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Mia Dowman

Mia Dowman interviewed by Poppy Gerrard-Abbott

Mia Dowman

Programme Lead for Global Open Banking, Data Driven Innovation

Irrespective of gender, I strongly believe that we should be engaging and supporting all young minds to the possibilities of technology and data enabled career paths.

Tell us about your background and journey to your current role?

Reflecting on my diverse career so far, I have always enjoyed problem solving, exploring new approaches, innovations and technology so I ensured these featured throughout roles I have undertaken. I am proud to be the first in my family to pursue a university and masters education, despite losing my mum tragically at 16 years old in the midst of my A-levels. I have succeeded by working hard and finding career opportunities which aligned with my passion for technology and empowering impact.

Following graduation in 2002, I worked for a number of years in London with leading industry technology players, new ‘dot com’ start-ups’, mobile payment systems, telecoms, telematics and leaders in financial technology back then well before the advent of ‘fintech’. I have enjoyed working with fantastic, inspiring people over the years and been able to access great role models from diverse backgrounds, who ignited my enthusiasm to become involved in the creation of new innovation.

Just over ten years ago in my late twenties, I launched my first venture focussed on a vein recognition biometrics security application for commercial vehicles, where I built the start-up team, developed strategic value proposition, spearheaded raising investment, go to market prototypes with patent protection and developed a client pipeline. Raising start-up angel and venture capital investment was one of the biggest challenges of my career where I successfully overcame adversity, so far. From managing business operations, due diligence, developing commercial opportunities, managing suppliers and making ends meet to sustain the business whilst simultaneously fundraising added to the complexity of navigating commercial negotiations. During live investor discussions, I received direct open interrogations relating to my personal future family plans and its potential impact on the business’ growth projections, which added an interesting dimension as a female founder of a start-up team. It was this founder role that helped me to realise the importance of developing a peer group of like-minds to support each other in not only leadership roles but also in underrepresented technical industries. Alongside the start-up, I wanted to pursue a campaign to enthuse and support others so I launched Girl Geeks in North East England as my next start-up, which became a social enterprise, to enthuse more women into exciting careers in technology-enabled industries. This progressed to encompassing wider STEM areas, expanding geographical reach and into working with corporate clients to deliver strategic inclusion and widening talent attraction projects.

Over five years ago, I embarked on the Executive MBA programme for a new career direction and refinement to my skills which became a rewarding experience and learning from a diverse peer group across multiple industries. One of my favourite MBA modules explored the principles and practices of design thinking with new approaches to solving societies’ ‘wicked problems’ with industry-led approaches. Upon graduating, I engaged in more innovation and business consulting roles from creating global business units through to new market propositions, working with industry leading technologists, design thinkers and agile practitioners across the world to deliver digital platform projects to delivering industry insight which informed a new national high growth business support programme.  My last role focused on delivering strategy and innovation consultancy for the global leadership team at HSBC Securities Services, by analysing emerging trends and identifying strategic scenarios for technology-driven financial services and enabling preparation for complex futures.

 

And what about now?

In July 2019, I was pleased to join the Data-Driven Innovation team at the University of Edinburgh to embark on my current role as Programme Lead for Global Open Banking within the Financial Services and Fintech Sector of the programme. This is particularly exciting as we have a directive to establish the Global Open Finance Centre of Excellence (GOFCoE) utilising the University of Edinburgh’s EPCC supercomputer and data science expertise. The Centre’s goal is to be a global economic observatory unlocking value in open banking and open finance data to improve the lives of customers and citizens through the lens of financial health and social inclusion.  

 

What is your vision for the Data Driven Innovation programme at the university, if you have one?

Since joining the DDI team, I am proud to observe the programme in building strong momentum to deliver impact already; from the new sector hub investments and the emerging public-private sector partnerships collaborating on new data-based projects. Having worked directly in technology-driven industries, I understand the challenges of recruiting machine learning, big data and data science skills and the critical importance of developing a quality talent pool equipped with relevant necessary skills.  I believe that the DDI programme will be instrumental in building inclusive growth for our regional economy through delivering and fuelling opportunities for data innovation, entrepreneurship, research and graduate skills to support the market opportunity in data science.

 

Do you or have you worked with any interesting data sets, technologies, tools or analysis techniques you’d like to talk about?

As we build the proposition for GOFCoE through engagement with our key consortium stakeholders ranging from leading banks, the Scottish Government, Fintechs to charities such as Money Advice Scotland, we are extremely excited about the potential of data as we develop use cases for GOFCoE. Our plans to use data at scale to research, innovate with our stakeholders and create new products and services as well as unlocking the potential in financial and citizen data for a force for good offers vast value to helping improve people’s lives.

 

What do you think are the biggest challenges for women and girls in data and related fields?

My passion for technology has developed throughout my career but I recognise the importance of access to quality education, strong parenting and inspirational teachers. An area I feel we can improve further is continuously updated career advice linked to industry opportunities and widening access for students at all education stages to industry experience and role models. Although the situation is better than my experience of careers guidance at school, where it was highly stereotypical and limiting, I decided to embark on my own career path based on where my passion led me to work. Not everyone has opportunities available to them and I believe it is our responsibility to engage, where possible, with our next generations to enthuse them with the exciting opportunities available to them and putting in extra effort to unblocking obstacles which may stand in their way.

 I would like to see more organisations hiring talent based on ability, passion, culture fit and skills; to look beyond CVs and qualifications. As long as they have the required skills, experience and expertise to become a valuable addition to the organisation, our workplaces become enriched with diverse thinking, inclusivity and innovative development for future prosperity.

I decided to merge my Girl Geeks-focused efforts, which has been historically focussed in England, to help the growth of Glasgow based-charity SMARTStems as it reaches a high proportion of Scotland’s schools, colleges and universities to expand further afield to deliver regular activities with schoolchildren to enthuse them inclusively in STEM subjects.

I believe that all social change campaigns should have an exit strategy as it would seek to achieve what it set out to do and if we strive to become an inclusive society then perhaps we may not require specific groups and diversity campaigns in the near future. If we work harder to involve those with a shared passion on an inclusive basis, we have enough social challenges and global problems to address with our collective minds and skills.

 

Looking back, what would you recommend to women and girls who’d like to do what you’re doing?

Irrespective of gender, I strongly believe that we should be engaging and supporting all young minds to the possibilities of technology and data-enabled career paths. As a step mum to two boys, we try to broaden their minds with new experiences, possibilities and discussion to open their perceptions so that they can achieve what they set their minds to – encouraging them to ‘seize life and all it offers’. We make sure they are supported to strengthen their base subjects, get involved in as much of the computing curriculum as possible but also to follow their passion. It is important to fuel natural ability and interests – data and technology will eventually form the basis of every industry so it’s an exciting time to get involved and explore how they can make their mark in this world.

We should seek to involve young minds and ideas where possible. During my last consulting role at HSBC, a number of colleagues were asked to gather their children’s views on the future world of work to provide pictures of what the future bank or workplace would look like. Some great suggestions! It was compiled as ‘fuel’ for a forthcoming Executive Committee leadership meeting to provoke discussion and thinking for the organisation’s future strategy. Feedback to the fuel of children’s views of the future workplace was incredibly positive, injecting creativity and interesting viewpoints to the meeting. The children involved enjoyed family discussions about their future jobs and were happy to get involved. When we create new projects for data-enabled futures, we should seek to explore diverse opinions and ideas especially from young innovators!

 

Fun fact about yourself and hero/heroine?

My Mum has to be my heroine, her trailblazing career to leading teams within the NHS, entrepreneurial ventures with my father deemed ahead of their time and achieving success from the unlikeliest places – left me with an inspirational legacy that lasts a lifetime.

Her favourite Geordie saying ‘shy bairns get nowt’ taught me from an early age to pursue my passion and try to not be shy in politely asking for support or something that appears out of reach as you may be surprised by a positive response – if you don’t ask you will never know.

I have used this advice on many occasions but it helped when I managed to persuade Christopher Curry, one of the original Cambridge computing entrepreneurs whose involvement with Clive Sinclair in Sinclair Radionics led to becoming co-founder of Acorn Computers famous for creating the BBC Micro and founder of GIS which created the system for cashless money, to become the chairman for my biometrics start-up and other key people as non-executive board members. I engaged them in my shared vision and belief in making an impact on the world. Chris is a particular role model to me as he achieved great success quietly under the radar exuding that role models and heroes can be found in all walks of life but more effort can be made such as this campaign to highlight more people to inspire others and increase accessibility across the entirety of our society.