Computing is at the foundation for all domains such as science, business, government, education, media, non-profits, society and consumers. It is helpful for enterprises to learn lessons from these diverse domains as a key part of enterprise success. To provide this multi-domain perspective, I had an enlightening talk with Gisèle Yasmeen.

Who is Gisèle Yasmeen?

Gisèle Yasmeen is currently Senior Fellow at the University of British Columbia’s Institute of Asian Research and incoming director of social protection for WIEGO. She is the former vice-president, Research at the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council — a Canadian Federal Government research-granting agency. Gisèle has worked in research and higher education for more than 20 years and has undertaken and managed research, and related activities across the public, academic and not-for-profit sectors. She has published widely and her work has taken her all over Canada and around the world. Gisèle has a PhD from UBC, an MA from McGill, a BA Honours from the University of Ottawa, and is the recipient of a number of awards. She is fluent in English and French and has studied a number of other languages. More information is available on her website at: www.giseleyasmeen.com.

To listen to the interview you can go to the non-profit ACM Learning Center podcasts or click on this MP3 file link in the learning centre

Here are extracts from the full interview:

Ibaraki:
Congratulations on your recent successes. Can you talk about some of the upcoming projects you have and the value to stakeholders?

Yasmeen:
To have come home to my old institute at UBC to do Asian research is a real thrill after so many years away. More recently I was appointed incoming director of social protection for WIEGO an international not-for-profit called Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing.

Ibaraki:
What projects and lessons can you share as Senior Fellow at the University of British Columbia’s Institute of Asian Research?

Yasmeen:
I’ve been involved with a couple of international as well as nationally focused food security projects. I’ve also been on the International Scientific Advisory Board for a Dutch Computer Science Research Program. It’s quite interdisciplinary even though it is run out of computer science and involves cultural institutions (like libraries and museums), researchers and other experts from outside of computer science (social science, humanities, etc.).

Ibaraki:
You are also the former vice-president, research at the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council — a Canadian Federal Government research-granting agency; can you describe some projects and lessons from your time there?

Yasmeen:
I was vice-president, research and I was also vice-president of partnerships. My role evolved over seven years and it was a huge opportunity to work with our sister agencies NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council) and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. We also advanced a lot on what SSHRC calls knowledge mobilization — which is creating value from knowledge. We did a number of very exciting projects similar to the one that I’m involved with in the Netherlands. One was called ‘Digging into Data’ which is on big data and involved a number of international players and agencies, and disciplines from around the world. Another thing that we did where I was particularly involved was redoing our whole grant program architecture. I had the opportunity to lead a futures or foresight exercise. For an agency like SSHRC it was a bit risky and not without its controversies but to bring in that kind of futures orientation actually resulted in a well-established initiative which is still ongoing at SSHRC called Imagining Canada’s Future.

Ibaraki:
Can you detail your work managing research and related activities across the public, academic and not-for-profit sectors?

Yasmeen:
That was a huge opportunity to oversee regional research and related activities, but also to take part in national dialogues. Then, I got recruited to oversee all the research and outreach in parliamentary affairs activities for Elections Canada as well as communications work. I was recruited into SSHRC as vice president — partnerships and then research; I am now back at the Institute but more recently as incoming director of social protection for WIEGO.

Ibaraki:
Please go into more detail your published work and lessons to be shared?

Yasmeen:
I have published on the scholarly side, but more recently over the last 10 to 15 years, I’ve really taken an interest in open access publishing. One of the big challenges in our society is that there is great work that is done that is not actually accessible to audiences, and with the whole digital revolution we have a real opportunity to make knowledge and other publications available to a much, much wider audience. I’ve been very involved in the open access movement in terms of my own publishing, and also done a lot of op-eds and shorter opinion pieces. I’ve been working a lot more on that front to try to consolidate some of the work I’ve done and make it more broadly accessible.

Ibaraki:
Describe some megatrends and how they will shape the world and our destiny?

Yasmeen:
First would be global population aging. I think this is something we are not really ready for and it’s a huge transition. The emerging technology. Not just digital, but life sciences and there’s a bit of an overlap there as well. Technology should be a tool and should be serving us, not vice versa so there’s some concern about where that might be going. The global centers of power, it took a long time for us all to wake up to the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China). Some of those economies including China are now slowing down, so there are other parts of the world that are emerging (Mexico, Turkey, Indonesia, etc.), so we have to keep an eye on those emerging economies and it’s not necessarily a Western-led center of gravity. I think there was an assumption that societies would somehow evolve and grow and develop and adopt certain Western enlightenment values, and I think there are a lot of people who are saying it’s not necessarily the case, so how do we get along non-violently in a world where there are perhaps contradictory or conflicting sets of values and cultural norms and expectations?

Ibaraki:
How can ICT executives act on your predictions?

Yasmeen:
I really don’t believe in the concept of predictions but let’s say there are issues that are preoccupying me. I think we all have to get out of our comfort zones and challenge ourselves to think a bit differently than we normally do. Cross training the younger generation so that you don’t end up with as many silos in professional environments where you have the business trying to communicate with IT and they don’t really understand each other. Because all these technologies have a dark side too and could be used for harm, how do we maximize the potential for positive global change with the use of these technologies? We need those ICT executives to help us through that process.

Ibaraki:
As a successful executive, what are your best leadership lessons that can be used by executives?

Yasmeen:
How do you make it self-motivating for the people you are working with and how do you empower them and create conditions so that they exercise their own leadership? At the end of the day I think leadership is about creating other leaders. It’s about service and creating leadership capacity in others.

Ibaraki:
Agility is key today, whether with a start-up or launching a new product or service within a larger enterprise. The start-up mentality is required. What are the key steps for successful start-ups or for enterprises when producing innovations to keep them competitive?

Yasmeen:
I think the most competent start-up entrepreneurs (no matter what the area) are those who are able to combine those skills of reading their environment and getting their hands dirty and understanding both the high level and details of whatever it is that they are involved in.

Ibaraki:
What are the key attributes in individuals and teams that produce winning products and services?

Yasmeen:
Persistence, being able to soldier on is an absolutely essential feature, but the other (which we underestimated) is storytelling. You need a compelling, simple narrative that inspires and motivates people, but that also helps them understand the value of what it is that they are creating. Whether you are in the public, private or not-for-profit sectors what value are you creating, what’s your value proposition? How do you articulate that simply for various audiences internally and externally?

Ibaraki:
Do you feel computing should be a recognized profession on par with accounting, medicine and law with demonstrated professional development, adherence to a code of ethics, personal responsibility, public accountability, quality assurance and recognized credentials?

Yasmeen:
How do you organize professions effectively? Sometimes professional regulatory bodies play a hugely important role but they can also be quite rigid in terms of allowing credentials recognitions, etc. One of the challenges is how do you take the best of what’s happened in that regulatory environment for other professions, but take it to a different and new level and make it supple, yet build in the kind of safeguards that are in place for other professions? Having said that I think you need something for specialists but we also need more cross training so we need a broader digital literacy. It’s a bit like reading, writing, arithmetic; those basic computing skills need to be at the heart of our whole educational enterprise.

Ibaraki:
How about ethics being part of this professionalism? From the last question, do you have any recommendations on the ethical front?

Yasmeen:
Values and ethics are at the heart of how our societies are supposed to work and how we are supposed to raise and educate our children both at home and in institutional environments. I think there’s a broad social dialogue here. Technology has its own specific issues, but it’s a broader concern and we have to talk about it as a society and decide where we set our boundaries.

Ibaraki:
What do you see as other areas, particularly related to computing, that you feel need to be brought into focus for discussion and policy?

Yasmeen:
I think what is so exciting about the work that I’m doing in the Netherlands now is how you bring experts from various disciplines (not just computer science but other fields and non-academic participants as well), into this whole question of having information technology benefit from as many individuals and organizations as possible. Multi-disciplinary is really important. I think the other is the gender component. For some reason in Western society, (it’s not the case in Asia or Eastern Europe), but in North America at least and maybe parts of Western Europe, technology is seen as a ‘guy’ thing. So how do we get more women and girls interested? Something needs to be done there to make it a little more wholistic and inclusive so I think we need to look at that.

Ibaraki
If you were conducting this interview, what three questions would you ask, and then what would be your answers?

Yasmeen:
When it comes to technology there is always this amazing potential but at the end of the day you’ve got to get people to do stuff and it’s easier said than done. Where is that disconnect between theory and practice? How do we recognize the fragility of technology and make sure we don’t spin out into the Dark Ages again? How do we grapple with the dark side of technology, how do we reconcile that and try to avoid those issues?