Dr. Cheick Modibo Diarra
Editor’s Note – Dr. Diarra left Microsoft in December 2011 to pursue other interests.
As the former chairman for Africa at Microsoft Corporation since January 2006, Dr. Diarra was the ambassador of Microsoft to Africa and Africa’s ambassador to Microsoft. He coached the company’s general managers on devising effective business models to help accelerate the growth and industrialization of Africa and on managing its people. In his view, Africa is one of the last frontiers where challenges and opportunities abound in the spheres of education, health, technology, production and infrastructure. He advised Microsoft on new technologies specific to Africa. Dr. Diarra’s key objective as the Africa Chairman was to leave a legacy whereby all the people of the continent will be able to access and utilize technology in their everyday lives to further their education and to respond to their other needs.
Born and raised in the small town of Nioro du Sahel in Mali, West Africa, Diarra graduated from Pierre & Marie Curie University in Paris in 1976, majoring in mathematics, physics and analytical mechanics. In 1982, he completed his Masters degree in aerospace engineering at Howard University, Washington DC. Diarra went on to attain his PhD in mechanical and aerospace engineering from Howard University, in 1987.
After five years as an assistant professor at Howard, Diarra joined the National Aeronautic and Space Association (NASA) Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 1998. As an interplanetary navigator, he worked on five NASA missions, including the Magellan mission to Venus, the Ulysses mission to the poles of the Sun, the Galileo mission to Jupiter and the Mars Observer mission. He also served as the navigator and public outreach manager for the Mars Pathfinder mission.
In 1999, Diarra created the Pathfinder Foundation for Education and Development — an organisation that encourages and supports female students in their pursuit of scientific education. To date, through Pathfinder and the associated Summer Camps of Excellence in Science, 500 young African female graduates have gone on to study scientific disciplines at some of the world’s foremost universities.
In 2002, Diarra was appointed CEO of the African Virtual University (AVU) — a project that quickly grew into an organisation offering internationally recognized undergraduate science and business degrees (and other academic courses) to students in 27 countries in Africa for a fraction of the cost of traditional courses.
In late 2003, Diarra returned home to Mali and, driven by a curious mind, began working on his farm to find solutions to the continent’s challenges with food security and nutrition. Two years later, he was approached by Microsoft and, ultimately, the company’s chairman, Bill Gates, to take on the Africa chairman role.
Diarra is UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Science, Technology and Enterprise; ISESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Dialogue among Cultures and Civilisations; the Vice-President of the UN’s World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology; a member of the High Level African Panel on Biotechnology; and the Founder and President of the African Summit on Science and New Technologies (SASNET).
Diarra serve as the chairman of the Board at ECOBANK-Mali, the leading pan African banking group in Africa with a presence in over 30 African countries, more countries than any other bank on the continent.
Diarra is an Advisory Board member of the Permanent Memorial Committee established by the United Nations Office for Partnerships to draw international attention to the tragic legacy of the transatlantic slave trade; and on the Advisory Board of the Coalition for Dialogue on Africa (CODA), a joint venture of the African Union Commission, African Development Bank, and the UN Economic Commission for Africa.
Diarra has been awarded the African Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998 (the same was awarded to Nelson Mandela in 1997), the World Bank’s Award for Outstanding Contributions to Science and the Africa-America Institute Award for Excellence in Science (for inspiring youth worldwide to explore the cosmos). He was voted by the African public as one of the 100 Africans of the 21st Century in Jeune Afrique magazine. Diarra also shares the 2008 Lifetime African ICT Achievers Award with former South African president, Thabo Mbeki. In 2009, he was awarded the Batisseurs de l’Economie top award and the ITSMF Summit Heritage Award recognizing the thought leaders of the information technology field.
Diarra is also the recipient of various honours and decorations: Commandeur de l’Ordre de l’Education Nationale in Gabon, Commandeur de l’Ordre du Merite du Lion in Senegal, Commandeur de l’Ordre National in Mali, Commandeur de l’Ordre du Mérite National in Côte d’Ivoire, Commandeur dans l’ordre des Arts, des Lettres, et de la Communication in Burkina Faso.