Biography: Leader . Speaker . Advisor
“You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honor”– Aristotle.
Ms. Sophia Bekele is a business and corporate executive, an International entrepreneur, corporate governance & risk management specialist, international policy advisor on ICT, internet and development issues, governance and ICT activist, and a philanthropist. Through education, entrepreneurial experience, and international exposure, She has performed superlatively in roles that straddle both the public and private sectors. She is involved in high-level policy advisory boards. She has obtained a truly global experience in today’s corporate culture having worked in America, Europe, South America, Asia, and Africa, and with various international, inter-governmental, national government & private transnational corporations.
As a serial Entrepreneur, Sophia has founded many companies and implemented successful projects and initiatives. She is currently the Founder and CEO of DotConnectAfrica Group, a Pan African technology company based in Kenya and Mauritius that champions the Internet of Things. Sophia is also a Chair of Global Economic Development Alliance (GEDA), a pan-African investment company with an interest in the strategic sector of Africa’s economy, currently heavily vested in technology, Financial, Media, and Real Estate sectors. In the past, Sophia has founded and run as CEO of CBS International currently CBSegroup, affiliate SbCommunications. She is also the founder of the widely acclaimed Yes2dotAfrica campaign to bring .africa to Africa.
Sophia initiated and spearheaded the DotAfrica Initiative under DotConnectAfrica Trust (DCA), a non-profit organization She founded. The DotAfrica (‘.Africa’) domain is a new generic Top-Level Domain (gTLD) for the Africa geographic name delegated to the root zone of the Internet Domain Name Structure (DNS) by the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) for operation under ICANN’s new gTLD program. ICANN is a US-based institution that is at the apex of Global Internet Governance and has a formal contractual relationship with the National Technology & Information Administration (NTIA), an agency of the US Department of Commerce.
“The .africa TLD is Africa’s response to the benefits of a unified continental domain on the internet. It is a new idea which will be guided by the ICANN policy embodied in the rule-book that’s a process which is both competitive and “bottoms up” – Sophia Bekele, Enterprise Technology Magazine, 2011
Multinationals Ms. Bekele’s early career is marked working for multinational consulting firms and large financial/banking companies in Corporate America such as PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Bank of America, Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi/Union Bank of California, San Francisco, to mention but a few. From these initial corporate environments, Sophia gained invaluable practical experience in business management in diverse areas such as information systems security/auditing and control, IT quality assurance, technology risk assessment of financial markets and instruments, technology and project management in private international and transnational corporations.
CBS International: Ms. Bekele then broke off from her Corporate career to focus on international technology issues and Third-World technological development, using Africa as a base model. Most of Ms. Bekele’s work in these years has been associated with CBS International (currently CBSegroup) a company she founded and serves as President and Chief Executive Officer. CBS International is a consulting company based in Walnut Creek, California, the USA with a focus on, technology transfer to emerging markets, technology procurement, project-based capacity building, technological project management, internet/intranet systems integration, information systems security/privacy, auditing, and corporate governance. Bekele also set up an affiliated company SbCommunications Networks Plc. (SbCnet) based in Addis Ababa dedicated to serving emerging economies. Her work during these years in global development included a UNOPS (United Nations Agency for Project Services) – sponsored Internetworking project (e-government initiative) for the Organization of African Unity (AU) African Union General Secretariat campus area network. Ms. Bekele put together the entire project management strategy and structure for the enterprise technological deployment of the sophisticated Fiber-Optic-based information technology infrastructure. CBS International handled technological inputs and services procurement while SbCnet provided strategic technology integration services and field management.
Following the above, Ms Bekele’s has won a precedent setting “Bid” reversal, on a major government contact, which has vindicated her and her company. Here, Ms. Bekele’s project involvement was as a Project Director for the Implementation of an Integrated Data Networking Infrastructure Supply and Infrastructure installation project at the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (House of Peoples’ Representatives and House of Federation), also e-government initiative funded by a consortium of donor agencies. In this project, her company SbCommunications Network, plc (SbCnet) was the Prime Contractor and handled all front-line liaison and project services delivery to the Parliament and works closely with its foreign partners CBS International, USA, and a South African company Dimension Data Holdings.
It is almost possible to assume that the private press has, for all practical intentions narrowed down on the ‘sensationalist‘ value of the story without considering the core values of the process at stake and the precedent-setting process at work in this matter. Precedence is being set, because this is the first time since the renaissance of our democracy that an illegally awarded contract on a national scale project has been successfully suspended, canceled, and reversed in the interest of higher ideals. -Sophia Bekele, Addis Fortune Weekly 2002
She has also challenged the private sector over her views of what turned out to be the illegitimate formation of a Stock Exchange. To her vindication, the government eventually rejected the proposal for the share dealing group in November 2002. As a follow-up, though there was no direct link with Bekele, in April 2008 the Ethiopian government launched a commodities exchange market, aimed at boosting fair trade and stabilizing its food market.
“It is better for us to have a proper open stock market where market forces determine the price of a share and security instruments…and should not be left to the machinations of a Share Dealing Group…the truth of the matter is that Addis Ababa Chamber of commerce cannot be both the sponsor and the regulator (oversight) according to the by-laws of the group… Government is the only agency that could put the regulatory frameworks and principles under which a proper stock exchange or commodities exchange can exist.” –Sophia Bekele, Addis Fortune Weekly, 2002
As such, combining her career in Controls and business exposure, she developed a reputation for having centrist views over public policy issues. Ms. Bekele has made very significant contributions to the enshrinement of transparency, accountability, probity, and fairness, and other anti-corruption measures in the conduct of government procurement actions in Ethiopia; in addition to other significant inputs made towards the paramountcy of civil governance and regulatory issues in the conduct of governmental and private sector affairs. To her credit, this interest in ensuring higher ideals, underlining justice, transparency, accountability, probity, and issues of illegality, in all of these are a matter of public record.
With these registered successes in ICT project delivery, Ms. Bekele was appointed in 2001 by H.E. K.Y. Amoako, then Executive Secretary and UN under Secretary-General of United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), to serve on the Advisory Technical Committee (ATAC), an expert UNICT Taskforce sponsored by UNECA. The ATAC formulated policy and recommendations and provided technical guidance and direction on the implementation strategy especially how to bridge the digital divide between the developed countries and Africa. In her tenure at ATAC, Bekele co-authored the ‘Common Position for Africa’s Digital Inclusion’, which was developed in response to the ECA Conference of Minister’s Resolution 812 (XXXI) The ‘Common Position’ was a blueprint that reflected Africa’s ICT position which was communicated to various global forums such as the G8 DOT Force, ECOSOC, the UN Task Force, World Economic Forum, NEPAD initiatives, etc. She has since used this identifying framework for other ICT projects and Internet-Centered activities that are geared towards building a 21st-century e-enabled information and knowledge-driven society in Africa. In 2003, Bekele was also the East African Representative to the African Regional Network (ARN).
Following this, in 2008, she served on the Global Alliance for Information and Communication Technologies and Development (UNGAID), an initiative started by the former United Nations Secretary-General, and appointed by the Chairman of Intel’s CEO Craig Barret. In 2009, She was an advisor to the United Nations Public Administration Network (UNPAN/ITU) where she was representing the private sector in discussions about Public-Private partnerships, e-government, and MDG implementation.
Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN): Following service in the AISI Steering Committee in December 2005, Ms. Bekele was elected by the NomCom, under the then Chairmanship of Dr. Vinton Cerf, as the first African to serve and hold a seat on the gNSO (generic Names Supporting Organization) Policy Advisory council of the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), that advises the ICANN Board on gTLD (generic Top Level Domain Name policy). In this position, Ms. Bekele contributed to global public policies that guide the development of the Internet, including the new gTLD policy and processes affecting .asia, .com, .net, .org etc.
During her tenure, Sophia was also instrumental in initiating and championing the policy dialogue over International Domain Names ( IDNs) as well as the formation of a IDN working group within ICANN.As a result, Ms. Bekele was also nominated to chair ICANN’s IDN Working Group at gNSO. She was thus very influential in drafting the IDN policy guidelines as well as developed a framework for leading a language group. She was later credited for championing the inclusion of the global IDN community within this policy dialogue and the global IDN community collectively endorsed her also for her work on the .africa initiative. Additionally, during her tenure, Ms. Bekele has initiated the formation of the African grouping within ICANN.
“…I am most interested in the issues of emerging economies and the use of ICT and the growth of the Internet or lack thereof over these environments. Therefore, the policies developed by ICANN over issues governing the global Internet, particularly domain names, could determine the gap in the digital divide within these economies…” Sophia Bekele, Statement of Interest 2005-2007
“On 11th December 2010 the International Domain Resolution Union endorsed the dotafrica project for DotConnectAfrica stating that “ Ms. Bekele, as a former gNSO advisor to ICANN, you have worked hard and long to champion Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs). You have made the case within ICANN for a policy development process that will see IDNs in service of the world community. And you have done so successfully.” Endorsement— International Domain Resolution Union (IDRU) Global IDN Group.
Aside from the above. Ms. Bekele has various written testimonials by the founders and pioneers of IDN Technology towards her contribution and championship of the IDN policy work at ICANN. Ref. ICANN Wiki
“An invasion of armies cannot stop an idea whose time has come.” – Ms Bekele Commenting on resistance to IDN policy, 2006
During the above period, Ms. Bekele has been advising in corporate development/communications programs for various start-ups and OTC within the US. Ms. Bekele’s advisory services in this area include actively contributing to the short term and long term growth targets through planning and directing all aspects of the corporate business development, venture capital activities, due diligence, developing deal pipelines, deal negotiations, business plan valuations & modeling, strategic proposals that lead to global commercial alliances public relations strategy formulation and execution, and establishment of corporate governance guidelines. Ms. Bekele and her company assist various U.S. Clients in the public/private markets, primarily in corporate governance and risk management areas, including the recent Sarbanes-Oxley ACT, GAAP & PCAOB. In these areas, her selected clients have included OnScreen Technologies, Inc. (OTC), Intel Corp. (Nasdaq) BDO Sieldman LLP, Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco (FHLB), Genentech Corp (Gene).
“The probability that we may fail in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just.”– Abraham Lincoln
DotConnectAfrica: Bekele’s most recent venture is the establishment of the DotConnectAfrica Trust and DotConnectAfrica Registry Services Limited, which is well-known for its successful six-year Yes2dotAfrica global awareness campaign for the .Africa Top Level Domain Name. Following the important experiences gained from her work as gNSO advisor to ICANN and successful achievement of IDN work for the global internet community, Ms. Bekele made a clear case for a DotAfrica(.africa) gTLD for Africa within ICANN and also introduced it to the PanAfrican organizations in Africa such as UNECA and African Union and the global public. She then received endorsements from both organizations in 2008 and 2009 respectively, and the global IDN working group for her DotAfrica Initiative. As Executive Director of DCA Trust & CEO of DotConnectAfrica Registry Services Limited, she led a multi-national team of experts to prepare and submit an application for the DotAfrica (.AFRICA) generic Top-Level Domain on behalf of the global African Constituency in June 2012, to the US-based organization ICANN.
“Governments have a role to play, especially regarding the establishment of an enabling and supportive environment for ICT initiatives to thrive…. The problem is that this power to endorse is often interpreted and extended to include overall sovereignty over the new gTLD. We believe this should not be the case since it is monopolistic and anti-competitive coupled with problems of lack of transparency and accountability. Everyone should have a role in the process, and the boundaries that have been set up should be respected by everybody, with no exceptions or preferential treatment for governments and intergovernmental bodies.” –Sophia Bekele for CIO, March 2012
In 2017 noting all her major contributions in her field, CIO East Africa named her “Industry Trailblazer” and “Internet Governance Pioneer”.
Key Roles: The above positions in her long term career in Corporate governance, then Entrepreneurship, and her role in service of various Board advisory in international institutions as well as implementing large scale nation-building projects play a pivotal role in Ms. Bekele’s career in building, guiding, and directing the overall future of the private/public sector in a collaborative fashion with members of Executive and Senior management and high-level Public Authorities to identify, define and evaluate key strategic issues and develop appropriate policy and remediation guidelines to mitigate exposures.
Speaking/Writing/Podcast:Bekele is regularly invited to speak on her work at many international conferences, deliver keynote speeches, and moderate high-level panels. She is a published writer and commentator on industry and political media on current affairs issues of technology, Internet and good governance, business and cyber – security. She has been involved in public affairs commentary and advocacy and continues to write articles on technology for development, Internet Governance, regional economic integration, good governance, cyber security, business, and politics; that have been published in different newspapers, journals, and the Internet web sites. Bekele maintains an active social media page commentary on “conversions that matter”covering topics on business, wellness, and self-development. @sophiabekele
Public Service and Leadership positions: In 2019, Sophia was appointed to the Founding member of the Eurafrican Forum Advisory Board, an economic policy forum that advises Europe and Africa Under the Leadership of José Manuel Barroso, former PM of Portugal and Chairman of Goldman Sachs International; She was elected and served for two tenures on as the Alumni Board member of Golden Gate University San Francisco; she is a Co-Founder and elected Executive Board member of Internet Society (SF Chapter)’. She was also elected member of ICANN Internet Corporation Assigned Names & Numbers (ICANN) policy advisory council under the leadership of Vint Cerf, one of the Founders of the Internet, elected and served as an advisory member to ICT Policy to various United Nation Agencies including UNECA- (Economic Commission for Africa) sponsored African Information Society Initiative (AISI) and the East African Representative to the African Regional Network (ARN) under the Leadership of Executive Secretary K.Y. Amoako, UNGAID – under the leadership of Craig Barret, Former Chairman of Intel, and UNPAN and UNITU, where she represents the private sector in discussions about the economic development of Africa; a former Board Member of SF-ISACA (Information Systems and Control Association), Bekele is currently a steering committee member to the East Bay World Affairs Council, Contra Costa. Over the years, Bekele has also served as an International Ambassador to various Rotary Clubs, where she has earned the recognition of a Paul Harris Fellow for her contributions.
Awards/Honors: With over a decade of transforming lives and business via technology in Africa and across the Globe and for leading her organization with passion and grit, Bekele has received many accolades and recognition for her work.
Sophia was dubbed 2021 Women of Inﬂuence Honoree, by Silicon Valley Business Journal, celebrating women of outstanding achievement in their industry and community. She was also honored with the 2021 CEO Today Africa Awards for exceptional business leadership and growth, and for those individuals who shine as examples of excellence when faced with unprecedented challenges. Africa Link awarded her with the Champion of Development Award at the 2018 Solidarity Awards in Switzerland and in 2017 the program was named a finalist for the ITU/UN Equals in Tech Awards. Hundreds of young women and girls’ tech initiatives have benefited in 12 African Countries from support by the Miss.Africa Digital Seed-Funding impact program. Noting her significant contributions to the industry, in 2017, CIO East Africa named her “Industry Trailblazer” and “Internet Governance Pioneer”. In 2015, she was widely acclaimed as one of the “Two Leading ladies” in Africa’s ICT sector and “African Women to Watch” by Bloomberg TV, recognizing women as “most fearless, competitive and visionary African women of our time and “the women working hard to close the gender gap and shaping the continent’s social, political and economic landscape”. ln 2014, she was enumerated as “Top 20 Inspirational African Diaspora Professional Women in Europe” by ADIPWE for her work in technology transfer from the west. In 2013, she was named as one of the “50 African Trailblazers – a Future Made in Africa” by the NewAfrican Magazine noting all her accomplishments including initiating, organizing and leading the wildly acclaimed and successful 6-year Yes2DotAfrica multi-lingual global awareness ground and social media campaign for the “.africa” Internet domain name, which held a position of top 50 topmost attractive new domains from among 1930 global domains by industry rating agency, also earning her a title “brains behind .africa’, by African media. In the same year of 2013, Bekele has also received many nominations including the TransformAfrica 2013 Continental Excellence Awards in ICT which was hosted by H.E Paul KAGAME, President of the Republic of Rwanda at Kigali Serena Hotel, 28-31 October 2013.
Adventure: Bekele has traveled to over 150 countries with a historic exploratory 6 around-the-world trips. She is well known for her controversial views challenging the status quo and irregularities wherever she finds them. Along with her advocacy for work-life balance and passion for the good life, she is often referred to by her peers, a.k.a @AddisHilton.
Education and Professional Competency: Ms. Bekele holds an MBA in Management Information Systems (MIS) from Golden Gate University, San Francisco, and a Bachelor of Science in Computer and Information Systems from San Francisco State University. She is also a Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA), Certified Control Specialist (CCS), and Certified in the Governance of Enterprise IT (CGEIT), professional designations for competent knowledge and proficiency in the field of information systems audit, control and security and the governance of Information system.
Residency:Bekele travels globally for her work and shuttles regularly between her residences in Walnut Creek, California, and Africa, where she has a firm based in business and family.