the-box thinking that is redefining the tech industry could be used to empower the marginalized girl-child, eradicate poverty globally, or solve the challenges of the 1.1 billion people in the world today who are unable to prove their identity? Many individuals are dedicating resources to these causes and are achieving valuable results. One such outstanding individual is Monique Jeanne Morrow.

Monique’s interest in the sciences was noticeable from a young age. The North Carolina native fondly remembers asking her parents for a chemistry set at just 10 years of age and was always pursuing the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of the world around her. Her curiosity was stimulated by frequent travel as a child.

Monique completed her undergraduate studies at San José State University (US) and the Sorbonne (Paris, France). She later went on to pursue a graduate certificate in Information Systems (University of Southern California, US) with a focus on decision-support systems as well as an MSc in Telecommunications Management (Golden Gate University, California, US) and an MBA (City University of Seattle, US).

She began her illustrious career at Advanced Micro Devices as a network engineer and network engineering manager, and in 2000 she joined global information technology and networking specialist firm Cisco, where she thrived and made great strides for the position of women in technology. Monique achieved a number of firsts while at Cisco: for example, she was named the first Distinguished Consulting Engineer (2005), the first Chief Technology Officer (CTO) for the Services Organization (2012), and the first CTO of New Frontiers Engineering (2014). All these developments occurred at a time when most people were not even aware that CTO positions existed.

Alongside its contribution to her professional growth, with opportunities for involvement in cloud computing and Internet of Things initiatives, Monique’s time at Cisco allowed her to be at the forefront of investigating how technology can adopt a more socially conscious and responsible purpose. “Purposeful organizations and structures will carry far more currency in our 21st century and beyond,” says Monique. It is this humanitarian approach to IT that eventually saw her developing The Humanized Internet.

The Humanized Internet focuses on the 1.1 billion individuals (of whom 230 million are children under the age of five years) who struggle to prove their legal identity, sometimes as a result of involuntary displacement but more often because governments fail to capture the existence of their own citizens. Without government-issued documentation, these individuals are effectively invisible and often excluded from society and its institutions, which makes them especially vulnerable to human trafficking and abuse.

Monique’s organization pursues ways of empowering people, particularly dispossessed groups, with a virtual identity — a digital set of their marriage, birth, education, healthcare, and other essential records — that only they can access, any time, through any mobile device, and share with others when and how they wish or need to. This ground-breaking approach shifts ownership of the identity process away from humanitarian organizations and other intermediaries and into the hands of the individuals involved.

Monique is quite deliberate about including under-privileged minorities such as refugees and asylum seekers in the development of innovative, user-friendly solutions. As she explains: “I strongly believe we can learn from the under-served in the tech value chain. We must be careful not to become ‘techno-colonialists’ and to rather include the under-served as fundamental to these emerging solutions.” Armed with a virtual identity toolkit and platform, for example, displaced people can receive support and much-needed aid directly, and begin to move through the world with greater dignity and ease.

On the other side of the refugee spectrum, Monique lobbies governments to rethink the sovereignty of paper over electronic forms of documentation and to adapt their bureaucratic practices for the 21st century. The goal is to move from scanned copies of documents to accepting digitally stamped documents in real time — a harder problem to solve, and hence an opportunity.

In November 2017, Monique was awarded the prestigious Global Citizen Award by international advisory firm Henley & Partners in recognition of her courageous efforts to revolutionize and mobilize technology for the purpose of advancing the human right to identity. On receiving the award, Monique said, “The 2017 Global Citizen Award® is a recognition of a passionate goal for me personally — that is, to really improve the world we live in.” At the award ceremony, Monique made special mention of the rest of The Humanized Internet team: specifically, Co-founder Mark Kovarski (who is based in Canada) and Business Development Manager Akram Alfawakheeri (who is based in Germany).

“Monique Morrow’s remarkable dedication to the utilization of technology to dramatically improve human rights makes her a truly deserving recipient of this award,” says Paola De Leo, Head of Group Philanthropy and CSR at Henley & Partners. “The Humanized Internet is a trailblazer, its visionary approach demonstrating how the incredible advances and innovations in technology today can be used to create tangible change to help the world’s most vulnerable people. Henley & Partners is committed to working closely with Morrow to further impact positively on the global cause of refugees, which is the primary focus of our social investment.”

Also in 2017, Monique was awarded the DECA International Entrepreneurial Spirit Award, “in honor of her industry leadership, personal achievements, and social responsibility”. In 2016, she was recognized as a YWCA–NYC Woman of Influence and was identified as being among the “top 50 most inspiring women in technology in Europe”.

Monique is the co-editor of The Internet of Women: Accelerating Culture Change, a book that offers a collection of case studies of global cultural trends and their impact on the rise of women’s leadership. It also highlights the increasingly progressive gender culture that the tech space is witnessing globally.

Indeed, it is not only the refugee cause that has captured Monique’s interest but all forms of discrimination, be they age-, race-, or gender-based. She is adamant that technology has a role to play in cultivating inclusivity. “Technology is essentially gender and ethnicity neutral,” says Monique. “I believe we can create technology with a diverse set of people involved — people that reflect society’s actual composition — to flag against all kinds of biases.” The “power of the and” is Monique’s term for the positive impact that diverse teams offer. She believes that organizations can help facilitate this diversity by transforming their organizational DNA, with the transformation driven by the top echelons of management.

According to Monique, increasing digital and technological access can aid poverty alleviation and support employment-boosting initiatives. She believes that “technology will always have a technical solution to a technical problem, which can create massive opportunities”. No matter the situation, Monique’s mission is always to see the eradication of burdensome social issues.

This mission ties in with her personal conviction that everything one does, whether in business or elsewhere, should be done with a sense of purpose and for the greater good, so that personal actions yield greater social benefits.
Throughout her career, Monique has sought to build bridges between the tech sphere and the public sector, helping industry leaders to align their existing and future technologies with the needs of governments, non-profits, civil society organizations, and society itself. She is widely recognized as a technology pioneer, a thought leader, and a visionary, and the world is richer for her contribution.

In reflecting on her leadership philosophy, Monique reveals that she is a service-oriented and humble leader. Unlike many executives and team leaders, she is not afraid of being vulnerable, since she believes that her vulnerability is precisely what makes her approachable. And it is also what makes her willing and able to approach others for their input. “We must be resolute in always creating the world we wish to have,” Monique believes, “not the world we wish to avoid. This is the legacy I aim to leave behind.”