Being a Digital Woman: Somewhere between a really good and the best role model

Being a role model, somewhere between a really good one and the best, is a pleasure and a responsibility you can't describe but simply need to experience. You can start by becoming your own role model and it is never too early or too late. This I thought while receiving the Digital Woman of Europe 2013 Award sharing the stage with all the other wonderful girls and women finalists in the Digital Awards Ceremony.

A few thoughts about these girls and for all other girls and women I want to express. Because Amy, Lune and Olina are already role models and it is crucial we multiply their example. It is crucial we support, encourage, involve, work for and with girls from a very early age so that they make an informed choice about their education and career on a later stage of their lives. We need to start investing in our future, our digital future, right now.

Europe will lack 900.000 ICT specialists by 2015. By 2040 Europe may face 21 million unemployed people. If we achieve equal employment rates between women and men, there will be only 3 million unemployed. Women represent a pool of 21 million jobs. Women and girls have a great potential and are our key to overcoming the existing local, national and global challenges - ageing population, lack of qualified IT specialists, endangered democracy, immigration, weakened competitiveness.

Because I believe in the power and potential of girls and women, together with my friends, some of the best female ICT leaders, one year ago we founded the Bulgarian Centre of Women in Technology which is a National Point of Contact of the European Centre for Women and Technology. Our mission is to bring together stakeholders from the business sector, the government, the academia and from non-governmental organizations, involving them in the process of supporting and working for increasing girls' and women's professional participation in the sphere of ICT and our vision is empowering women and girls through education, science and technology.

To stimulate more women to choose the ICT career path and grow with it in Bulgaria and Europe we started organizing monthly role model meetings, mentoring sessions for entrepreneurs; and we started working with girls from the age of 10 so that they are aware of all opportunities and choices in the ICT and engineering professions. But most important are the effective BCWT and ECWT networks that give encouragement and a platform for sharing experience and best practices.

But the impact of ICT goes beyond individual career targets. Looking at the importance of ICT in our life today we should acknowledge its transformative effect in every aspect of our life and the dynamics of our community. ICT has an economic dimension - the lack of IT specialists will cause innumerable economic costs. Mobilizing women professionally in ICT brings more qualified workers, helps individual countries' and Europe's competitiveness, it secures balance in leadership and is a ground for co-creation and effectiveness in business.

ICT impacts the social development - in Europe we have aging population, mobile European citizens, and increased levels of immigration. ICT gives practical solutions to effectively address those challenges via web-services that are available in Cloud and are cross-border accessible. Girls and women could be active participants in the creation and the use of these solutions.

ICT boosts democracy - Internet, social media and high technologies secure transparency, provide access to information, give an alternative to controlled media, create space for exchange of democratic practices and stimulate solidarity.

I truly believe that today ICT produces democracy in a European and a global context. This is why recently I started the project MoveBG - a social innovation enterprise that is built on and stimulates online community dialog. MoveBG is an inclusive web-based platform for debating and designing long-term strategies for the development of Bulgaria, based on crowd sourcing ideas and positions from the wider community.  MoveBG is online democracy where equality, freedom, solidarity and justice are basic values.

I believe that ICT is the agent of change of our mentality and will help us overcome the prejudices and the stereotypes that persist in the society. Internet and ICT give a totally new meaning of inclusivity and collaboration because technology today allows it. IT allows society find new solutions and resolutions for old challenges. ICT gives new dimensions of freedom as a fundamental value. Freedom to choose your life, freedom to share, exchange and co-create in an effective manner, freedom to live the best way you can.

Last but not least, because I believe in the strength of young people as the future active citizens of our world and to stimulate girls' leadership, on November 20 I launched the Entrepregirl 2014 Award in Bulgaria. It will be given to girls interested in entrepreneurship, technologies and innovations and will include a one-year scholarship for an entrepreneurial program, one year mentorship and membership in the Bulgarian Centre of Women in Technology.