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The Model and Social Entrepreneur Preparing Us for the Robot Revolution

Up to 800 million jobs will be replaced by automation and artificial intelligence by 2030. Sinead Bovell is here to make sure we're prepared.
Photo: Courtesy of Sinead Bovell

Photo: Courtesy of Sinead Bovell

The model-multihyphenate has never been so ubiquitous — nor so multihyphenated, for that matter — as it is today, in this decade's one final exhale. A career like that of Karlie Kloss, with her free coding camp and scholarship program for young women, Kode With Klossy, is fast becoming the rule and not the exception. Her colleagues are doubling down on everything from digital community-building — Adwoa Aboah with Gurls Talk — to, as ever, reality television.

Every once in a blue (sorry, cerulean) moon, fashion gives way to a certain stock of contemporary multihyphenate whose dynamic expertise in one field symbiotically contributes to that of another.

It's why I connected with Sinead Bovell, a New York City-based model who also developed and founded an organization called WAYE, which plans to revolutionize the way young people learn about technology. For a business to "revolutionize" anything, it must be disruptive in a new and good-kind-of terrifying way, and that's exactly what Bovell hopes will come out of hers. So far, she's making great progress.

WAYE, or Weekly Advice for Young Entrepreneurs, started from the knowledge that up to 800 million jobs will be replaced by technology as soon as 2030, a short decade away. With rapid advances in automation and artificial intelligence already impacting everyday working conditions across industries ranging from energy and mining to software development and technical support, the McKinsey Global Institute reports that we have a technology-driven "Fourth Industrial Revolution" on the horizon. Young entrepreneurs like Bovell — putting the "YE" in "WAYE" — are ensuring we face it prepared.

"My true inner passion has always been the future of technology and how advanced technologies will play into our life," Bovell tells me during a recent phone call. "The more I started to help young entrepreneurs in business, the more I realized that in the next five to 10 years, everybody will be going into entrepreneurship — it won't really be a choice because of automation. More of us are going to have to create the versions of the life we want because technology is going to automate a lot of roles. And then it started to click."

Unlike so many model-multihypenates whose entrepreneurial passions were born out of or even built on the backs of an-already successful fashion industry, Bovell's experience had something of an opposite effect. A first-generation Canadian, she was scouted by Next Canada — the greater agency of which represents verified supes Anok Yai, Binx Walton and Grace Elizabeth — while pursuing her MBA at the University of Toronto; she had already graduated with undergraduate degrees in both finance and chemistry. The idea for WAYE came organically, while working in management consulting at A.T. Kearney. Modeling — and fashion, at that — weren't quite an afterthought, but they weren't necessarily a priority, either. 

"We didn't even read magazines in my house because my mom didn't let us until we were about 17 or 18, so by then I had missed the boat," she says. "As I was scouted, I was finishing up my second year of my masters and sneaking out to photo shoots during exam time, building this secondary identity I was very confused about, as well."

As Bovell's modeling career took on a life of its own across glossy commercial and editorial platforms, her consulting career — once her dream job, she says — stalled in a big way.

"I suddenly looked up and realized this is not at all the person that I wanted to be," she recalls. "How have I spent my entire life going after something I don't even think I want? It felt like a lightning bolt hit my life and shattered it in flames. Everything I thought I wanted suddenly did not fit and I felt quite lost."

So Bovell quit the dream job and leaned into modeling full-time, banking on the fact that she'd make a more natural return to her business roots eventually. Unsurprisingly, it hit her sooner than later: Why not interweave all the fibers of her professional life into one master thread that could be as fulfilling for others as it could be for herself?

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"I realized that what I have in this creative field is a background and an experience that's very different from the average person in a creative space," says Bovell. "How could I leverage that?"

And so on flicked the WAYE lightbulb. In its earliest iteration, this meant offering consulting services to young creatives looking to step into the business lane themselves. She started a blog, titled "Weekly Advice for Young Entrepreneurs," and its posts — think: "5 Steps You Need to Launch Your Own Business" or "How to Build a Brand in a Digital Age" — began to gain unexpected traction with all sorts of readers.

In 2017, Bovell founded WAYE Talks, a practical and constructive speaker series in which technological experts discuss the digital changes already happening in our world and how they will affect us in the future. It boils down to one question: "What should we know and do today, in our personal and professional lives, to better prepare us for tomorrow?" Bovell believes that her background, her experience and her story helps answer that in a way others can't.

"Because I'm a model, it's made things much more organic and more reachable to the average person," she says. "I look like you. I speak culture. I work in fashion, but I also happen to talk tech. And that's why you should feel comfortable chatting about topics like blockchain and artificial intelligence."

Bovell admits, WAYE is nothing without its community, which is, above all, a reflection of the need for more diverse and inclusive presences and voices in technology. If Bovell has a mission herself beyond that of her business's, it's a banner on WAYE's website that reads, "Changing the narrative of who should be talking tech, and who should be listening."

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She tells me about her childhood growing up in what she describes as a multiracial home — her mother emigrating from Ireland, her father from Guyana — and the supportive environment they built alongside a greater commitment to work ethic. Would her path have been any different had she felt just as supported to pursue a traditionally white- and male-centric field like technology outside her household, throughout her early education and beyond?

"I hope that I can inspire and encourage people of all backgrounds, of all mindsets, of all demographics to want to learn about something that's going to impact us all so greatly in the future," she says. "So the more I can continue talking about it and encouraging more people to come to the conversation, the better."

Right now, that means speaking engagements: This past October, she served as a panelist at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on the use of facial recognition technology to combat human trafficking, and she'll soon join the World Youth Summit for Peace in Dubai as a keynote speaker. Meanwhile, back on the WAYE front, she kicked off her Q4 WAYE Talks in her hometown of Toronto in November.

WAYE is not just of personal significance to Bovell, who is, yes, a model-multihyphenate with an entrepreneurial calling and blue-chip-agency-backed portfolio to match. It's of critical importance to society as a whole, particularly with the world on the brink of an upheaval that's soon to redefine the economy — and our lives — as we know it.

"Tech has to be diverse in order for it to work," says Bovell. "At the end of the day, technology is a tool that everybody in the world uses, so it has to work effectively for everyone."

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