Last week I had the privilege to participate in the Humanitarian Technology Challenge – a call to action for the IEEE membership to get engaged with the multiple issues facing development that could be overcome with technology. The HTC is a partnership between IEEE and the United Nations Foundation Technology Partnership with the Vodafone Foundation. (more on the HTC partnership)
Over two days, IEEE members were encouraged to develop and implement technological responses to three humanitarian challenges in developing countries:
- Reliable Electricity: Availability of power for electronic devices
- Data Connectivity of Rural District Health Offices: Capability of exchanging data among remote field offices and central health facilities
- Patient ID Tied to Health Records: Maintain consistent patient records, including when patients visit different clinics and when they relocate
Working with them were representatives of 10 humanitarian organizations, and the brainstorming sessions where technology and development experts came together to devise solutions made the conference feel like a large-scale Technology Salon.
We did not achieve any immediate solutions, but we did practice a number of key skills in deploying development solutions. My favorite was using elevator pitches to increase excitement and buy-in by local leaders around solutions to the three challenges. We started with the challenge to sell a power system to generate electricity for a school, for a day, where I came up with the following pitch:
“You want power. You want cheap power. You want cheap power through people power! And people power from those with the most energy: kids. Better yet, naughty kids. Put the youth on bicycles that recharge batteries. And while this idea is not new, my plan has a bonus: electroshock therapy. That’s right, electrodes to shock the kids if they don’t pedal fast enough. Which gives you a reward that every parent will find even more impressive that electrical power, exhausted, calmed children.”
While my pitch was greeted with laughter, it was also meant as a lesson. Think outside the box for your solution, use cheap, available materials that are easy to maintain and expand on locally, and be flexible to respond to unforeseen needs.
From here, the IEEE membership will do deep dives into these three areas and we should see interesting outcomes in a few months around possible technology solutions to these vexing development challenges.