The Leaders of Tech4Good: Meet Debra Ruh
Through the lens of Tech4Good, Debra explains why we have to be the change we want to see in the world.
In the sixth interview of our “The Leaders of Tech4Good” blog series, we are glad to introduce Debra Ruh, a recognized and well-known market influencer and inclusion strategist. Today, we talked about her success story, experience with gender equality and inclusion, ethical principles, and her view of Tech4Good as a way to help others.
Who is Debra Ruh?
Debra Ruh is a famous American advocate for the rights of women and people with disabilities. She is a founder of four social enterprises (Ruh Global, AXSChat, Strategic Performance Solutions (SPS), TecAccess) and an expert in the field of sustainable development, gender equity, digital inclusion, and impact investing. Being a successful businesswoman, Debra fulfills a vital social mission and uses technologies as a way to promote essential values. As she believes, the Tech4Good movement teaches people how technologies can be used to make the world a better place. Debra highlights, “We have to be the change we want to see in the world.”
Our team was amazed by the volume of information about you on LinkedIn. So, my first question will be: how do you find time for all of these activities? How many hours do you have in a day?
Well, I wouldn’t tell you that I can do everything by myself. I have an incredible team around me. It’s a small team consisting of many younger people. The reason why that matters is that the younger generation is showing the older generation the way forward. They are showing us that we have to make society better. Technology is wonderful! But it has to be technology for good and technology for all.
Today, people who want the world to work better and want to unite efforts seem to be finding each other. One more cool thing about what we are doing now is that it is good to know teams like yours. We all want to focus on Tech4Good, but we do not always know the teams that can help us to do it.
Totally agree. The more we collaborate, the more open-minded we become, and the more changes we can bring to the world. My second question will be about social justice issues. What has inspired you to fight for women’s rights?
When I was young, I was always told that my opinion did not matter. I want to make sure that younger people, especially younger women and people with disabilities, see that their voices are heard. Women don’t have to walk the same path as I walked
I think my generation needs to do a better job of inviting the younger people to have their voices heard. If you don’t like the way the world works now, what are you doing to make things better for others?
Sounds really motivational. You have mentioned that when you were younger, you fully realized the problem of gender inequality. By the way, what is your success story? Maybe there was a person that helped you become who you are today or some experience you want to share?
Well, that is a very interesting question. When I was younger, people did not take me seriously because I was a woman, a young woman. And I am not just paranoid, I was told that. I was told, “Well, you are a woman. You know, you are so young.” I always felt discounted. A lot.
I realized that the way I was treated by other women is unfair, as well as by men discounting me. Once, one man told me that my business would not be successful if I did not have a white male CEO. No one would take my business seriously. Yet, I reversed the impact. I saw how I was treated, and I did not want other people to be treated that way. I started making very deliberate efforts to help others.
I was helping someone who was looking for a job, I was connecting people. For example, I had a young woman of color working as my administrative assistant. She was so smart. I worked really hard to help her to get promoted. Of course, I liked having her as an assistant, but I felt like my calling is bigger than that. It was more about helping her. So, I helped her. She got promoted, and then she started helping others.
When I was pregnant, I was harassed by a woman that worked with me. I felt such pressure. I was bad in whatever I did: I was a bad mother, I was a bad worker. I did not get the mentoring, so I decided to give the mentoring. I think that my success has been that I help others be successful. When people help others, it makes them successful. So, be the change you want to see in the world. We have to be the lights forward. We have to help each other.
So, be the change you want to see in the world. We have to be the lights forward. We have to help each other.
That’s just so inspirational to hear. So far, you have at least four companies listed on your LinkedIn profile. Could you tell briefly about each of these companies? What do they do, and what is the global idea behind them?
I started multiple companies, and TecAccess was the technology company focused on technology software development and web development with an emphasis on accessibility. We aimed to make sure that all these technologies are accessible. I merged this company with another one, so I am not a part of that entity anymore.
I have Ruh Global Impact, which is my current company, and also AXSChat, which has been already mentioned. The first focuses on the global social impact. We spend a lot of time focusing on sustainable development goals, as well as diversity and inclusion, especially through the lens of disability inclusion. Unfortunately, technology is still not accessible to all people.
AXSChat is a Tweet chat where we interview our guests. I created it together with two gentlemen: one is from Europe, Portugal, and one is now in London, the UK. It’s one of the largest and most successful Tweet chats in the world. We really believe that you need to have a deep global conversation about technology, accessibility, connectivity, and all these things that make technology good for all people. That’s what we do there.
Very interesting, thanks for the answer. As I see, your life experience has made you fight for gender equity and female rights. But how did you understand the necessity to fight for digital inclusion for people with disabilities?
When I had my first daughter, my boss was very unsupportive of me. There are so many ways employers can be supportive of us as we walk life, but my employer was not very supportive. And it was unfortunate that on top of that, she was a woman. I am sorry, but I think women should try to understand what other women are walking. We need to support each other.
My husband and I have been married for 38 years now. Our oldest daughter was born with down syndrome. I did not know anything about a down syndrome. The doctors did not diagnose her with down syndrome until she was four months old. By that time, they were telling me that my daughter was broken. But I knew she was interesting, creative, she was sweet. There are so many things about her!
It started with my daughter. It started with society continuing to tell me that having a child with down syndrome is a pity. They started to pity us. I do not think that the universe of God, or whatever you believe, makes mistakes. My daughter’s life is valuable. She just lives a different life than other people. My daughter was the first catalyst.
And also, my husband. He was hit by a drunk driver when he was a child. He died on the spot, and doctors brought them back. He was in a coma for a week and a half. It was a really bad accident. But he survived, went on to get married and have two children. Unfortunately, his brain was so damaged during that accident that now, it’s aging differently. He now has very severe dementia.
As you see, we live our lives, and we are going to either be born with disabilities, or we are going to acquire disabilities. It’s not a threat. We are just human beings. We are all different. There is a beauty in diversity. I think the world works better when we appreciate these differences.
We are going to either be born with disabilities, or we are going to acquire disabilities. It’s not a threat. We are just human beings.
Your story deserves so much respect! Thank you for sharing it with us. Also, I wanted to ask you what role do the technologies play in the implementation of your values and ideas?
I love technology, and I think technology is beautiful. I was taught to love technologies by my father. He was a technologist for the whole life. Technology is a wonderful and great equalizer. But it also can do great damage to society, and we see it in what is happening nowadays.
We have to humanize technology and use them to solve important problems. Technology needs to work for humans, and for our planet, and for the inhabitants of our planet. I really like it when corporate brands take technology and use it to improve the world’s largest or at least smallest problems. Technologies help us relate to each other. I think that the world cannot keep focusing only on making money.
That’s true. And is there any way for the average person or the average Internet user to contribute to the promotion of gender equity and digital inclusion? Maybe some donation page or volunteership?
You know, we don’t have a donation page, but what we are doing now is trying to know each other better. The mistake of many countries is that they forget there are other countries outside of their border. And that’s wrong because we are human beings living on Earth. The more we come together and understand each other, the more we can help each other, and the more we can make our world a better place.
We want more younger people involved, we want to work with blogging, we want to help others with content and to exchange information. We want to know who is doing good work. I think it is more about all of us coming together.
The same concerns young women. We are told that women are the largest minority group in the world. That’s ridiculous! We are not the largest minority group – we are the largest group! I think the way we help each other is exactly what we are doing here. We get to know each other, we try to understand each other, we talk about it, and we join each other in making the world a better place.
Women are not the largest minority group – we are the largest group!
You are such an inspirational person! In your opinion, what ethical values are the most important in the world?
Oh, thank you. I think we have to be authentic. And sometimes, being authentic is very scary. People give me really weird looks because I have purple hair. We have these little things in our heads that sabotage is not cool. You have to be truly yourself, and you have to try to get out of your own head and not let your worries and fears stop you.
I remember one guy that was about to become an entrepreneur. He said to me, “Debra, how did you get over being afraid?” And I said, “Well, I have fears. I can hardly mention all these things I am afraid of right now. One of them is my husband’s dementia. There are so many things I fear.”
Apart from being authentic, we have to be empathetic. We should try to understand what other people are coming from and be more patient with each other. Even now, during the time of extreme stress, I noticed that people are being more aggressive than usual. I think that’s because they are so scared, and we have to be extra kind and extra empathetic for what people are walking right now.
Recently, I was talking to someone staying in a really scary place. And I said, “All I want to tell you is what I have been told for so many times: if you want something, give it to someone else.” If you want help – help others. If you want love – shower others with love. You want somebody to be kind to you – be kind to somebody else. Give away what you don’t have and what you want. So, I would say the most important ethical values are empathy, authenticity, and the willingness to help each other.
If you want something, give it to someone else. If you want help – help others. If you want love – shower others with love. You want somebody to be kind to you – be kind to somebody else. Give away what you don’t have and what you want.
Thank you! Also, what do you think is the future of the Tech4Good movement? Do you think that we as a society are ready for it?
I do. People might not realize that society has changed, but it has. Tech4Good, Tech4ALL, connectivity, reducing the digital divide – all that has changed. More and more younger people are demanding these changes. They won’t work for you if you are a bad company. They don’t want to live in your country if you treat people wrong. They just do not want to do it anymore. And I believe that this is the future.
My company is a social enterprise. And it was a social enterprise before we knew that title. Society promotes social enterprises. We do not mind people making money because the more money and profit they make, the more good they can do. Another question is when their only purpose is making money and they don’t care if their society benefits from technology. Such people are not among those who want to make the world a better place for all of the inhabitants.
We need our people, animals, nature. We need the diversity on this planet. We live in a living entity. The planet is alive. Let’s take the time to protect it. I do not see a way forward if we do not focus on Tech4Good. Let’s support each other and promote positives, using them to make the world a better place. I want to be a part of the world where I can support everyone and help everyone, both men and women.
I do not see a way forward if we do not focus on Tech4Good. Let’s support each other and promote positives, using them to make the world a better place.
Thanks! And one more question for you. What are your nearest plans in this field? Is there some new goal in your mind?
Right now, we are working on a project that I am really excited about. It is a project for mentoring young people, with a special emphasis on young people with disabilities. We are currently working on a global mentoring program because I think having a mentoring program for just one country, once again, misses the point.
In the global program, we come together and allow people to focus on what they are good at. My aim is to make sure that we hold the door for other, diverse communities. One of the ways to change the world is to give others a microphone. I want others to speak and to be heard. We have to be the change we want to see in the world. You have to make sure that you are giving your place to somebody else. These voices can give answers to the world’s problems.
One of the ways to change the world is to give others a microphone. I want others to speak and to be heard.
We need to make technology help others to lead the world. The more we humanize through technologies and support each other, the more changes will happen. Whenever the universe puts us together, there is a reason. We have to share the way forward and help each other. We need your voices!
To Wrap Up
Technology is not only about connecting with friends through social media. It is about an essential social mission of making someone’s life more comfortable. Taking into account the vast opportunities that technologies can give, you should try to use them for more global purposes. The Tech4Good movement complies with this aim and encourages people to change their attitude towards the phenomenon of technologies. Inspiring others, Rebra Ruh uses technology to meet the needs of people with disabilities and harassed women. We think that her principles and life path are a really valuable example for those aiming to drive changes.