Education, Social Innovation, Technology

Technology: Bridging the Gaps

I presented this as a keynote at the recent 12th Asia Pacific Student Services Association (APSSA) Conference at Queensland University of Technology on the 9th of July 2010. The following is a shorten version of the 45 minutes presentation.

The challenge with this presentation was that there wasn’t a common interest amongst the delegates and there were delegates from all kinds of disciplines, in both undergraduate and postgraduate level. Their understanding and engagement with technology was also diverse, so I tried to make it easy to understand, with some easy-to-do, low level case studies and some higher level, more complex systems.

I started by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land we stood on, and paid respect to their elders past, present and future.

My questions for the crowd to think about throughout the whole presentation, and their life were:

  • Why do you do what you do? (WDYDWYD?)
  • What changes or improvements are you bringing to yourself, people around you and the world in what you do?

  • When we talk about technology, many think about the geeky kids who own an iPhone – but that is far from the truth. I don’t have an iPhone! Technology has become ingrained in our daily life without us even realising it – Facebook and mobile phones. However, when it comes to new technology or other digital media, its easy for us to be skeptical about it due to our ignorance of understanding it. So we cringe, shrug and say that were just “technologically challenged” – but in actual fact, its the lack of awareness and understanding. I want to shift your thinking from skepticism and apathy to actually thinking about how can we embrace technology and use it to enhance our life and bring about social good.

    Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right – why not the former?

    Skepticism of technology existed in the past as well [refer to quotes on slides]. I call this the WTF era.

    And let’s talk a bit about the future, because we are all, hopefully, moving in that direction. The direction of social justice, equal rights, basic education for all, peace and happiness. I call this the AWESOME era. You will realise that there is a huge gap between the WTF era and the AWESOME era.

    Whatever we do with technology and our life right now, will ultimately fill in the gaps – such as gaps in digital divide, gaps in literacy, gaps in knowledge, gaps in bureaucracy and gaps in financial status. With the advancement of technology, we are connecting, collaborating, innovating and filling in the gap faster and better than we have been. This is highly due to:

  • improved internet connection – faster, more reliable, always ‘on’ and everywhere
  • mobile phone – every family ALL around the world owns one
  • mobile internet – continues to rise at a rapid rate
  • video and audio streaming – allow access to information in quicker ways; knowledge and literacy gaps
  • virtual universe – SecondLife, allowing marginalised communities access services they can’t due to personal or medical reasons in real life

  • Let’s look at some of these innovations and change happening:

    An open source software that enables you to have two way communications between a mobile and centralised computer. It was built by Ken Banks where he got the inspiration while working in a national park in South Africa. It was the easiest way they could communicate with the local communities.

    Josh Nesbit was working in Namitete, Malawi at a local hospital with 2 doctors that provide services to over 250,000 people within 100 miles. The only way to do this was to decentralise the medical system, and they recruited 500 volunteers who travels miles each day to check on patients and cycle back to the hospital. He went back to America, and bought 100 phones, taught the volunteers how to use them and installed FrontlineSMS. Later, he started FrontlineSMS:Medic, a team committed to supporting community health workers (CHWs) in the developing world using appropriate mobile technology.

    He did not build the software. He used what Ken Banks has made, and changed it to make it relevant for what he needs it for.

    Maybe some of you guys think, well, I don’t know anything about coding so that’s definitely not for me. Let’s look at a guy who has used digital media for good. KevJumba is one of YouTube’s most subscribed channel – with over 96 million views on his videos and over 1 million subscribers.

    He started JumbaFund, as a side project that is more about his daily life like playing pranks on his flatmates and making fun of his dad. All money made from the channel via Google Ads are directed to a charity nominated by his readers. There is nothing complicated, or technical about what he does – he just record videos! The channel has over 250,000 subscribers and has raised (I think) at least $10,000 for charity.

    Supercool School
    Supercool School was founded based on the principle of making education relevant and “real-world” for the students. You search for a school (e.g. start up school or cooking classes) and sign up to the school if you’re interested. You attend scheduled classes and you can also request for classes. Classes are real-time and live, and also recorded in case you missed any of them. Best thing is, when sign on, you also create a profile, allowing you to connect with other like-minded people in the school, collaborate and build a community basically.

    What’s exciting is, you can literally build a university from a laptop with an internet connection. Invite a group of people to sit in front of the laptop and there you have a class.

    To Mama With Love
    I met Stacey Monk while I was at the Non-Profit Technology Conference in Atlanta. She is an incredible woman and someone I have HUGE respect for. When I got back to Australia, I got a tweet from her explaining a Project X she was organising and asked me to be a part of it. I said yes with no questions!

    Her first email sent to 70 people in her contacts from ALL around the world, very clearly outlined 3 things she wanted from everyone:

  • An introduction
  • What can you do / strengths / expertise?
  • A good time to catch up

  • Within 72 hours, emails were flying everywhere and immediately, teams of designers, strategist, implementers, bloggers, website programmers and content creators. She delegated and leveraged, and To Mama With Love was born. Everyone were volunteers, reducing cost of the fundraising campaign to $0.

    One Laptop Per Child
    So how about digital divide? The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) is probably one of the most successful program in closing the gap. It’s a non-profit, producing low-cost, rugged, low-power, connected laptop with open source softwares and content designed for education and collaboration.

    Watch the video and it explains everything.

    All these people are doing amazing things with technology – and most of them aren’t even techy geeks. They have a vision, and they build upon what’s already out there. KevJumba and Josh Nesbit definitely aren’t techy geeks at all. Working with technology and digital media is not difficult – it takes time to fiddle around and it will change the way you do things. If it doesn’t, it means that you do not need that piece of technology.

    You will realise that I left a gap there [refer to slides], because we are definitely not there yet. We are not at the AWESOME era yet – not even that close but we are very well on our way. We are on the right track. My challenge for you is to fill in that gap. Whatever you do from today onwards, think about why do you do what you do (or about to do) and what value, what improvements and what changes are you bringing to yourself, people around you and the world. You’re from different disciplines (so are most people I described in the case studies), but ultimately, you all still live in the same world. Your contribution in filling that gap is vital.

    It went really, really well. I can safely say that 90% of all the conference feedback forms ranked the presentation as one of the favourites or most liked. *Phew*

    Action call:
    Start a plan or an idea: www.PlanBig.com.au
    Pressure the gov’t to provide basic education to 72 million children without it: www.Join1Goal.org
    I am working with a group of innovative people building Digital For Good, a project looking at digital technology as a force of good.

    • ehon

      Thanks Eddie! :) Reaffirms me how much we need Digital For Good.

    • http://twitter.com/edwardharran Edward Harran

      Nice one mate

    • Jasonleecj

      Good stuff, enjoyed you sharing your passion – ideas.

    • http://twitter.com/ehon Ehon Chan

      Thanks Jason. Appreciate your feedback.

    • http://twitter.com/ehon Ehon Chan

      Thanks Eddie! :) Reaffirms me how much we need Digital For Good.

    • Brisbaneboy

      Looks like a great presentation! It got me thinking about the old lady that ran a blog (has she died now?). Proof that your only as limited in your ability to adopt new technology as you perceive yourself to be. I'm sure its the same reason why i'm always terrible at suduko – because I keep telling myself i'm going to be and its wierd and i dont get it ….

      The potential to achieve with technology is still growing to as some of the slower sectors in the economy/world realise. Say for example, a law firm now can help anyone in the country – even a rural indigenous person with the help of scanned documents, email, electronic lodgement of documents with government and courts. Like doctors – they were perceived as the face-to-face industry. Its not the case for either anymore thanks to some people committed to finding a way to make it work!

    • http://twitter.com/ehon Ehon Chan

      Hey Brisbaneboy, you're exactly right. As more and more people accept technology as a setting rather than a tool, we realise how much more we can actually do and the amount of things we can perform via technology. It's easy for people to see tech as “just another tool” to make their life easier, but that's not always the case.