CEO Today - Africa Awards 2022

ABOUT SOPHIA BEKELE Sophia Bekele is founder and CEO of the DotConnectAfrica (DCA) Group, a pan-African organisation that has been engaged in Africa’s digital transformation for over a decade. “Corporate philanthropy has always been important to me since the start of my entrepreneurship,” Sophia says. “All my start-ups have had a portfolio of social impact.” Can you tell us about how DotConnectAfrica has evolved since its inception in 2006? Originally incorporated in Mauritius, DotConnectAfrica Trust is a non-profit formed with the objective of advancing education in the digital economy in Africa. Related to this was branding Africa on the internet through the top-level domain “.Africa”. DCA Trust is now the CSR arm of the DCA Group, which is a private entity. I initiated the .Africa domain name in 2005, when I was appointed on the high-level policy panel at ICANN, the global Internet governing body that advises on policy development and implementation for new domain names like .Africa. I then went to the highest offices of the AUC and UNECA to get the buy-in, presented the initiative and was granted the appropriate endorsements. We then ran a highly acclaimed six-year global awareness “Yes2DotAfrica” campaign for .Africa that ranked the domain name amongst the top 50 globally. We achieved this through a pioneering multilingual social media ground campaign traveling all over the African continent, North America, Europe and Asia. This campaign became instrumental in educating the public on the domain industry and global Internet governance processes. Additionally, we brought the latest domain registry technologies to Africa via a partnership with top-notch global UK-based firm CentralNic and formed a first-of-itskind registry hosting agreement with Safaricom Kenya. Concurrently, DCA also managed to deliver on its educational commitment to Africa by focusing on its impact programs through the DCA Digital Academy. We launched a pioneering women-intech program, Miss.Africa Digital, currently rebranded FemPower at the ICANN’s 2008 conference in Singapore. Soon after we launched generation.Africa in Kenya to empower youth in technology adoption. The two initiatives became the core pillars of the DCA Trust. The Academy now runs a tech boot camp for Interns to upskill their talents in tech and in corporate and entrepreneurial know-how, and an annual Seed-Fund financial Impact Award Program for women-led African organizations with STEM initiatives. During the 2020 lockdown, theDigitalAcademy successfully launched a public virtual video platform intended as a critical learning opportunity for our community to serve as a networking place for business leaders to share their thoughts on leadership. Currently on its sixth series, DCA has held a highly inspiring and thought-provoking conversation on key impacted areas of SMEs, human rights and women in finance. This year’s International Women’s Month also saw a successful virtual conversation with women addressing how technology can help break the gender bias from the ‘young leaders’ perspective”. Post inception, DCA Group has progressively adopted a unique integrative model of internet-centered digital products and service offerings. These encompass eCommerce, DNS businesses, mobile applications, cloud, cybersecurity, digital marketing services on an integrated digital social media platform and championing the Internet of Things (IoT). What challenges have you and your colleagues overcome during this time? Even though DCA has always had a hybrid work culture, it has been challenging to scale and introduce new projects and skills at the same time as managing productivity and monitoring remote staff. Of course, there was also .Africa’s globally publicized challenge against a vested group of multiple parties as we pursued our new domain. We won that challenge via our “No Campaigns”. Thereafter, there was the DCA vs ICANN legal case, which lasted nearly a decade and took much of our time, effort and resources to clarify positions to the public and our legal representatives. This was mainly caused by how ICANN assessed the .Africa bid as it relates to DCA’s legitimate endorsements. ICANN refused to recognize our endorsement giving deference to the AUC who later wanted the .Africa domain for itself, after it gave endorsement to DCA. Unfortunately, at the last hour, we still did not secure .Africa on the basis of a legal technicality ICANN imposed to stop our case from moving to an already scheduled jury trial. This prevented the US courts from hearing our case based on its merits, which was confined to the endorsement issue. Despite this hard legal path, we are thankful that DCA has managed to strongly persevere with its other initiatives even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Are there any triumphs in particular that you are especially proud of having achieved? Certainly! Our pioneering women-in-tech program in Africa has successfully impacted 12 African countries and trained thousands of women. Our programs have received the height of recognition by the United Nations and other awards. Our boot camp has also provided developmental experiences to thousands of fresh graduates for three to six months to prepare them for the private sector. The Yes2dotAfrica campaign has undeniably triumphed and made history. Also, during the pursuit of .Africa we have set multiple legal precedents that benefited the global Internet community and will always be a triumph for DCA Trust. What does this award mean to you? The Best Digital Education award is a recognition of all our efforts for the past decade to educate the African public on the advantages of using the Internet as a learning tool as well as to promote their brand using various digital and formal platforms, and to make their voices heard. In addition, our Corporate Boot Camp and capacity-building programs prepare young people for the robust job market. The award is pivotal to all DCADigital Academy-sponsored programs and we thank CEO Today for recognizing our work. We also raise our hats to all our supporters who have been there with us throughout our journey, as this would never have been achieved by a single organization. - 15 - CEO Today Af r i ca Award s 2022 - MAURITIUS -

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