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DCO Secretary-General Deemah AlYahya: "I’m very optimistic about Cyprus’ future in the digital economy"

During a recent visit to Cyprus, Deemah AlYahya, the Secretary-General of the Digital Cooperation Organization (DCO), engaged in a series of official meetings, including discussions with President Nikos Christodoulides. AlYahya emphasized the critical role of digital transformation in driving widespread prosperity.

In an interview with CBN, she elaborated on the DCO’s mission, its initiatives in Cyprus, and the pivotal importance of encouraging greater female participation in the tech sector.

While in Cyprus, meanwhile, AlYahya also met with key figures such as Minister of Foreign Affairs Constantinos Kombos, and Deputy Minister of Research, Innovation, and Digital Policy Nicodemos Damianou, among others.

Can you tell us about the DCO and its mission?

The Digital Cooperation Organization is an intergovernmental organization that currently boasts 16 Member States with a combined GDP exceeding $3.5 trillion and a youthful population of 800 million, of which 70% are under 15 years old. Our primary goal is to support and accelerate the development of digital economies and to advance digital transformation within our Member States.

Our mission is to foster a world where every business, every government, and every individual has an equal opportunity to thrive in the digital economy. We are particularly committed to enhancing the participation of women, youth, and entrepreneurs, as we believe they are the driving force behind the growth of the digital economy.

We are proud to be recognized as an observer by the United Nations, highlighting the crucial role of digital transformation in the future. Additionally, our organization is supported by over 40 observers from various sectors, including the private sector, academia, civil society, and financial contributors. Their involvement is vital in executing our initiatives and ensuring our mission's success.

As you mentioned, there are currently 16 Member States in the DCO, including Cyprus. Can you elaborate on the DCO's collaboration with its Member States?

Absolutely! We are incredibly proud that Cyprus is the first European country to join the DCO. This really highlights Cyprus’ forward-thinking mindset and its commitment to harnessing technology as a driving force for its prosperity and growth.

When Cyprus decided to join the DCO, it was a significant moment that showcased their belief in the power of cooperation. Cyprus understands that achieving rapid and sustainable growth in today’s digital age is not something any nation can do alone. By collaborating and sharing best practices, we can collectively achieve more, and faster. Why should anyone reinvent the wheel when we can share what is working?

We demonstrate our commitment to collaboration through sharing best practices. This is at the core of everything we do. It's not just about launching initiatives but also about sharing policies and technical solutions. From small-scale practical approaches to tackling bigger, complex issues, we believe in solving problems together.

To facilitate this, we have created what we call "Digital Space Accelerators." These are specialized working groups focused on topics that matter most to our Member States. We call them accelerators because each one has a clear beginning and end, and operates on a fast-paced, aggressive timeline. Our goal is to expedite the process of finding effective solutions.

In these accelerators, all our Member States participate actively. We bring in experts from around the globe and involve the private sector to enrich the discussions and outcomes. For instance, we've tackled topics such as digital taxation, Public-Private Partnership models, and the expansion of entrepreneurial opportunities. We’ve also focused on critical issues like ethics in AI and women’s participation in ICT.

One particularly pressing topic we’ve been working on is the challenge of misinformation online and understanding digital rights. Questions like, "What does intellectual property mean in the virtual world?" are central to our discussions. These are complex areas where we work closely with our Member States and facilitate dialogue with the private sector.

Each topic we choose to focus on is driven by the priorities of our Member States. We listen to their needs and align our efforts to support their goals. This approach ensures that our work is always relevant and directed towards what our Member States want to achieve.

Through this collaborative effort, we strive to make significant progress, helping each other navigate the complexities of the digital age and ensuring that everyone benefits from the solutions we develop together.

DCO Secretary General Deemah AlYahya Christodoulides

AlYahya and President Nikos Christodoulides

Going back to your visit here in Cyprus this time, can you tell us more about the scope of your visit now and also what the next steps will be?

It's crucial for us at the DCO to maintain direct and close engagement with our Member States. That’s why visiting Cyprus this year was so significant. My previous visit was two years ago, in 2022, when we celebrated Cyprus joining the DCO with the signing of the Charter. Reflecting on these past two years, it’s inspiring to see the progress and impact we’ve achieved together, and this visit provided a perfect opportunity to evaluate what’s been accomplished and to plan our next steps.

The importance of this visit lies in a few key areas. Firstly, it was about reaffirming the DCO's commitment to Cyprus’ digital agenda. We had meaningful discussions with President Nikos Christodoulides, Minister of Foreign Affairs Constantinos Kombos, and Deputy Minister Nicodemos Damianou, reinforcing our commitment to the digital agenda of Cyprus.

Secondly, this visit was about taking stock of the progress we've made so far. We assessed the initiatives we have undertaken together and aligned on the way forward. It’s not just about looking back at what we’ve done, but also about charting a clear path for future collaboration.

I’m also thrilled about our meetings with Invest Cyprus. These discussions were particularly exciting as they pave the way for launching action-oriented initiatives soon. We’re focused on practical, impactful projects that will drive real progress.

What is your view of Cyprus’ potential in the digital economy?

I’m very optimistic about Cyprus’ future in the digital economy. When I look at the opportunities ahead, I don’t just see a light at the end of the tunnel; I see a shining light. This bright future is achievable if we work together.

Cooperation is absolutely essential. If countries, or even sectors within countries, operate in silos, it stifles growth and creates more challenges than opportunities. By working together—whether it's between nations or with the private sector—we can unlock enormous potential that none of us could harness alone. This collective approach is crucial for moving forward.

Another critical aspect is the role of regulations and policy. We must keep a close eye on these, but we should approach them with a fresh perspective. In this regard, I believe it’s vital to work closely with innovators. There’s often a gap in understanding between innovators and the public sector, and bridging this gap is key. We need to foster a regulatory environment that encourages innovation rather than stifling it.

We should think of regulations not as obstacles but as enablers of innovation. This means crafting policies that support ambitious growth while also ensuring the well-being of the economic environment and the citizens. It’s a delicate balance, but one that’s essential for a thriving digital economy.

DCO Secretary-General Deemah AlYahya _Damianou

AlYahya and Deputy Minister of Research, Innovation, and Digital Policy Nicodemos Damianou

You've been an advocate for women in tech for some time. Can you tell us more about some of the initiatives that you're involved in?

Well, it's a passion close to my heart because I've been in technology for over 20 years, and it hasn't been an easy journey. I've faced challenges along the way, and that's why I'm so driven to ensure others don't encounter the same obstacles. Learning from the experiences of other women has been crucial for me. I've always advocated for women in technology, with a focus on retaining them in the sector and attracting more to join.

Imagine the impact of AI developed solely from a male perspective—it's essential to have diverse perspectives to avoid potential risks. We need more women involved not just in developing technology but also in using it. For example, empowering a woman with an e-commerce solution for her small business could multiply her reach from selling to 10 people to reaching 100. This not only boosts her economic empowerment but also creates job opportunities as her business grows.

At the DCO, I've been personally involved in initiatives like WE-Elevate, which aims to transition women-owned businesses into online platforms. We provide comprehensive training—from financial acumen to marketing and supply chain logistics—to ensure they thrive in the digital economy and contribute to job creation.

Another significant initiative is the DCO's Unified Framework for Empowering Women in and through ICT. This framework helps countries cultivate a pipeline of female leaders in technology. Currently, there's a notable absence of women in roles like CTOs, CIOs, and even ministerial positions in tech. We're working to change that.

On that note, in 2011, I founded an NGO, Women Spark, to address the challenges and obstacles women face in the ICT sector. Women Spark supports women developers, founders of tech ventures, and angel investors. We've connected all parts of the value chain, training over 27,000 women in technology and investing in more than 40 ventures. Our efforts also extend to mentoring over 50 angel investors to refine their investment strategies.

Now, Women Spark is expanding globally, building on its success in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region. Our goal is to make it a global force, impacting women's participation and leadership in technology worldwide

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