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Distilling knowledge for gender equality in entrepreneurship

UN Online Volunteer Alisa Niakhai collaborated with the UN Office of Information and Communications Technology to help integrate knowledge on women entrepreneurs through ICT in UN Secretariat initiatives

08 Mar 2017


Shortly after Alisa Niakhai completed her Master’s degree in Public Administration, she discovered online volunteering through UNV. Coming from a family of modest means, the unpaid internships in New York or Geneva were no option for her to contribute to the work of the UN. But through online volunteering, other opportunities to do just that presented themselves to her, and Alisa has completed a number of online volunteering assignments for various UN agencies since.

When she saw that the Innovation Unit of the United Nations Secretariat’s Office of Information and Communications Technology (UN OICT) was seeking an online volunteer to assist in synthesizing and simplifying a report on women entrepreneurs and ICT, she seized the opportunity. Shortly after applying, she participated in a call with the Head of Innovation and her team, and was selected for the task.

Alisa took on the project of synthesizing the 84-page Guide to Empowering Women Entrepreneurs, produced by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, and distilled it into a short briefing note without losing the valuable insights. This was a challenging task, which Alisa handled through weekly Skype calls with the Innovation Team and a Google Doc, and it resulted in a white paper of eight pages that UN OICT uses in briefings throughout the UN Secretariat.

“I was thrilled at the level of competency and professionalism that Alisa displayed. She was very valuable on the project, and with her help we were able to demonstrate the types of products that our new briefing program could produce,” says Radia Funna, who heads innovation at UN OICT.

For Alisa, the benefits of volunteering for this assignment were twofold: “I learned a lot from the team meetings and how projects were discussed and implemented. I very much enjoyed the Radia’s leadership style. In our virtual meetings there was plenty of room to ask questions and propose new ideas. Despite the fact that most of us have never met, the atmosphere was very collaborative and supportive”.

She was also inspired by the women entrepreneurs’ stories. “While technological solutions have played an essential role in creating and facilitating business opportunities, the lack of equitable access to financial services and unfavourable regulatory environments often prevent and discourage women entrepreneurs from realizing their full potential. I was amazed at what women entrepreneurs are achieving despite often operating in less than favourable environments.”

The Team

  • UN Online Volunteer Alisa Niakhai

    Alisa Niakhai


    She works as issues manager for the Government of Canada, teaches at the Institute of European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at Carleton University, and runs her own consulting firm.
    “I think that tech is creating business opportunities in and of itself and is also facilitating learning and business development. With the help of mobile and internet technologies, women can build competitive businesses. But we cannot discount the challenges posed by the gender digital divide. The divide is symptomatic of systematic inequalities such as the lack of literacy, access and resources that prevent women from achieving their potential and accessing benefits offered by technologies.”