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Girl Guides of Canada and BlackBerry Join Forces to Educate Next Generation of Cybersecurity Experts

NEWS / 11.07.19 / Sarah Tatsis

We’re thrilled to announce that BlackBerry has teamed up with Girl Guides of Canada (GGC) to launch cybersecurity skills-based programming for GGC’s 70,000 members. The partnership announcement was made on stage as part of the keynote address at the Toronto stop of the BlackBerry World Tour in front of an audience of hundreds of customers, partners, press and prospects.

You can view the keynote here.

Designed to provide girls with the necessary skill-set to spark early interest in the cybersecurity industry, the Girl Guide-led ‘Digital Defenders’ program encourages girls to take a “how stuff works” approach to cybersecurity, giving them a robust and in-depth look at industry specific topics through play and discovery-based learning. 

Through the program, girls (from the ages of 5 – 18) will have the chance to dive into things like how computers work, how data travels, what hacking is all about and how cybersecurity creates layers of protection. From solving puzzles as part of a cybersecurity-inspired escape room, completing a paint-based colour mixing activity to understanding encryption, playing tag-based games to explore how different types of malware can infect your computer and much more, ‘Sparks’, ‘Brownies’, ‘Rangers’ and ‘Pathfinders’ will work to complete a set number of activities and modules that teach them various cybersecurity skills.

Recent events, where mass privacy breaches have occurred, have raised public awareness of the importance of transparency and responsible stewardship when it comes to how companies manage data and we feel it is imperative that as a leader within the industry it is our job to help educate young girls on the importance of being cybersecurity savvy as well as the consequences and dangers of unsafe online behaviors that could potentially put them, their device or their personal information at risk.

A Partnership That Goes Back to Our Founding Mission Statement

One of BlackBerry’s founding mission statements is “Always try to build something special. Build important things that have an impact on society.”  Above and beyond the technologies that BlackBerry has built that have changed how the world communicates, it’s through that lens that the company has always sought to be on the look-out for ways we can give back to society outside of our normal day-to-day operations and build a safer, more secure world for all. It’s amidst that backdrop that the germ of an idea was formed to examine whether there was a way we could help train up the next generation with the critical skills they need to be responsible digital citizens while at the same time providing them with opportunities to take a look behind the curtain of an industry that touches every aspect of our world and is only going to grow in importance.

As a former Girl Guide myself, I know first-hand how simple exposure to something can spark a lifelong interest and passion and as the project lead for this initiative there was no question that Girl Guides of Canada was the right organization to approach in pursuit of this mission.

Over the past six months, myself and a handful of women from across BlackBerry have worked diligently with GGC to develop content to arm girls with the relevant skills to navigate their world today and in the future; content that is designed to educate them on the technologies of tomorrow that will be absolutely pertinent to understand, from A to Z; Artificial Intelligence to Zero-Trust environments. By empowering girls to navigate the digital world they live in and how to protect themselves from cyber threats, we’re giving girls the kind of cyber savvy skills they might not be able to get anywhere else. 

Eliminating the Cybersecurity Talent Gap

In addition to fueling girls’ interests in how cybersecurity technologies work, the Digital Defenders program also aims to foster their curiosity about the countless tech career pathways that they can explore. We know that the demand for cybersecurity skills such as pen testing and white hat hacking is growing rapidly and within the industry it’s been well documented that Canada is facing a massive shortage of cybersecurity talent.

A study published last year by non-profit IT security organization (ISC)² pegged the number of unfilled cybersecurity positions globally at 2.93 million. We as an industry need to move quickly to attack this issue on all fronts; a big part of which is sparking interest in the field at a young age, in hopes that by the time these same young people start looking at the next stage in their education, they gravitate to the higher education institutions out there that offer cybersecurity as a dedicated discipline.

Experiential Learning Opportunities with BlackBerry

A big part of this partnership is exposing girls to the important work that we here at BlackBerry are doing every day, whether it be the next-generation crisis communications software that saves lives or the AI and ML technology that delivers seamless security postures and prevents threats before they happen.  At BlackBerry can you get an up close and personal look at software that

  • Prevents hackers from penetrating devices and computers
  • Enables automakers to build smarter, secure connected cars
  • Provides intelligence for secure supply chain communications
  • Ensures patient confidentiality in healthcare
  • Safeguards assets in the financial industry

To that end, for those that are interested, Girl Guide units will be able to take part in experiential learning opportunities at our Network Operations Center (NOC) in Waterloo and Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Center (AVIC) in Ottawa to get a first-hand look at the next-generation technologies being used to keep people and their data safe and secure. Looking further ahead, there will also be opportunities for Girls to attend our International Women’s Day (Sunday March 8) events at the Waterloo campus.

Setting Girls Up for Success

So how will we know whether or not this partnership has been successful? Truthfully, part of the success of the work we’re undertaking with Girl Guides is the fact that information about cybersecurity is being provided to girls across Canada in fun and engaging ways that can pique their interests. This partnership ensures that even the youngest girls have a strong foundation and solid skill-set that will be extremely valuable in our increasingly connected world where top cybersecurity talent is both scarce and in high demand.

Guiding is all about giving girls the skills to confidently tackle challenges and grab hold of every opportunity that comes their way. With Digital Defenders, we really are investing in the next generation of innovators and imagineers, helping girls see that they can and SHOULD make a difference in the world with their new-found cyber smarts.

To learn more about the GGC and BlackBerry “Digital Defenders” program, please visit www.girlguides.ca/digitaldefenders.

Sarah Tatsis

About Sarah Tatsis

VP – Advanced Technology Development Labs, BlackBerry