BEIRUT: As the globe further turns digital, we have the chance to reimagine the world.
What will a “digitally transformed’” world look like?
This concept is often discussed heavily in the context of the private sector: Google, Amazon, Apple, Instagram, and Facebook.
However, Samia Melhem, Global Lead Digital Development Policy Specialist at the World Bank, brought the topic into the public sector.
An Electrical Engineer, a Computer Scientist, an MBA, a Poet, a mother of a strong young woman, and a Global Ambassador of the Future, it seems Melhem has broken the glass ceiling in more than one room, despite the odds consistently being stacked against her.
Melhem told Annahar how growing up in Lebanon during multiple wars added a deeper layer of understanding to her development work.
“Growing up in a conflict zone, you realize that war is the biggest impediment to development,” she said. “When there is war, and this constant threat of aggression, people can’t be their best.”
However, despite the challenges that impede education during conflict, Melhem graduated as one of fifteen women, out of a class of over two-hundred and fifty men from the American University of Beirut’s electrical engineering program.
The digital transformation specialist told Annahar what drove her to pursue her degree.
“I wonder about that myself. My big passion was not engineering, but what I do right now, Development. I also love to write poetry. I contemplated pursuing humanities for some time,” Melhem said. “I loved the creative process of writing poems, and, later, writing code. poetry and programming are a lot more similar than you’d expect.”
She went on to pursue an MA in Computer Science, Software and Systems, and an MBA from George Washington University.
"I had great support from parents who always encouraged me to excel in the pursuit of knowledge,” Melhem told Annahar. “I am the oldest of five and all my four other siblings pursued advanced post grad degrees."
Melhem shared her advice for Millennials and Gen Z looking to follow in her career path.
“It’s not easy to grow in ranks at the World Bank. It is a large organization with many excellent people,” Melhem said. “However, I learned that whatever you do, you have to be very good at it. You have to research, you have to read a lot, you have to be driven,” she added while also explaining the importance of surrounding oneself with people one can learn from.
“I am lucky to work at the World Bank,” Melhem told Annahar. “Working on the ten poorest countries in the world has humbled me and shown me how much work there is to do if you want to contribute to the global well-being in your lifetime.”
Gender and Development
Melhem has been working on women’s empowerment for a long while now.
In 2009 she co-authored a working paper for the World Bank titled: “Information and communication technologies for women’s socioeconomic empowerment.”
The Gender Equality advocate told Annahar what challenges she faced in collecting data about gender disparities.
“It was exciting but, it was new so there was very little data,” she said. “There was no collective awareness of how big or how large the gender digital divide was. The rights of women were not part of national agendas.”
Leveraging disruptive technology to improve delivery of public services; such as education, health, and social protection, Melhem has worked on digital government transformational projects all over the world.
“The director of the Mashrek is very keen on achieving zero gender digital divide,” she said while explaining their current projects.
Melhem expressed that public policy could make a difference in the future of Lebanon, more so, with gender equality in government.
“Our policy making in the Middle East is unfortunately male dominated. If you add women, studies have shown that this diversity leads to better performance overall,” Melhem told Annahar adding however, “I am pleased we are seeing some change in the last year, especially in Lebanon, with more women elected.”
Welcome to “Naya,” the newest addition to Annahar’s coverage. This section aims at fortifying Lebanese women’s voices by highlighting their talents, challenges, innovations, and women’s empowerment. We will also be reporting on the world of work, family, style, health, and culture. Naya is devoted to women of all generations-Naya Editor, Sally Farhat: Sally.firstname.lastname@example.org
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