The internet is awash today with the news that Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan have made a public pledge to their new daughter Max: they will give most of their fortune to charity, focusing on ‘personalised learning, curing disease, connecting people and building strong communities.’

Such a focus reminded me of a recent discussion between 2 British women, not billionaires but with a similar commitment to connect people and build strong communities. Have a listen in and see what pledge you might make within your own surroundings.

Flickering flames lapped the Disrupt Arena stage background screen as delegates at the Apps World 2015 event awaited the start of the ‘Fireside Chat’ between two undisputed Titans of the UK digital world. Billed as a discussion on ‘The Role of Women in Technology’, it would be interesting to see how this contrasted with a similar Advertising Week XII event

The term ‘Fireside Chat’ struck me as being rather ironic: knowing what I did of the two speakers, ‘Fireblazing Chat’ seemed a more likely option.

And so it proved to be.

Martha Lane Fox (aka Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho)

The youngest female member of the UK House of Lords, Martha Lane Fox -  Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho -  is a woman on a mission: to ‘Make Britain brilliant in the network age’. The woman who co-founded in 1998 when she was just 25 was a forerunner in the ecommerce revolution. However, this sparky arts graduate of the University of Oxford (a student of ancient and modern history) is no lofty, aloof business woman but one whose sense of corporate and personal social responsibility has marked out her career.

Towards the end of a three-year stint as the UK government’s Digital Champion, in 2012 Lane Fox launched ‘Go On UK’ , a digital skills charity to 

“actively seek out and work with partners across the public, private and voluntary sectors to identify opportunities and develop programmes that improve Basic Digital Skills among people and organisations across the UK.”

In March this year, Lane Fox delivered the 39th annual Richard Dimbleby Lecture, founded in memory of the BBC broadcaster.

The lecture was an opportunity for Lane Fox to explain the concept behind Doteveryone ‘to advance understanding and use of digital technology to deliver prosperity and social well-being.’

Impressive though she is, there was no fear that any woman present would feel intimidated by this fragile looking but feisty personality. Not only was it clear that she had a real understanding of people from all social backgrounds whom she has met through ‘Go On UK’; Lane Fox also spoke of how she sometimes feels worn down by the mammoth task that she has set herself and others. Everyone present, however, could see that this is a woman who batters away obstacles with the graceful power of the world’s best cricketers.

Dr Sue Black

Though less well known publicly than Lane Fox, Black is no less a force to be reckoned with in the digital world and in society. Her biography for Apps World describes her as follows:

‘Sue is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Computer Science at University College London, an associate at DSRPTN an all female technology and digital consultancy, and a mentor at Google campus for mums. A champion for women in computing, Sue is founder of BCSWomen the UK’s first online network for women in tech, and #techmums, a social enterprise which empower mums and their families through technology.’

Black shares the ambition to make digital exclusion a thing of the past, combining - like Lane Fox - high-level input to national developments with a tangible commitment to ‘ordinary’ people. Black has had her own share of difficulties, describing how she has had to battle to keep a separate technology group for women. Her understanding of the practical issues for women and mothers in relation to technology are second to none; the warmth that she conveys must smooth the path to the internet for the many who fear it.

The Lesson for Other Women in Technology?

One might expect ‘digital champions’ to spend all their time fraternising with the high and mighty of business, government and society. Both Lane Fox and Black, however, showed that it is vital to combine such advocacy with direct one-to-one contact with the end users of technology. 

If Britain is to lead the digital world, digital leaders must link arms with everyone, making sure that they give everyone a hand up the digital ladder. You don’t have to be a billionaire to make a difference.