WSU alumnus travels the globe as Gates Foundation digital technology pro

Howard Lakougna, center, poses at the GPAI summit in Delhi.

Howard Lakougna, center, poses at the GPAI summit in Delhi.

Howard Lakougna ’09 is a globetrotter, traveling the world for his work as a senior program officer for digital technology at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In the past seven months alone, he has jetted from his Seattle home base to attend the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence (GPAI) summit in Delhi, India, and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)-sponsored social impact workshops in Bihar and Nairobi, Africa.

A computer engineering WSU graduate, Lakougna also holds a master’s degree in bioengineering and biomedical engineering from the University of Utah and an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. His professional background is in technology development, system designs, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), and product management. Before joining the Gates Foundation, he was a technical program manager at META/Facebook, also in Seattle, where he worked on cross-platform initiatives in the technology giant’s Social Impact division.

Howard Lakougna
Howard Lakougna

With prior work experience featuring positions with Providence Health Systems, GE Healthcare, and Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH), all in Seattle; as a research associate at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City; and, from 2007 to 2009, at LSI Logic-NetApp in Wichita, where he was a software development engineer, Lakougna says he’s “passionate about leading new digital strategies and developing technologies which improve people’s livelihoods.”

In his current role as a digital technology program officer, he creates grants on behalf of the Gates Foundation. “I advocate for our priority topics,” he explains, adding that a key part of his job is “maintaining relationships with a wide range of stakeholders.” His team, he says, “focuses on scaling digital public infrastructure in low and middle income countries, and accelerating the impact of digital solutions.”

A key element of his work is identifying novel technologies, which includes, he says, exploring the potential of AI to further the effectiveness of digital transformation in various locales, for various partners. “I was invited to GPAI to serve as an AI expert to help judge an AI innovation company that the Indian ministry of technology had organized,” he explains about his recent trip to India. “I also used that opportunity to participate in other panels about scaling AI in Africa, which is a topic that I am actively working on as part of a major global effort with several developmental agencies, including the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC), GIZ, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), as well as the Gates Foundation.”

Lakougna graduated from high school at the age of 15 in West Africa. He then moved to Wichita to start college at 16. “My formative years in college and adulthood were spent at Wichita State,” he says. “I majored in computer engineering because I quickly identified the computer as the largest gap between me and my peers from all over the world. It was not an easy path, but four years later I graduated magna cum laude – second of my graduating class. It is impossible to list all the important lessons I learned at WSU because the line is really blurry between academic lessons and life lessons. What is clear is that, if it was not for the electrical and computer engineering program at WSU, I would not be where I am today — and for that I am very thankful.”

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