Sophia Bekele

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Sophia Bekele
Sophia Bekele San Francisco.jpg
Sophia Bekele in San Francisco California, 2013
Born Sophia Bekele Eshete
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Alma mater San Francisco State University (BSc.)
Golden Gate University (M.B.A.)
Occupation Business Women, Corporate Executive, International Entrepreneur, Corporate Governance specialist, Policy advisor, ICT & Governance Activist
Years active 1990–present
Notable work(s) Ethiopian Parliament Bid, IDNs, .africa
Website
sophiabekele.com

Sophia Bekele Eshete (Amharic: ሶፍያ በቀለ; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia) is a woman of Ethiopian ancestry. She is a business and corporate executive, an International entrepreneur, corporate governance and risk management specialist, international policy advisor on ICT, internet and development issues, and a governance and ICT activist.

Bekele is well known in the Global ICT and Internet Society for her efforts to bridge the global digital divide through technology transfer and education. She is reputed to have stood in the gap for women and youth in Africa, and her well known efforts for due process have earned her a reputation as one to reposition Africa's social, economic and political landscape and restore Africa's glory. She has been frequently quoted in the media for her views, as well as spoken regularly on international forums and made public affairs commentary through published articles.

As a serial entrepreneur, Bekele has founded and run various companies and initiatives. She is the Founder and Executive Director of DotConnectAfrica (DCA) Trust based in Mauritius, and CEO of DCA Registry Systems Kenya (Ltd), organizations she has used to initiate the .africa Internet Top Level Domain Name from ICANN, and a project she used as a platform to launch initiatives for women and youth in Africa. Bekele is the Founder of the highly acclaimed and successful "Yes2dotAfrica" global awareness campaign, for re-branding Africa using the .africa internet domain name, the co-founder of Internet Society ISOC San Francisco chapter and the Pan African Internet Business council for Africa (IBCA), based in Nairobi. She is the Founder and CEO of tech start-ups, CBS International in California and SbCommunications Network (SbCnet) plc, based in Addis Ababa. In 2002, SbCNet was known for being successfully awarded a highly contentious bid for a government contract to build an integrated information network infrastructure for the Ethiopian Parliament. Prior to her focus on international technology issues, Bekele had maintained a successful career track record spanning over a decade of constant professional activity working for multinational Fortune 500 Companies.

Bekele has served on high-level policy advisory boards and leadership positions of various national and international, public and private organizations and has influenced the implementation of key policies, including Africa's digital divide, Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs) and the new Domain name (.africa). Bekele was elected and served on numerous United Nations-sponsored initiatives, where she represented the private sector in discussions about ICT and the economic development of Africa. She was an elected member of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) Council of the gNSO (Generic Names Supporting Organization), which advises on global internet policy. She has also served on Golden Gate University’s alumni Board.

Early life and family[edit]

Born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the third of six Children, Bekele is the daughter of Ato Bekele Eshete Wolde Michael, a prominent and successful entrepreneur engaged in various business sectors in the country, and a founder and Board Director of United Bank, S.C and United Insurance, S.C, one of the first and largest Private Banks and Insurance companies in Ethiopia and Sister Mulualem Beyene Engida, a medical nurse. She attended a private Catholic high school, and then traveled to the United States of America to acquire her higher education.[1][2][3]

Higher education[edit]

Bekele earned her Bachelor's Degree in Business Analysis and Information Systems from San Francisco State University and an MBA in the Management of Information Systems MIS from Golden Gate University. She is also a Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA), Certified Control Specialist (CCS), and Certified in the Governance of Enterprise IT (CGEIT), certifications issued to professionals who demonstrate competent knowledge & proficiency in the field of IS Audit, Security & Enterprise IT governance principles and practices.[1][3]

Honorary mentions[edit]

In 2014, Sophia Bekele has been named "Top 20 Inspirational African Diaspora Professional Women in Europe" by ADIPWE List 2014, released on 28 March 2014 for the International Women's Day, as a TechEntrepreneur in technology Transfer; "a list of African Women who have achieved phenomenal success, and inspire a new generation of African Women to share ideas to fulfill their potential to contribute to the rebranding of Africa and the development of the continent, by identifying opportunities to transfer the vast amount of knowledge gained in Europe and the rest of the Diaspora".[4]

In 2013, Bekele was named as one of the “two leading ladies in Africa’s ICT sector” by "Bloomberg TV" [5][6][7][8] and enumerated in “African Women to Watch” a prime TV program, that “celebrates the most fearless, competitive and visionary African women of our time”, and explores “the women working hard to close the gender gap and shaping the continent’s social, political and economic landscape”.

Also in 2013, Bekele was named Top “50 Trailblazers – A future made in Africa”, by the influential UK’s NewAfrican Magazine, an IC Publications group, “Collector’s Edition” which coincides with the continent’s 50th anniversary celebrations of the African Union, as those “who are realizing significant achievements in their specific field of endeavor” and features individuals who are “breaking ground, making Africa proud and propelling it into a future of great hope.”[9][10][11][12]

In 2009, Bekele was presented with a Paul Harris Fellow award for her contributions in the various works of International Rotary Clubs.[1]

In 2006, Ms. Bekele's work in Africa, noted as a representative entrepreneur, was profiled in a book published as "Africa: Continent of Economic Opportunity", By Fick, David (2006). Africa: Continent of Economic Opportunity (Paperback). STE Publishers. pp. 512 pages. ISBN 978-1-919855-59-2. Retrieved May 4, 2008. 

Career[edit]

Bekele started out as a young MBA, and is now an international entrepreneur who has built a successful career track record in fields that are traditionally male-dominated. Bekele was recruited out of college by Bank of America and started her career in IT Auditing and Information Security, a highly specialized field and highly male dominated at the time. She then moved on advancing her career in Corporate Governance and risk management to hold managerial positions with UnionBanCal Corporation and PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

Currently Bekele travels with her work globally, while coordinating the work of her different offices in Nairobi and Mauritius in Africa, as well as Walnut Creek, California, USA where she has been a resident for nearly two decades; first while pursuing her undergraduate and graduate studies, and a business career in Information Technology, especially in the areas of corporate governance, Internet security and policy development, at the same time, running her entrepreneurship work in Addis Ababa, where she has a firm business base and family.[1][2][13][14]

CBS International[edit]

In early 2000, Ms. Bekele broke off from her Corporate Career to focus on international technology issues and Third-World technological development using Africa as a base model. Most of Ms. Bekele's work in these years has been associated with CBS International, a company she founded and served as President and Chief Executive Officer. CBS International is a California based consulting company with focus on, technology transfer to emerging markets. Primarily, the Company provided International technology procurement, project-based capacity building, technological project management, internet/intranet systems integration and Internet related solutions. As an affiliate, Bekele set up SbCommunications Network, plc, (SbCnet), based in Addis Ababa, specializing in technology integration and support services. Bekele was interested to do nation building projects that have high impact and yield to benefit society.[15] Through her companies, she expressed interest and participated and won international contracts for large scale projects such as the information technology infrastructure for the Organization of African Unity (AU) General Secretariat and an integrated data networking infrastructure for the Ethiopian parliament, House of Peoples’ Representatives and House of Federation. The AU project was an e-government Internet-working project initiative, sponsored by UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) involving the implementation of a complex fiber-optic based information technology campus wide area network infrastructure and considered one of the largest IT projects in the Country at the time. CBS International handled technological inputs and services procurement while SbCnet provided strategic technology integration services and field management.

The Parliament project was also an e-government internet initiative funded by a consortium of donor agencies. This project received significant local media coverage because of Bekele’s public challenge to what she considered an unfair procurement process, a challenge which she fought single-handedly and ultimately won, making it a precedent setting bid reversal case on a major government contract. She appealed through the General Auditor's office of the country over a nine month period, and the investigations declared the project award improper [16] Bekele believes her stand helped promote transparency and accountability in the government contracting process at the time, also vindicating her and her company. In this project, her company SbCnet was the Prime Contractor and handled all front-line liaison and project services delivery to the Parliament and worked closely with its foreign partners CBS International, USA, and a South African company Dimension Data Holdings.[1][2][17]

It is better for us to have a proper open stock market where market forces determine the price of a share and security instruments...and should not be left to the machinations of a Share Dealing Group...the truth of the matter is that Addis Ababa Chamber of commerce cannot be both the sponsor and the regulator (oversight) according to the by-laws of the group... Government is the only agency that could put the regulatory frameworks and principles under which a proper stock exchange or commodities exchange can exist.

-Sophia Bekele, writing a June 2002 opinion column in the "Addis Fortune",[18]

Bekele later on also challenged the private sector over her views of what turned out to be the illegitimate formation of a Stock Exchange in Addis Ababa. She wrote an editorial claiming that this entity was planned without the proper rules, regulations, infrastructure and controls. To her vindication, the government eventually rejected the proposal for the share dealing group in November 2002. As a follow-up, though there was no direct link with Bekele, in April 2008 the Ethiopian government launched a commodities exchange market, aimed at boosting fair trade and stabilizing its food market.[1][18]

In 2004, Bekele shifted her focus back to the US to meet the challenges arising from the major corporate governance scandals in the US, such as Enron and WorldCom, therefore, repositioning herself and her California Company to advise US based Clients in public/private markets, primarily in Corporate Governance and Risk Management areas, including Sarbanes-Oxley ACT, and corporate relations/communications programs. She built clients such as Intel Corp. (Nasdaq), Genetech, BDO Sieldman LLP, Federal Reserve Bank, OnScreen Technologies, (OTC), and the like.[1][2]

International Domain Names (IDNs)[edit]

Sophia at the ICANN Meeting in São Paulo Brazil Dec. 2006

“On 11th December 2010 the International Domain Resolution Union gave her a citation saying “ Ms. Bekele, as a former gNSO advisor to ICANN, you have worked hard and long to champion Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs). You have made the case within ICANN for a policy development process that will see IDNs in service of the world community and you have done so successfully.”

International Domain Resolution Union (IDRU) Global IDN Group: In recognition of her championing the cause of IDNs.[14]

During her tenure at ICANN from 2005-2007, and her service to the Council of the GNSO (Generic Names Supporting Organization), Bekele was instrumental in initiating policy dialogue over IDNs as well as developing the framework for leading a language group. Bekele led an active campaign to introduce IDNs under which new Internet Domain names in Arabic, Cyrillic, Russian, Chinese and non-Latin alphabets will become available, thereby providing non-English/non-Latin language native speakers an opportunity to access and communicate on the Internet in their native languages. She forged to form an IDN working group within ICANN to bring the global voices of the IDN stakeholders to ICANN. Bekele was then nominated to chair ICANN’s IDN Working Group at gNSO and was highly influential in drafting the IDN policy guidelines. As a result, Bekele was credited for successfully championing the inclusion of the global IDN community within this policy dialogue and championing the work of IDNs at ICANN. This global IDN group, which later on organized itself as the International Domain Resolution Union (IDRU) gave a testimonial to Bekele's work over IDNs.[14][19] The IDNs are now introduced by ICANN under the auspices of the current new GTLD program. [20][21][22]

.africa[edit]

In 2006 Bekele turned her focus to .africa – a new generic Top-Level Domain (gTLD) for the Africa geographic name that she also championed during her appointment at ICANN.[23][24][25][26][27][28] The project has been introduced and will be delegated for operation under ICANN’s new gTLD program. ICANN is a U.S.-based non-profit organization that is overseeing the global Internet expansion project to introduce new generic Top-Level Domain Names (gTLDs) under the new gTLD Program.

Bekele started the DotAfrica initiative following the important experiences gained from her ICT Service delivery in Africa and the work as gNSO advisor to ICANN. The gNSO is a policy advisory body which advises the ICANN Board on global public policies that guide the development of the Internet, including the gTLD policy [29][30] and processes affecting such TLDs as .asia, .com, .net, .org and the policy development work on new gTLD (generic Top Level Domain names). Bekele made a clear case for a DotAfrica (.africa) gTLD for Africa within ICANN and also the global Internet Community on behalf of the global African and Pan-African constituency. Her personal dream for the DotAfrica initiative that she is leading is, to deploy the new domain name as a positive branding opportunity for Africa, that will benefit all Africans and in the use of technology to power their businesses, and to also realize certain charitable projects aimed at giving back to the community such as the miss .africa and the generation .africa program that her organization has already initiated to empower girls and young people in Africa in the field of technology.[31][32][33][34][35][36][37] She soon led the .africa initiative under a new start-up DotConnectAfrica (DCA) introducing it to the Pan-African inter-governmental organizations – the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa UNECA and the African Union Commission (AUC) and received endorsement for DCA respectively.[38][39][40][41][42] Other entities that also gave endorsement for DCA include the IDRU group and the Corporate Council for Africa (CCA) and various African Governments.[43][44]

Bekele then launched a global promotional campaign establishing DCA as lead and spearheading the .africa project under a Yes2dotAfrica Campaign.[45][46][47] Bekele received ample media coverage for her work on .africa including honorary mention by The New African Magazine as one of Top 50 African Trailblazers for a successful Six Year "yes2dotaAfrica global Campaign [11] Bloomberg TV covering her .africa work, Enterprise Technology Magazine named her "Sophia Bekele: Champion of .africa initiative" [48] Diplomat East Africa inscribed her "Brains behind .africa." CIO East Africa calling her views "controversial" on who should run gTLDs', said "Sophia Bekele has been in the news if not for promoting DotConnectAfrica’s bid for the DotAfrica geographical gTLD for the past three years, then in a controversial statement about the same":[49]

Governments have a role to play, especially regarding the establishment of an enabling and supportive environment for ICT initiatives to thrive. However, there is a role for everybody, and global Internet governance is currently based on a multi-stakeholder modeled by ICANN. Governments already have their two-code country-level top-level domains (cc TLDs), but they also have a role to endorse geographical gTLDs. The problem is that this power to endorse is often interpreted and extended to include overall sovereignty over the new gTLD. We believe this should not be the case since it is monopolistic and anti-competitive coupled with problems of lack of transparency and accountability...

-Sophia Bekele, in an interview on 09 March 2012, for the main story of CIO East Africa[49]

DotConnectfrica Trust - Bekele currently oversees the .africa new gTLD initiative under the DotConnectAfrica Trust, a non-profit, non partisan organization. As Executive Director of DCA Trust & CEO of DotConnectAfrica Registry Services Limited (Kenya),[50][51] she has led a multi-national team of experts to prepare and submit an application for the DotAfrica (.AFRICA) generic Top-Level Domain in May 2012 to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). [52][53] She is also overseeing the women and youth initiatives she has launched under the same platform.[3]

Bekele has been very active in the Internet Domain Name Service (DNS) Industry since 2005, when she was initially elected as the first African to serve on the gNSO of ICANN. She has been on various forums discussing and presenting the DNS Industry and its benefits to Africa under the Multi-Stakeholder Internet Governance (MIG) Framework. It was this experience that made her become fully enmeshed in the work of Global Internet Governance and multi-stakeholder advocacy that led her to where she is now: leading a new generic Top-Level Domain (gTLD) initiative as one of the applicants contending for the .africa generic Top-Level Domain [14]

Overcoming challenges[edit]

Bekele's eight year .africa journey was not without a trial. She has fought many challenges by her opponents over the issues of accountability and transparency on the bid for .africa, including the African Union Commission(AUC).[54][55][56][57][58][59][60] For instance, in April 24, 2014, during the International ICT Girls day, the AUC blocked Bekele from speaking at an ITU event that was held on the AUC premises in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, due to a dispute over the .africa.[61][62][63][64] Bekele has been challenging the AUC, who allegedly disavowed the first endorsement they gave her organization DotConnectAfrica in 2009 to apply at ICANN for the .africa gTLD,[65] to subsequently request for the same directly from ICANN, at the ICANN 42 International meeting held in Dakar Senegal from 23–28 October 2011. AUC requested from ICANN to include all similar name strings ".africa", ".afrique" and ".afriqia", in the list of "reserved names", to afford special legislative protection to the AUC to own these strings so as to make it unavailable to anyone, through a method of bypassing the formal application process of the ICANN's new generic top level domains (gTLDs). Bekele strongly opposed to the AUC's request to reserve the names saying the request was against the ICANN gTLD rule book, thus reserving the name will disqualify all competition to enable the AUC to separately negotiate the delegation of these name strings under a separate process outside the aegis of the official ICANN new gTLD programme.[14][55][66][67] Bekele came victorious on this battle at ICANN Dakar, as it became known later that ICANN could not reserve the names for the AU, however ICANN did recommend to the AUC to use Government Advisory Committee to raise concerns that an applicant is seen as potentially sensitive or problematic, or to provide direct advice to the Board, so as to change the outcome of the gTLD.[68] which AUC implemented the advice during the GAC objection period, to the detriment of DCA's application.[69]

You have openly criticized the AU leadership on this matter. What is it that you want done? "Giving the AU an upper hand in managing the domain raises conflict of interest issues as some players in this process are planning to pre-qualify organisations that will apply for .africa while they themselves have vested interests in the .africa TLD, because they floated separate .africa proposals of their own, and have also openly identified with some prospective applicants...If the AU insists on controlling, owning and leading the process by using its political influence to gain official control of this new gTLD, then the AU should be treated as any other prospective applicant that also needs to abide by the Icann Applicants Guidebook and should not be given preferential treatment to the detriment of other applicants..."

-Sophia Bekele, in a Q & A with The East African 03 December 2011[55]

In addition, failing to secure the reserve names, the AUC then directly endorsed another firm from SouthAfrica to apply to ICANN, who was also supported by its own AU Dotafrica Task Force. According to the public part of their application, the South African company submitted a "non-community" application to ICANN naming AUC as a “co-applicant” and giving the .africa registry and intellectual property rights to the AUC in a separate contract[70] Bekele's organization then challenged the ICANN application process for the competition, through the official channels of ICANN, as well as challenged the AUC's RFP process that gave a direct endorsement for the SouthAfrican company by requesting full disclosure of the process with the AU leadership[71] and ICANN Governmental Committee, in the interest of accountability and transparency to the global public at large[56][72]

Having no affirmative response either from ICANN nor the AUC, in October 2013, Bekele's company DotConnectAfrica Trust filed for an independent review panel process ('DCA Trust vs. ICANN') at the International Dispute Resolution Procedures (ICDR) in New York, to investigate these issues over matters of .africa, as ICANN did not allow further processing of DCA's application due to Governmental objections, despite DCA's passing on all financial, technical and operational evaluated criteria.[73][73] In February 2013, Bekele had written an open letter to the United States Congress who gave final approval for the new gTLD program to ICANN, to escalate DotConnectAfrica’s complaints and grievances and appealed for a congressional Ombudsman that would look into any irregularities and any allegations of illegality regarding the implementation of the new gTLD program.[14][74]

Board and public service[edit]

With the registered successes in ICT project delivery in Africa, Ms. Bekele was invited to serve as an adviser on various UN led initiative advisory boards and committees. In 2002, Ms. Bekele was appointed by H.E. K.Y. Amoako, then Executive Secretary and UN under Secretary General of United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), as an expert advisor to serve on the Advisory Technical Committee (ATAC) of UNICT Task-force, sponsored by UNECA. The ATAC formulated policy and recommendation and provided technical guidance and direction on the implementation especially on how to bridge the digital divide between the developed countries and Africa. In her tenure at ATAC, Bekele co-authored the ‘Common Position for Africa’s Digital Inclusion’ which was developed in response to the UNECA Conference of Minister’s Resolution 812 (XXXI).[75][76] The ‘Common Position’ was a blueprint that reflected Africa’s ICT position which was communicated to various global forums such as the G8 DOT Force, ECOSOC, the UN Task Force, World Economic Forum, NEPAD initiatives, etc. In 2003, Bekele was elected to serve as the East African Representative to the African Regional Network (ARN), a UN led initiative. Following such, in 2009, she has also served on the Global Alliance for Information and Communication Technologies and Development (UNGAID), an initiative started by the former United Nations Secretary-General, and the Chairmanship of Intel’s CEO Craig Barret. Also in 2009, she served as an expert adviser to the joint initiative of United Nations Public Administration Network and International Telecommunications Union (UNPAN/ITU) where she was representing the private sector in discussions about Public Private Partnerships (PPP), e-government and MDG implementation.[77] She has since used these identifying frameworks for other ICT projects and Internet-Centered activities that are geared towards building a 21st-century e-enabled information and knowledge driven society in Africa.

In 2005, Ms. Bekele was elected member of the ICANN's Council of the GNSO (Generic Names Supporting Organization), by the NomCom, under the then Chairmanship of Dr. Vinton Cerf. The gNSO is a policy advisory body which advises the ICANN Board on global internet policy and the policy development work on new gTLDs.[14][78] During her term at ICANN, she championed the IDN Policy Dialog for the international community.[19] Concurrently, Bekele initiated the first African-run Registry for a .africa TLD, and run a successful 6-year “Yes2dotAfrica” global awareness campaign.[1][27][37]

In 2007 Ms. Bekele was elected and served for two tenures as Alumni Board member of Golden Gate University. In 2008, Bekele co-founded the Internet Society Chapter (ISOC) San Francisco Bay, and was elected to serve as its Executive Board Member[79] Bekele was a former Board Member of ISACA (Information Systems and Control Association), and a current steering committee member of the World Affairs Council, Contra Costa, California. Over the years, Bekele has also served as International Ambassador to various Rotary Clubs where she has earned recognition of a Paul Harris Fellow for her contributions.[1][80]

Other work and ventures[edit]

Sophia at the "ConnectAfrica" Heads of State Summit in Kigali Rwanda 2007

Ms. Bekele is involved in public affairs commentary and continues to write articles on various subjects that is of current events that have been published in different newspapers, journals and Internet web sites. The media has also frequently sought her views in her area of expertise.[81][82]

Bekele has spoken in many international conferences, lectures and forums throughout her career on a range of subjects including, Corporate Governance, Internet policy, technology for Development, the global economy, African Affairs, Entrepreneurship and Start-ups, IT Audit and online security, as well as women and youth.

To mention but few, Bekele has spoken on Innovation and US-Africa Relations, at the NYF Africa in Gabon,[83] at an ITU event in Addis Ababa for International Girls day, "on bridging the Gender GAP", [84] on "Africa: Economic Development Through Technology" at Yale University, USA [85] How to build a Top Level Domain Community in Munich, Germany;[86] "Public Private Partnership" sponsored by UNDESA and ITU World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) forum in Geneva; "Internet Governance-The Policy Divide" at Golden Gate University in San Francisco;[87] "Role of the United Nations in supporting efforts to promote digital opportunity, in particular in Africa and the least developed countries" United Nations General Assembly high-level meeting on ICT in New York on ICT;[88]"Connecting Africa through Information Networks" International Telecommunication Union (ITU's) “ConnectAfrica” Heads of State submit in Kigali Rwanda,[89] "How to build successful start-ups- Featuring people that have made great impact" Stanford Women in Business in California, alongside founders and executives of Pandora, YouTube, Gmail, and Yahoo where the work of her company, CBS International was credited for "bringing powerful advanced information technology to the developing world with long-standing initiatives to bring the internet to Africa"[90]". Rebranding Africa with African Leadership Retreat in South Africa[91]

Bekele's International work have appeared on various leading TV and radio programs in Africa, the US and International, including but not limited to Bloomberg TV Africa program on "African Women to Watch" [5] CNN discussing her "Yes2dotAfrica" campaign in Dakar Senegal,[92] Africa 7 TV Channel on "Women in Charge" in Senegal [93] and Nation Television (NTV) on "doing Business in Africa",[94] as well as Kenya's leading TV station K24's Capital Talk "Movers and Shakers of Africa" [95] KASS Media International,[96] Radio Netherland's WorldWide Mobile banking:"Africa’s next revolution" [97] a DotAfrica generation soon to be born;[98] Startup Success Radio in the US;[37] and on A4 Media Pan-African lifestyle TV program, "The Scoop" presenting her as "Serial entrepreneur, ICT Activist & Fondly referred to as "AddisHilton" [99] [100]

References[edit]

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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]