Feature Story

Monique Morrow aims to give others identity—and her identity is built on helping others

by Stephanie Chan

monique morrow

A look at the groundbreaking and inventive career of Cisco’s engineering CTO.

Monique Morrow is pioneering the idea of the Humanized Internet.

The UN states that a fifth of the world’s population is without a legal identity—and Morrow is seeking to change those statistics through the Humanized Internet and Identity-as-a-Service.

Much like “Software-as-a-Service” or “Platform-as-a-Service” in tech nomenclature, Identity-as-a-Service is the concept of providing a model to host citizens’ identifications. Morrow, Cisco’s CTO of New Frontiers Engineering, has many thoughts on how to create the Humanized Internet—or the ability to empower humans through storing their identity on the Internet. The goal, Morrow says, is to have locations and profiles stored on the Blockchain, where people, refugees, and immigrants will always have an identity.

Morrow emphasizes the need for evidence of an existence. Without that, many are left vulnerable to human trafficking, sexual slavery, and child abuse.

Within the Humanized Internet are five areas of focus; power, purpose, platforms, productivity, and participation. This Blockchain-enabled platform with a digital identity will be enabled with data, privacy, and security.

This people-powered and self-organizing platform will allow online communities to thrive and will also amplify human interaction­­—forums with questions and requests will be open to the community for answers.

With the Humanized Internet, Morrow says, every person will have the human right of identity and to be visible to society. 

Morrow’s framework on creating a digital identity was recently accepted by the 2016 IEEE International Symposium on Technology and Society (ISTAS).

A change agent for women

Human empowerment has always been a priority for Morrow. As CTO of New Frontiers, she is constantly looking for where the world can improve, and how Cisco can play a role in that development.

“What makes me get out of bed every morning is thinking how I could possibly change the world.”

says Morrow

But where she has her eye on the future, Morrow is still grounded in the experiences of her past.

In 1990, the engineer moved to Switzerland to work as a network engineer for a solutions provider company. She recalls adjusting to the language, and to the culture of taking your time to create quality work.

Morrow shares a story of when her boss handed her a book called The Little Machiavellians: Decline of Machiavelli— a parody about leadership in Switzerland.

The book detailed how to become successful in the European country.

“I’m reading this book and I’m thinking, where is this book taking me? And finally it says—above all, you cannot be a woman,” says Morrow, “I threw the book at him.”

Morrow says that her boss shared the satirical book to show what the engineer was up against. He called her a change agent.

“I was a foreigner, I was the youngest person in our group, and I was a woman; the only woman,” says Morrow, “So I had all kinds of attributes that said I was an outlier. And they would accept me as this outlier.”

Decades later, Morrow continues to work within the topic of women in technology. 

Morrow recently co-edited a book called The Internet of Women, which includes narratives of women leaders throughout the world—a book that Morrow calls “a gift of love.”

The Internet of Women is really important because I strongly believe that when women connect, they not only embrace. And when they embrace, they can lead,” says Morrow, “It’s something that we have to recognize. People ask me why are we still talking about women in tech. Well, it’s over with when we no longer have to talk about it.”

One size does not fit all

After five years at Cisco, Morrow suddenly had opportunity come knocking.

“In 2005, I get a knock on the door and they said, would you like to come to Asia to build a technology team?” says Morrow. 

This hybrid assignment took Morrow to Hong Kong, where she says her many trips around Asia and beyond gave her a peek into the vastness of other cultures and a fuller view of the world.

“The enriching lesson was going and discovering the other half of the world,” says Morrow, “I was based in Hong Kong, but I was traveling. I was in Taiwan, I was in Beijing, Shanghai, Philippines, India, Australia, and New Zealand.”

These excursions across the globe taught Morrow more than just about business, but about the world’s cultures and increasingly, a compassionate view on the idea that one size does not fit all. It’s a lesson that she has since brought back to Cisco.

“I was learning a lot about cultures and how to operate in other cultures,” says Morrow, “That one size—what we learn at Cisco and still are trying to learn from Cisco—one size does not fit all. You cannot take something that you made in the United States and try to retrofit it into other countries.”

Innovation and humanitarianism

Morrow’s experiences at Cisco, in Switzerland and Hong Kong represent stepping-stones in her journey towards the creation of the Humanized Internet. The lessons that she brings back to Cisco are crucial in changing the way the company thinks about philanthropy, volunteerism, and helping others.

“From 1995 to 2005 to 2008, to the present: each time I was taking a step forward and a step forward,” says Morrow, “What I find is that there is a lot to be said about doing something that has a humanitarian purpose in what you deal with in technology. I believe strongly that that’s the 21st century currency. Why do you do this? Why do you create something? When you leave today, what have you done with this technology? How’s it going to benefit somebody who’s in the field or who is not in the field, or who’s in a village? I do believe, truly, that there’s this notion of ethics, and this notion of the responsibility of technology.”

Technology continues to be a crux in the way Morrow positions her humanitarianism—how new discoveries in technology and innovation meet and integrate with the way we continue to improve our world. It now seems fitting that with a title that includes both New Frontiers Development and Engineering, that Morrow encapsulates how tech can truly free our world.