Wonder Woman: Martha Lane Fox

Martha Lane Fox is a businesswoman. In fact, she’s a ‘superwoman’ with interests in philanthropy and public service. She’s a guiding light for every woman that wants to make a difference.

If there’s a woman currently fighting to highlight the value of female perspectives it must be Martha Lane Fox. Selected to deliver the Richard Dimbleby lecture, her ‘Dot Everyone’ theme cleverly talked about harnessing the best of our technology to generate a better life for all of our citizens through increasing their knowledge of digital possibilities. What she also did was to explain that one of the solutions we need to apply is to empower women to let loose their skills.

‘MLF’ as she is known in certain circles is prepared to ask big questions, set big challenges and dream big dreams. Odd in a way then that she started her Dimbleby lecture with the story of a moment of frailty in a career strewn with highlights.

Martha Lane Fox describes the moment when after pitching her idea to a potential investor, the deflating question: “What happens if you get pregnant?” was the first response.

Pick yourself up

In fact, that brief anecdote is the perfect starting point to explain how even when you’re at a low ebb, you can always pick yourself up and dust yourself down. The idea, incidentally, was a new travel website called Lastminute.com. MLF sold her stake some seven years later in 2005 for £13 million. That’s what’s known in the trade as ‘vision’!

This is what Martha Lane Fox is all about. The man behind the desk during her pitch couldn’t see beyond his prejudices. He couldn’t understand that what he was being offered was the key to a very deep vault.

To say that MLF has been championing digital inclusion is just half of the story. She is a woman with two definite agendas.

In June 2009, she was appointed the UK Government’s Digital Inclusion Champion to head a two-year campaign to make the British public more computer literate. By 2010, the Government asked Lane Fox to expand her role to advise how online public services delivery could help to provide better and more efficient services, as well as getting more people online and so in April 2012, Lane Fox launched Go ON UK, a charity focused on making the UK the world’s most digitally skilled nation. (Go ON UK wants every individual, small business and charity to have the skills and confidence to benefit from new digital services.)

Ambition

Everything MLF does is framed by massive ambition. Her Dimbleby lecture was a typical tour de force during which she said: “It is in within our reach for Britain to leapfrog every nation in the world and become the most digital, most connected, most skilled, most informed on the planet. Firstly, how do we improve our understanding of the internet at all levels of our society? Secondly, how do we get more women involved in technology? Thirdly, how do we tackle the genuinely new and thorny ethical and moral issues the internet has created?”

The internet is, of course, the greatest of all levellers – providing access to education and information for everyone. How we access it and at what depth depends on our skills. MLF is, in effect, looking to create a better democracy based on shared knowledge. The daring nature of the questions is in itself remarkable – to find the answers would be little short of revolutionary in terms of the power of change that she’s searching for.

The world needs pioneers like MLF. Service-leavers will immediately understand the value of leadership and the skill involved in taking risks in the quest for better results. Essentially, MLF is one of those rare communicators; able to deconstruct a big idea and make us all feel as if we could be part of it – and really start to believe in it and back it up.

Keeping up to date

With a deft touch, MLF explained that: “This is the fastest technological revolution in history. In the UK, radio took 38 years to reach 50 million users, television took 13 years and the web took just four. It’s perhaps no wonder that we sometimes struggle to work out what it all means.”

This isn’t about drifting with the prevailing wind but more about harnessing resources to their fullest extent. In other words, realising that things will happen whether we like it or not and that ultimately we should hang on tight so as not to miss the benefits – literally grasping opportunity to its fullest potential. Indeed, Lane Fox suggests that: “If we’re going to make the most of it we need to take the chance to shape the digital world as it shapes us. That’s what ‘Dot Everyone’ will help us do”.

MLF only wants to change one thing – the world! Again though, her entire Dimbleby lecture was based on sound but simple principles. As she rightly points out for example, we could be: “Saving money from the cold world of paper and administration and investing more in the warm hands of doctors, nurses and teachers”.

At the forefront of her vision is a two pronged mission for education and equality. “Teach us all about the internet. Get us all up to speed. And make sure no one is left behind. The second thing we should do is get more women involved in technology.

The big internet companies we use every day and the cultures they spawn do not reflect the diversity of their users. I’m enormously concerned that none of the biggest internet businesses we all rely on were founded by or are run by a woman.”

Her final optimistic flourish is a rallying cry to the whole country and a reflection of her belief that if we only adjust our current resources we can still achieve great things. “We created some of the greatest institutions of the twentieth century – the BBC, the Open University and the NHS” she states, adding: “We must be able to do the same for the twentyfirst century. It’s not beyond our collective ability to nail this”.

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