Roya Mahboob

CEO and Founder Digital Citizen Fund, Herat, Afghanistan
the serial tech entrepreneur from Afghanistan became chief executive at 23. Now, she helps young Afghan women build digital skills

WHY YOU SHOULD LISTEN

Roya Mahboob has had a challenging journey: from trudging for higher education in Afghanistan, to being the exceptional female student studying computer science at UN Development Program, followed by a completing a degree in computer science at Herat University. All this while living in a patriarchal country where women were not anticipated to pursue a higher study, let alone a career that empowers and facilitates independent employment for women.

In a remarkable case of “Pay It Forward”, Mahboob has created a non-profit called Digital Citizen Fund with the backup of an American investor Francesco Rulli. The organization has established 40 internet-enabled classrooms across Afghanistan which facilitates 160,000+ female students to connect to the world.

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, has high praise for Mahboob: she had not only the will to lead, she is paving ways for other women, from her country and beyond, to make digital literacy the currency of their independence.

Listen to Roya Mahboob at WORLDWEBFORUM 2019 to be inspired by her drive and vision.

working in clever new ways

From Time Magazine by Sheryl Sandberg

Though women’s rights in Afghanistan have improved since the fall of the repressive Taliban regime 12 years ago, many Afghans still believe that a woman should work only in the home, caring for her family. Technology entrepreneur Roya Mahboob is working in clever new ways to change this continuing cultural stereotype. Mahboob’s Afghan Citadel Software Co., an IT consulting firm founded in 2010, employs 25 people, 18 of whom are women. Her employees develop software and databases for private companies, government ministries and NATO. To make these jobs more accessible to Afghan women, five of the employees are able to work from home.

Mahboob’s plans are even more ambitious. Most public access to the Internet in Afghanistan is restricted to urban Internet cafés, which are often uncomfortable or unsafe places for women. That doesn’t work for Mahboob — so she is building 40 free Internet-enabled classrooms across Afghanistan to allow more than 160,000 female students to connect to the world. She also founded a multilingual blog and video site to give these women a platform for telling their stories. Nearly 300 female student bloggers have posted on the site, making themselves heard and changing the way the world sees Afghanistan … and how Afghan girls and women see themselves.

Digital Citizen Fund

The Digital Citizen Fund is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization founded in New York City. The Digital Citizen Fund helps girls and women in developing countries gain access to technology, virtually connect with others across the world, and obtain necessary skills to succeed in today’s expanding global market. To accomplish this, the Digital Citizen Fund has built eleven Internet Training Centers and two stand-alone media centers in partnership with MTI (presently known as Bitlanders) and the Afghan Citadel. Through this collaboration, we have successfully enrolled over 12,000 young women and helped 100 startups in Kabul and Herat. We have recently expanded operations in Mexico as part of our effort to provide better opportunities for girls and women around the world. We are ready to scale our highly successful model to other countries as funding becomes available.

Our Goal

  • CREATE DIGITAL CITIZENS THAT ARE CAPABLE AND CONFIDENT IN THEIR VOICE
  • EMPOWER WOMEN AND CHILDREN IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES TO ESTABLISH SUSTAINABLE ECONOMIC LIVELIHOODS
  • ENCOURAGE PERSONAL GLOBAL CONNECTIVITY TO INSPIRE AND RAISE CULTURAL AWARENESS
  • PROVIDE SAFE, ACCESSIBLE ENVIRONMENTS FOR INDIVIDUAL AND CULTURAL EXPRESSION

teaching Afghan girls to code

Mahboob, 31, had used the profit from Afghan Citadel Software, her software development startup, to create ten centres for girls to study computing in Kabul and Herat. The Taliban told her that if she didn’t stop, they would kill her.
Forced to flee Afghanistan, Mahboob arrived alone in New York in January 2014. She then embarked on two projects: a vocational training site called EdyEdy and, in early 2016, an as-yet-unnamed export company, bringing Afghan tea and coffee to the US and Middle East. Both businesses fund Mahboob’s training centres, which she has continued, despite the danger. “We give access to technology,” she says. “We have 8,000 students and we’re going to train 5,000 more in the next two years.” Digital Citizen Fund’s 12 female teachers introduce 12- to 18-year-old Afghans to the basics of digital and financial literacy, followed by classes in coding or social media. Each year, 2,400 girls take the courses, but Mahboob wants to expand – first to rural areas, then to other countries. She says she is sharing the experience that showed her the world could be bigger than she was told. “In any conservative society women are not equal. Technology can change this – it changed my world.”

The Changing Face of Technology

I saw the incredible power in the combination of education, social media and IT in my personal and business lives. Not only was I able to work from home, technology allowed me to connect to the world. I was able to grow my business by reaching out to a larger businesses. This encouraged me to think about how I could share this with all Afghan women to empower them and change their lives.

It’s not just that I want more women in the tech industry. I want the next generation of youth in Afghanistan to have better opportunities, have control over their lives. I get so excited when I think about the possibilities of education for these young kids – the opportunities with social media and technology. Right now, I am living in New York City and working on the Foundation Digital Citizen Fund, which will empower women and children in developing countries through digital resources that inspire and connect them to a world beyond their borders. We are trying to create digital citizens that are capable and confident in their voices and empowering them to establish sustainable economic livelihoods. My mission is to bridge the gap between education and jobs through technology in developing countries like Afghanistan.

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BIOGRAPHY

Roya Mahboob is a serial entrepreneur, CEO and President of Digital Citizen Fund, Digital Citizen Brew ( Coffee& Tea) and EdyEdy. She focused on building #Digital Literacy for women and children in developing countries. And her personal goal for #Digital Literacy is to bridge the gap between education and job markets by offering practical online skills in her new company and platform EdyEdy for women and youth in developing countries. Roya Mahboob is also President and board member of the Digital Citizen Fund, with aims to increase women’s technological literacy and provide employment and educational opportunities for girls and children in developing countries like Afghanistan and sits on the Advisory Board of Forbes School of Business of Ashford University, Resolution Project, and the Global Thinkers Forum organization.

Roya was named to TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World for 2013 for her work in building internet classrooms in high schools in Afghanistan. The TIME 100 essay was written by Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg who is also the author of “Lean In Women, Work and the Will to Lead”. She is also a member of the 2014 Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards, Civic Innovators, The Advancement of Gender Equality through Education Award and Young Leader of World Economic Form in 2015.