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Digital Inclusivity: Our New Strategic Direction

 

By Vint Cerf

I am proud to share some important news about the Marconi Society and to tell you about our expanded mission: To celebrate, inspire, and connect individuals building tomorrow’s technologies in service of a digitally inclusive world.

I’ll start with a bit of history to give you the context for our new vision and mission and to set the stage for what you can expect to see from us going forward.

45 Years of Innovation

In 1974, Gioia Marconi Braga established the Marconi International Fellowship Foundation to mark the centennial of her father, Guglielmo Marconi, and memorialize his spirit of ingenuity in service to humanity. Guglielmo Marconi is widely credited as the inventor of radio – sending and receiving the first wireless message in 1901, at age 27 – and, in tribute, the Foundation has sought to nurture, recognize, and celebrate individuals whose innovations in communications technology writ large have made a lasting contribution for the public benefit.

Since its founding, the Foundation evolved into the Marconi Society, Inc., a 501(c)(3) private foundation. The Society continues to celebrate and encourage innovation in communications through symposia, conferences, the prestigious Marconi Prize, the Young Scholars Program, and, more recently, the Celestini Program. We have both cultivated a network of the industry’s significant luminaries and inspired the next generation of emerging scientists and engineers dedicated to pushing the frontiers of communications, as Marconi did.

Yet as the Marconi Society has promoted information and communications technology (ICT) and as members of its network have pioneered the software and hardware that have improved the lives of millions, the role of ICT in our world has changed significantly and continues to evolve. Connectivity has gone from an advanced capability to a critical service for social and economic empowerment and inclusion.

Our World Today

Globally, as well as in the US, inequality persists, and the technological change that Marconi Society scientists and engineers helped to make possible have also exposed socioeconomic gaps. Today, disparities in the digital world manifest along a continuum of network access and affordability; the necessary knowledge, skills, and cultural acceptance to start and grow networks in new areas; and localized adoption and use to make connectivity relevant. Only under this broad definition of access will people around the world be able to utilize the benefits of networks and ICT to their fullest potential.

With an estimated 3.4 billion people globally without even basic access to the Internet, there is much work to be done to foster a digitally inclusive world.  The problem is so severe that the United Nations counts access to ICT, including “universal and affordable access to the Internet,” among its 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. When individuals and communities have the ability to fully leverage ICT, not only will their own livelihoods be improved, but they will have the opportunity to solve local and global challenges and the ability to maximize the wellbeing of generations to come.

Looking toward the future, these realities of communications in the 21st century led our board to revisit the Marconi Society’s vision and mission. We believe that in order to continue Guglielmo Marconi’s legacy of using communications technology for the public good, we need to focus on the innovators that are solving our most critical modern technology challenge: digital inclusion.

Guiding Principles

Guglielmo Marconi’s legacy as an innovator, entrepreneur, and pioneer in ICT continues to live on through the Marconi Society with a view toward the critical role that this technology now plays in everyone’s lives. In refreshing the Marconi Society’s vision and mission, we aligned on these guiding principles:

  1. All people should have access to ICT. Access includes 1) necessary infrastructure such as secure and reliable connections and electricity; 2) affordability; 3) skills, awareness, and cultural acceptance to fully realize its benefits; and 4) localized adoption and use.
  2. ICT is essential to enable people to access the life-changing benefits of connectivity and be able to solve local and global challenges.
  3. ICT is an economic growth engine and network technologies must continue to evolve to meet current and future demands.
  4. Access to ICT must be informed and led by local needs and requirements.

Vision

The Marconi Society envisions a world in which all people can create opportunity through the benefits of connectivity.

Mission

The Marconi Society’s mission is to celebrate, inspire, and connect individuals building tomorrow’s technologies in service of a digitally inclusive world.

Theory of Change

Our theory of change links our mission to our vision. It outlines how our approach – to celebrate, inspire, and connect individuals working towards a digitally inclusive world and building tomorrow’s technologies for the good of humanity – will get us closer to our vision of a world in which all people enjoy the life-changing benefits of connectivity. It is based on our assumption that a digitally inclusive world requires an engaged network of individuals from a diverse array of sectors and generations working together toward a shared vision.

 

 

Moving Forward

As we roll out our new mission and vision, we will build on our most popular programs and ensure that our focus on scientific innovations in service of digital inclusion is always front and center.

We look forward to awarding our 50th Marconi Prize in 2020. Nominations are open and run through January 31, 2020. In addition to seeking contributions that are scientifically innovative, practical and entrepreneurial, we have added a fourth criterion to the Prize. We will also evaluate nominees on their humanitarian contribution as community leaders in the design, development and / or deployment of new communications technologies or public policies that promote social development, reduce the impact of disasters, conflicts or social crises and promote ethical and inclusive principles. We will re-double our efforts to discover nominees who represent diverse genders, geographies and disciplines.

Our highly successful Paul Baran Young Scholar awards will also be given in 2020 and we will take nominations February 1 – May 15, 2020. We will continue to scour the world for the brightest young researchers who embody Marconi’s creativity, entrepreneurial spirit and technological prowess. As with the Marconi Prize, we will continue to seek diverse nominations of those doing cutting edge work that can help connect the next billion.

We plan to significantly scale the Young Scholars’ Celestini Program, which supports technology-oriented students in developing countries by providing needed mentorship and tools to use ICT to solve problems that are important in their local communities. Through our successful experiences in five countries, we have the basic learning in place to establish the partnerships and pursue the funding relationships to build a truly robust and impactful program that builds much-needed networking infrastructure, capability and applications to support digital inclusion.

We are hiring a new Executive Director to propel the organization toward its mission and to build an engaged community of innovators committed to extending the benefits of connectivity to the rest of the world.

How You Can Help

Our mission is bold. We are reinventing ourselves so that we can reinvent the future. We can only make a difference for the next billion people with your help. Here are some things that you can do today to be part of our movement for digital inclusivity:

  • Check out our website and drop us a note at info@marconisociety.org if you would like to get involved with our Celestini Program, with future events or with other mentorship opportunities.
  • Nominate the most deserving people you know for the Marconi Prize or the Young Scholar Awards. We welcome all qualified nominees.
  • Sign up for our monthly newsletter to stay current on nomination deadlines and to hear from the leading minds in ICT.
  • Support us in scaling the Celestini Program with a much-needed financial contribution. You can make a difference in the future of a student and in the community of engineering professionals.

You will hear more from us as we put the pieces in place for our expanded mission. Please email us at info@marconisociety.org with any questions or ideas. We look forward to moving toward digital inclusivity together.