Celebrating women in Ghana telecoms
By Mavis Ampah Sintim-Misa, CEO of STINSAD Consult & former World Bank Africa Regional Coordinator and Lead ICT Policy Specialist
This International Women’s Day I want to celebrate the New faces of telecommunications’ players in Ghana – they are SMART, they are EXPERIENCED, and they are FIERCE. Above all THEY ARE WOMEN making waves in this traditionally male dominated sector.
A couple weeks ago, I had the honor of attending a historic event organized by the Ghana Chamber of Telecommunications to welcome the new Minister for Communications and the new Director General of the National Communications Authority (NCA). I have always been impressed by the many successful ‘firsts’ (albeit remaining challenges) chalked by Ghana’s telecom sector – one of the first in Africa to liberalize and introduce competition, connect to the internet, launch the 1st cellular mobile network in Sub-Saharan Africa etc. But at that moment it dawned on me that in addition to Ghana appointing its first female Communications Minister, 3 out of the 4 CEOs of the largest Mobile Operators in Ghana are Women! Even more, the Heads of Google Ghana, and Internet Solutions, one of the leading Internet Service Providers (ISP) in the country, are also Women!
Ghana has certainly come a long way – and perhaps has added another ‘first’ to its credentials of a nearly all female team that is driving the next generation of transformation in the telecom and IT sector- the strong technical and legal teams behind them are also women! I remember distinct periods in the mid-90s when despite my role as Coordinator of the government’s telecom reform initiative, I was consistently asked if I would take the notes or bring in the coffee at almost every meeting. Back then I was among a sprinkling of women professionals in the sector. Before the push to liberalize the telecommunications sector, access to any form of telecommunications service was limited to the rich and elite. In fact, there were fewer cellphones in all of Africa combined than there were in Manhattan alone – with mobile penetration estimated at around 0.2%! Today I stand proud that that value has increased by a factor of 500-fold in Ghana alone. Ghana’s mobile penetration rate today is now well over 100%, and these women (and men) are making enormous efforts to make access to both mobile and Internet more inclusive. I am honored to have been part of this incredible community of women who have pushed to close connectivity gaps in Africa, and are changing the world through technology.
Here is how these 6 amazing women are blazing the trail and demonstrating to our younger women that when you’re persistently bold, you can force change:
Honorable Ursula Owusu- Ekuful, Ghana’s New Minister for Communications is no stranger to the telecom sector. Her rich professional background includes positions as Managing Director of WESTEL formerly Ghana’s national fixed line operator (now Airtel), and Director of Vodafone Ghana Company Limited Ghana’s second largest telecommunications service provider by number of subscribers. She is a women's rights activist and a parliamentarian representing the Ablekuma West constituency. Ms. Ursula Owusu-Ekuful served as Managing Consultant with N. U. Consult – which provides legal, governance and gender consulting services. She is a member of various organizations including the Ghana Bar Association, the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), the Women in Law and Development in Africa (WILDAF), and the African Women Lawyers Association (AWLA). Ms. Owusu-Ekuful is a Barrister/Solicitor by profession and holds an LLB from the University of Ghana and a Masters in Conflict Peace and Security from the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Center where she was adjudged the overall best student in 2015.
Lucy Quist, CEO of Airtel. Since taking over the helm of affairs at Airtel Ghana in 2014, as the first Ghanaian woman to lead a multinational telecom company, Lucy has successfully repositioned the company into the fastest growing telecom brand, growing customer market share for both voice and data. She has a clear strategic focus on driving data and digital services as the communication platform of the future and was recently featured on BBC’s Power Women series as one of the top business women driving transformational change in Africa. Lucy is an international business leader and a technology professional who advocates for greater participation of young people in STEM for development. She personally leads #EvolveWithSTEM, Airtel Ghana’s initiative to encourage young people to participate in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Alongside her outstanding commercial achievements, she has also led Airtel Ghana to win more than 20 prestigious awards. Lucy studied at the University of East London, graduating with a first-class honors degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering She also holds an MBA from INSEAD in France. Lucy has been recognized over the years for her transformational and inspirational leadership, her exceptional strategic marketing insights, selfless dedication to growing people and her unrelenting championing of causes that are shaping the lives of young people. Notable among these are – CIMG Marketing Woman of the year (2014), Telecom CEO of the Year (Ghana ICT and Telecoms Award 2016) and CSR CEO of the year (Ghana CSR Excellence Awards 2016).
Roshi Motman, CEO of Tigo, joined the company in April 2014, after almost ten years with various companies within the Kinnevik Group, a key investor in Millicom, one of the leading telecommunications powerhouses across Sub-Saharan Africa. In Tele2, a Swedish-based telecom company, she progressed in a variety of management roles including, product development and management, sales and customer operations. Prior to that, she was responsible for the development of mobile entertainment at Modern Times Group (MTG), the parent company of the Viasat Television Network. She studied Electrical Engineering and Business Development at Chalmers University in Göteborg, Sweden and has an outstanding record of developing people and businesses. Under her leadership, Tigo Ghana has seen remarkable operational and financial transformation - aggressive network expansion, massive service delivery improvements, increased subscriber growth, improved profitability and a refreshed brand. She has also championed several livelihood empowerment programmes through Tigo’s Corporate Social Responsibility wing. Her outstanding leadership has been recognized on various prestigious platforms including recognition as the CEO of the Year at the 2015 Africacom Awards in Cape Town.
Yolanda Zoleka Cuba is a transformational and accomplished business leader, who is highly regarded across the African continent. Her career extends over several reputable industries including general industrials and resources, telecommunications and fast moving consumer goods (FMCG). She is an accomplished professional in Corporate Finance and Strategy. Yolanda joined Vodafone Ghana as Chief Executive Officer in June 2016 from Vodacom Group in South Africa, where she was the Director of Strategy, Mergers and Acquisitions across five markets (South Africa, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique and Lesotho). She previously served as Executive Director of Strategy and Business Support at the South African Breweries Limited (SAB), a subsidiary of SABMiller. Prior to that, she was CEO of Mvelaphanda Group, where she was one of the youngest Chief Executive Officers of a JSE-listed company at the age of 29. She has held various positions as non-executive director of JSE-listed companies including Life Healthcare, Avusa Media and Steinhoff International amongst others. She is also a member of the Nelson Mandela Investment and Endowment Committee. She is the longest serving board member on the Barclays Africa Group, where she has been a board member since 2006. In 2008, Yolanda was selected as one of the Young Global Leaders by the World Economic Forum and named as one of the “20 Youngest Powerful Women in Africa” by Forbes Magazine in 2011. In 2015, she was also recognized by France’s Institut Choiseul as one of the Top 200 leaders in Africa. In Ghana, her vision is for Vodafone to drive the digital revolution of Ghana through inclusive innovation and ensuring that no one is left behind digitally. She believes that technology is key to unlocking the potential of societies, especially in countries such as Ghana. She holds degrees in Statistics and Accounting from the Universities of Cape Town and KwaZulu-Natal. She is also an alumnus of the INSEAD International Executive Program and holds a Masters of Commerce (Finance Management) degree from the University of Pretoria. She is passionate about education for all youth, and women in particular. In this regard, she spearheads a foundation that provides university education bursaries for deserving under-privileged youth in South Africa seeking to further their studies in Mathematics, Science and Commerce. She has also been an eager mentor to young professionals in different industries.
Estelle Akofio-Sowah is the Country Manager of Google Ghana. She has over 14 years of experience in the internet and business development industry in Ghana, including as the Managing Director of Busy Internet, Africa’s hugely successful internet startup, leading a team of 80 professionals in delivering IT-enabled services to an average of 1000 clients per day. Highlights of her leadership include launching Busy's award winning ISP, implementing the Ghanaian chapter of the World Bank Incubator program and launching and promoting various Google products and programs aimed at making the internet an integral and relevant part of people’s lives. Estelle majored in Economics and Development Studies at the University of Sussex. Her contributions to the internet sector and commitment to excellence earned her selection as a 2008 Fellow of the African Leadership Initiative.
Yvette Adounvo Atekpe has been the Regional Managing Director of Internet Solutions since 2008. Yvette has been in the telecommunications and information technology sector for over 20 years. She has been involved in establishing world-class customer service teams for ICT organizations in Africa during her time working in the sector. Ms. Atekpe has served on several Boards including the Ghana Internet Service Providers Association (GISPA). She was a member of the National Communication Planning Committee that drafted Ghana’s 1999 Communications Policy and was a member of the Communications Committee on Girls in technology. Yvette Adounvo Atekpe currently chairs the board of Internet Solutions Ghana, and serves as Director on the boards of Dimension Data West Africa and Internet Solutions Mozambique. She was awarded the ICT Woman of the Year 2014 and Industry Personality of the Year 2016 at the Ghana Telecom Awards. Yvette has an undergraduate degree in Sociology from the University of Ghana, with a focus on Law and Philosophy. She also holds an MBA (Marketing), a CBA from the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration, and a PGD in Marketing of Services from the Maastricht School of Management in Netherlands.
Two decades ago, to have the key verticals in the communications and technology sector in Ghana run by women would have been unheard of. These women have not only challenged expectations but actively advocate for inclusive development and access in their respective industries. While, I would not want the celebrations of theirs and many achievements by other women across Ghana to be limited to today, this International Women’s day is a reminder that we have come a long way. Ayekoo.