Read about Cecile Barayre-El Shami

Cecile Barayre-El Shami
Chief of Digital Economy Capacity-building Section
Digital Economy and E-Commerce Branch, Division on Technology and Logistics, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development


What brought you to a career in technology at the United Nations?

My background is in international public law and political science, not technology. That means that one can end up in technology from just about anywhere! I joined as an intern at UNCTAD back in 1997. Since then, I have been working in research and technical assistance related to ICTs, e-commerce and the digital economy with a view to increase impact on economic development, including the digital inclusion of girls and women in trade.


What has been your favorite IT project at the United Nations and what was your technical contribution?

There are no easy answers. All the projects I worked on were exciting, starting from the early days, aiming at facilitating trade using ICTs. Back in the 2000s, I was coordinating projects in Africa within the Trade Point Programme to facilitate trade and the exchange of Electronic Trading Opportunities, the first B2B exchanges among enterprises across developing countries through an electronic network. I remember the few female focal points pioneering the exclusive men’s world of technology. Since then, I have developed capacity-building Programmes to establish cyberlaw frameworks and led eTrade readiness diagnostics and e-commerce strategies to assist developing countries and regions in their digital transition. All along, I have met amazing women pioneering and growing their role in technology. What was unimaginable 25 years ago, happens and those women now occupy high-level functions in the digital space, within the Government or private sector, or both which is key to making an efficient link between digital policies and entrepreneurship worlds. I have great memories of girls in Egypt assembling a PC, women using ICTs to develop their businesses efficiently such as organizing product orders and deliveries using their mobile phones or getting the price of commodities. They have constantly innovated to gain independence and create more time in their busy days in the midst of motherhood. They have a drive to learn new technologies, create new opportunities and shape their future.


What advice would you give women interested in pursuing a field in technology?

I have asked two women who are close to my heart for their advice. These women are highly accomplished and hold high-level posts in their governments. I met them in Kenya and Mauritania. They agreed on three pieces of advice: For parents, ensure equal education for girls and boys. For society, banish old stereotypes that will exclude girls and women from technology. For girls interested in the many opportunities offered by the technology field, enjoy constant learning to follow the evolving technological innovations – you will never get bored!