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Global Tech Challenge: Solutions for Women


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The World Bank Group, one of the largest sources of funding and knowledge for developing countries, has partnered with CES —the world’s largest and most influential technology event—to launch a Global Tech Challenge to bridge the digital gender divide. Here’s why:

Over 300 million fewer women access the internet in low-and-middle-income countries than men. This divide has persisted and is in fact widening in some regions. Barriers to digital equality are linked, among other factors, to availability of infrastructure, financial constraints, interest and perceived relevance of digital technologies, and socio-cultural and institutional contexts.

Addressing the gender digital divide is crucial to ensuring sustainability of women’s livelihood. This is particularly the case during crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic when connectivity is key. Historically, leaving structural gender inequalities out of the crisis response has further compounded those inequalities. At times like this, we need to emphasize the importance of digital access for women.

  • Access to mobile phones can help gain access to key information for women, at a time when access to their traditional information channels may be limited.
  • Access to information and communication technologies can ensure that women have access to mobile money, helping poverty outcomes for female-headed households. As countries implement unconditional cash transfer programs, enabling women to access money can improve their household bargaining power.
  • Access to mobile phones during area-wide quarantines can help women seek emotional support and advice as they shoulder more care work within the household.

We will reward scalable, innovative technological solutions that seek to empower women in four areas. Given the COVID-19 pandemic, we will accept rapid response applications to fast track implementation of sustainable solutions around digital access and online content. The deadline for rapid response solutions is extended to April 27, 2020. The deadline for regular solutions is extended to June 1, 2020.

  • Platforms: Solutions that increase the availability of locally relevant digital platforms catering to women. For example, local marketplaces and solutions building online communities for women.
  • Digital skills: Solutions that support the development of digital skills by women and girls. For example, applications that use personalized and adaptive learning to teach basic, intermediate or advanced digital skills.
  • Online content: Solutions that increase the availability of women-oriented content. For example, locally relevant content on reproductive health or to combat gender-based violence. 
  • Enhancing digital access: Solutions that focus on innovative business models that make it easier for women to access and use digital technologies and enable the use of digital identification, such as pay-as-you-go and other models that promote women's sustained use of mobile internet.



Winners will:

  • Receive recognition and brand visibility at CES 2021 as a Global Tech Challenge winner.
  • Engage with governments and World Bank Group teams to potentially scale their solutions within development projects.
  • Access mentorship from technology companies and World Bank leaders to help scale their solutions.
  • Share their stories at multiple international fora such as CES 2021, regional conferences, and the World Bank Group’s Spring and Annual Meetings.
  • Build their professional networks and raise their international profile and brand.

We encourage the greater participation and recognition of organizations in emerging and developing countries in international tech events and tech challenges.

Click here to learn more and apply. If you have any questions about the challenge, please send us an email: genderdigitalchallenge@worldbank.org

Innovate, engage, empower #SheIsConnected


Doreen Bogdan-Martin became the Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau in January 2019. She is a strategic leader with 30 years of high-level experience in international and inter-governmental relations. ​Ms. Bogdan-Martin serves as ​coordinator of the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development. From 2008-2018, she led the Strategic Planning & Membership Department of ITU. Ms. Bogdan-Martin has advised governments from around the world on policy and regulatory reform measures. She has organized impact-driven global conferences with thousands of participants from 150+ countries, brokered international consensus on many critical issues, and is a regular presenter at high-level international forums and summits. As part of this important work, she was one of the principal architects of the annual Global Symposium for Regulators, directed ITU's first global youth summit #BYND2015, and is currently driving ITU latest high-profile initiative - EQUALS, the Global Partnership for Gender Equality in the Digital Age. Prior to joining ITU, she was a Telecommunications Policy Specialist in the National Telecommunication and Information Administration (NTIA), US Department of Commerce. She has a Master's degree in International Communications Policy from the American University in Washington.

Catherine Lenson
Catherine Lenson is a Managing Partner and the Chief Human Resources Officer at SoftBank Investment Advisers. Through the SoftBank Vision Fund, we seek to catalyze technological progress for the benefit of humanity; and we’re investing close to $100 billion in the businesses and technologies that we believe will enable the next stage of the information revolution. We offer the operational expertise, global network, and patient, long-term capital required to help innovators build transformative companies.

Catherine’s portfolio includes strategic programs across Culture, Diversity and Wellbeing, as well as leading the 25-strong Human Resources team. She also drives the firm’s Social Impact (CSR) agenda.

Prior to SoftBank, Catherine worked at UBS AG between 2004 and 2017, where she held a variety of roles across Human Resources and within the Investment Bank. Most recently, she was a Managing Director and Head of Reward for UBS’s global Investment Bank. From 2011 to 2013, she was Chief of Staff to the Co-Head of Fixed Income, Currencies and Commodities.

Catherine recently completed her term as a Governor of the Bridge Academy, Hackney, a school for 11 to 18 year olds in one of the most disadvantaged areas in London.

Currently based between London and Silicon Valley, Catherine has previously lived and worked in Milan and Paris. She holds an MA from Cambridge University in Modern and Medieval Languages.

Melissa Sassi is the Global Head of IBM Hyper Protect Accelerator focused on empowering early-stage fintech and healthtech entrepreneurs through technology and business acceleration. Melissa is a division-level lead and Judge for Call for Code, an initiative aimed at preparing for and responding to disaster scenarios with technical innovation. Prior to joining IBM, Melissa spent several years in Microsoft's Airband Initiative where she was an impact investor focused on internet and energy access. Melissa is the Founder & CEO of MentorNations, a youth-led digital skills movement based out of Tunis, Tunisia that has taught tens of thousands of young people to code across twelve countries. Melissa is Chair of IEEE's Digital Intelligence Working Group and is on the Steering Committee of the Coalition for Digital Intelligence with the World Economic Forum, OECD, IEEE, and the DQ Institute. She is also a Founding Member of broadbandpolicy.org and holds Board positions with TAKMIL, a nonprofit with 30 informal schools across rural Pakistan, and TechWomen.Asia, a Kabul, Afghanistan-based nonprofit focused on tech skill-building for Afghani women and girls. Melissa holds two master's degrees in supply chain and finance and is working toward her PhD. Her research focuses on the digital inclusion of unserved communities. Melissa has served as a speaker, panelist, and/or moderator in more than twenty talks at UN-funded conferences, education summits, tech events, and is an active keynote speaker and judge in topics and initiatives involving digital skills, internet access, women in tech, community building, youth empowerment, imposter syndrome, mentorship, and personal branding.

Shelley Zalis, known as the “chief troublemaker,” is a pioneer for online research, movement leader, and champion of gender equality. She is an internationally renowned entrepreneur, speaker, mentor, mother, and founder and CEO of The Female Quotient.

Zalis rewrites the rules and innovates solutions to impact real change. In 2000, she left the corporate world to found OTX (Online Testing Exchange), which became one of the fastest growing research companies in the world. She sold OTX to Ipsos in 2010, and then led global innovation in more than 80 countries at Ipsos OTX.

Today, as CEO of The Female Quotient, Zalis works with Fortune 500 companies to advance gender equality across industries. The FQ’s signature pop-up experience, the FQ Lounge (formerly the Girls’ Lounge), brings a Home of Equality to major conferences, companies, and college campuses around the world. The FQ Lounge is the gathering place for leaders of all levels at events such as the World Economic Forum, Cannes Lions, Consumer Electronics Show and the Milken Institute Global Conference. Through the destination-turned-movement, Zalis has connected more than 18,000 women in business and created the largest female-led community to transform workplace culture.

Zalis is an acclaimed speaker and member of the Washington Speakers Bureau. She is also a dynamic moderator who has interviewed influencers and leaders such as Katie Couric, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, Arianna Huffington, Gwyneth Paltrow, Halle Berry, Reese Witherspoon, and David Schwimmer. Zalis authors a Forbes column that provides advice for women in the messy middle (middle management). She is the co-founder of #SeeHer, a movement led by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) to increase the accurate portrayal of women and girls in advertising and media. Zalis is also on the Board of Directors for MAKERS, ColorComm and Dress for Success.

A firm believer in giving back with generosity, Zalis is not only a mentor to women around the world, but also provides time and resources to educating girls in countries such as Rwanda. She has been awarded the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award, Global Marketing Leadership Award, ARF Great Minds in Innovation Award, AWNY’s Game Changer Award, and the Matrix Award.

You can follow Zalis on TwitterLinkedInInstagram, and Facebook