Ory Okolloh: Policy Manager, Google in Africa

Ory Okolloh

Meet one of Little PINK Book’s Top Women in Technology 2012

By Caroline Cox

Though Ory Okolloh has dabbled (and excelled) in several areas of business, her mission remains the same – to raise the voices of African citizens. She co-founded watchdog website Mzalendo.com (Swahili for “Patriot”) in 2006 so Kenyans could keep tabs on parliament accountability and have access to government documents, meeting records, contribution amounts and more.

After Mzalendo, she co-founded citizen journalism site-turned nonprofit organization Ushahidi (Swahili for “Testimony”), which used Google Maps to plot where both violent and peaceful incidents were taking place in Kenya. In her current role with Google, Okolloh works with the government to increase the use and accessibility of the Internet in Africa. She continues to work as a legal consultant for NGOs and blogs at KenyanPundit.com. She lives with her partner and two children in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Education: University of Pittsburgh, Harvard Law

Other work experience: Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, World Bank

LPB: Where did you get your passion for technology?

OO: When I was studying for my law degree at Harvard, I discovered the Berkman Center for Technology and Society. It quickly became my second home. I loved their cross-disciplinary approach to technology and their focus on its impact.

LPB: What was the biggest obstacle you faced in your career?

OO: Making the decision to switch from the full-time practice of law. It took a while to convince myself that the decision was not going to be a disaster. I have gone on to have the most interesting experiences and to spend every single day working on things I am passionate about – [that has] helped me overcome any fears I had.

LPB: What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?

OO: I absolutely hate driving.

LPB: How can more women be successful in the technology field?

OO: Fearlessness. Women are good at talking themselves out of opportunities, not just in technology, but across the board. Also, get comfortable with the fact that you will stick out regularly. But use that as an opportunity to challenge misconceptions.

LPB: What’s your success secret?

OO: I do not believe in shortcuts. I have always worked hard and still do. I also learned very early on to seek help and advice from others who have been at it longer than I have.



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