Community News Magazine

Proud of our female pioneers: Ida Holz, “mother of the Internet” in Latin America

From the left: Carlos Casasús (CUDI México), Nelson Simões (RNP), Ida Holz, María José López (RedCLARA), Tom Fryer (GÉANT), Michael Stanton (RNP)

Vint Cerf calls her the “mother of the internet”. A key figure in the establishment of the first node of the Internet in Uruguay, an advocate and a leader in the development of an independent Latin American networking industry. This is Ida Holz.

From a Jewish family of Polish origin, Ida is of the first generation of computer engineers in Uruguay. After spending a few years in the Israeli army and working on a kibbutz, she returned home for her university studies. In 1964, she married the love of her life, Anhelo Hernández (1922 – 2010), a Uruguayan contemporary painter whose work earned world-wide recognition and is exhibited in several museums in Uruguay, Cuba, and Russia. In 1973, after graduating, she left with her family to live in Mexico in exile, seeking refuge from the military dictatorship in her home country. In Mexico, she established herself as an expert in the informatic networking community.

After 12 years in exile, she returned to Uruguay in 1987 with a vision and determination that access to information is key for the development of a society. Uruguay is the country with the smallest population in Latin America, but with a high level of education, especially public education which has been secular and free of charge for over a century now. However, with such a scarce population, researchers were isolated and struggled to communicate and collaborate in the region as well as globally. That same year, she became Director of the Central Information Service (SECIU) at Universidad de la República and, while there, she led the team that created the Uruguayan Academic Network (RAU) which got to register the .uy domain in 1991.

Up until then, emails were only exchanged between engineers at the Computer Institute of the Uruguayan School of Engineering and the Universidad de Buenos Aires. They would have to make a couple of telephone calls per day to send out the emails stored in their servers and receive incoming ones – a time consuming process, yet a powerful and promising tool. In fact, it did not take long for teachers at the universities to want to be connected and receive emails as well, but as the number of users increased significantly, the Institute’s servers started to get too crowded. So, Ida and her team were asked to find a solution and so created RAU and started working directly with UUNET, the biggest ISP at the time. It took a few years, as a direct link to the USA was required, but in 1995 the Internet was officially introduced in Uruguay, opening the doors to endless collaboration opportunities for local students and researchers with their global counterparts.

Ida’s contributions do not stop at national level. In 1991, the “First Inter-American Networking Workshop” was held in Rio de Janeiro. There, American and European personalities introduced for the first time the idea to build a Latin American organisation, which would, however, be led by a foreign authority. Ida did not agree: “If we could not govern ourselves and choose our own leaders, there was no point in creating anything”. After a long sleepless night, her Latin American colleagues and Ida had created the Latin America and Caribbean Network Forum. Although it started with nothing – there was still no Internet at the time – the forum believed in the power of collaboration, and it worked to lay down the fundamentals for the development of today’s Internet in the region. Since then, she has been instrumental in establishing three other keystone regional organisations – the Latin American and Caribbean Internet Address (LACNIC), the Latin American and Caribbean Association of Country Code Top-Level Domains (LACTLD), and the Latin American regional research and education network, RedCLARA.

Her selfless dedication and the time she has invested – and continues to do so – in the development and improvement of ICT networks in the region led her to be inducted to the Internet Hall of Fame in 2013, making her the first Latin American woman to be awarded. This was not the only award she received. In 2009, she had been awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award granted by LACNIC. In 2014, she received the Moña de Honor at the public primary school she attended, in celebration of the power of education and vocation of teachers. In 2015, the Uruguayan postal service honoured her by issuing two stamps of their “Highlighted Personalities” series in her honour.

Today, at 88, she is still very much involved in the community and is currently writing a book on the story of academic networks in Latin America together with Michael Stanton, one of the founders of the Brazilian NREN, RNP. Ida is a strong advocate for an exclusive network for research and education in Uruguay to improve the connectivity for local students and researchers. It is hard to imagine a world without that. The arrival of the Internet in the region has changed lives for the better and it has become a significant part of everyday life for educators and researchers. A powerful tool to plan, execute, and distribute their work, it enables incredible progress in all areas of human life.

A humble and visionary leader, Ida is a true pioneer behind the existence and evolution of the Internet in Latin America and an inspiration to the next generation of computer scientists and Internet champions. She is the mother of Ayara, a ballerina who performed all over Latin America and Europe before returning to Montevideo to work as a teacher, and Arauco, an award-winning filmmaker and cinematographer. She is grandmother to three children who are her joy.

  Nelson Simões da Silva, Executive Director of RNP

“In 2002 I met Ida personally, but it wasn’t in the South. It was at the presentation meeting for the idea of the ALICE (America Latina Interconectada Con Europa) project, in Toledo (ES). She was moving behind the scenes in Latin America towards a coordinated positioning between NREN for a regional network (now RedCLARA), a regional organization (now CLARA) and a vision of future direct interconnection (now BELLA). Visionary, impatiently courageous and very inclusive. It was exactly what we needed – love at first sight”.

Cathrin Stöver, Chief Communications Officer at GÉANT

“When I use the metaphor “we are all standing on the shoulders of giants”, it is Ida Holz that I refer to for myself. I met Ida in 2002, when the EC and GÉANT started the conversations with Latin American NRENs on the joint formulation of the collaborative project which led to the creation of RedCLARA. This was the first time I managed an international project of such magnitude, and it was to Ida that I turned for guidance over the next five years. She showed me that true collaboration is built on a constructive and positive attitude, the need for some quite strict measures, a level of reliability and most importantly: never to leave the room before you can see the agreement in everybody’s eyes. She ensured that I found the way of true collaboration which ensured the long-term success of RedCLARA. I am proud to be able to call her my friend and to have sat at her table eating the biggest plate of spaghetti ever served”.

María José Lopez, Public Relations and Communications Manager at RedCLARA

“When I started working for RedCLARA, and that is literally since it was created, I was super impressed by the figure, personality, and capacity of Ida. Knowing her means loving and admiring her. 20 years ago, when I met her, I didn’t know that she was who fought for connecting Latin America to Internet, until I saw her fighting to make the Latin American advanced network a reality. Her strength, values, the way she considers every person with respect and empathy, really touched me deep inside. I cannot tell how much I have learned from her in this networking environment, but I know I would love to be half as wise as she is and half as brilliant and sensible… that would make me a great woman. Ida is just one of a kind, and for sure she is RedCLARA’s soul.”

Luis Cadenas, Executive Director of RedCLARA

“Ida Holz is one of those indispensable characters that we meet once in life. What happened in Uruguay and Latin America with the Latin American Network Forum and later with the creation and subsequent development of RedCLARA cannot be understood without her. In addition, with a leadership style that significantly promoted cooperation between the countries of our region. I have the honour of her friendship; she has inspired me over the many years of working together”


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