Co-Creating the Way: Technology

Elena  0:00  

So, there are many questions around technology. So, I feel Sanjay, this is of course, your area of expertise in particular, but they are also related to the you know, to how technology can enhance platforms that are underpinning or that can be foundational work to gender equality or to gender related issues. So, there are two things that I will encourage Sanjay to choose among them. So, from our partners, we talked about female genital cutting and the importance of course, the law about but the law not being sufficient in some of these countries in the past for abandonment. So, the question comes from the Orchid Project, our long term partners in this area. Which role does technology play Sanjay, if any, in thinking about systemic and exponential change? So which role does technology play, if any, in thinking about systemic and exponential change. And there is another one very interesting about the use of platforms. I guess this is also related to technological, technology based platforms, but also maybe interesting for you Sybil. Are there any platforms being used for addressing gender related issues? How do you see the use of platforms for this purpose? So first over to use Sanjay on the technology one, or even on the platform, of course.

Sanjay  1:31  

Yes, of course. I think both are very important questions. Firstly, let me zoom out and take a broader view of technology. If you go back in the history of civilization and how we evolved over the last few, many centuries, every massive transition technology has played a good role and a very important role. And sometimes even a very tough role if you will, because all the transitions that we have seen; today when we use the word technology of mind immediately gravitates towards information technology. But technology has seen you know, how humans change the way they use matter by using technology and then they changed how they move energy using technology. And now we are in an era where we are changing how we move information using technology. And so technology is a bigger question and technology’s role in the transition of our societies is unquestionable over centuries in the past. Where we are today, I think one of the biggest roles that technology plays is what we call as making scarce resources abundant. I think is a very important facet in large scale systems change as a precursor to creating public goods. What is scarce when we try to drive? Understanding of context is scarce. Knowledge is scarce. Expertise is scarce. People who actually know how to respond to a complex situation, getting resources to them is scarce. And technology plays the role of that connective tissue. It is not the answer. It’s an enabler. And when we look at technology, I would urge you to look for three important dualities that we need to hold in our mind. And whether it is information technology or whether it’s any other form of technology to move matter or energy, it’s important to see that we hold three dualities in our mind. One duality is that the role of technology is to build something, build an infrastructure, build a capability, build capacity, build; you know, it could be human capacity for learning, it could be infrastructural capacity to move things. But it has a role to build. Now increasingly technology also has the role to repurpose things that have been around but can now be better used in the same system. Repurpose skills, repurpose people from a build to A to a build to B. Repurpose physical infrastructure from what it can do in the previous context to what it can do in a new context. So it’s not only about build, it’s build and repurpose, and any lasting systems change would require us to build a few things and repurpose a few things. And technology has a very important role in building and repurposing. Second important duality is to enable and orchestrate. Technology plays a big role in enabling newer things to do, new ways of solving things, newer kinds of innovations, which could be how you treat a disease or how you learn about it. Both can use technology, right? How do you actually plan for a certain, say how do you optimize water usage in a certain village to how do you actually orchestrate committee decisions around how do you really use that water, and why it’s a common pool resource, and how it should be retained? So enabling and orchestrating are important two roles that technology plays. And the third very important one is empowering and nudging the system towards equity. And I think this is the one that is the least discussed role of technology, mostly technology is seen as a mechanism to control the ecosystem. Whereas the real power of technology is empowering the ecosystem, making people more and more capable of doing things, using data to inform the people about where they are and what can they do next rather than understanding data of people and trying to control them. So the role of data, the role of technology in empowering the system is a very important role that technology plays today. And balancing that is how you nudge the system towards equity because technology improves our ability to see things. For example, today if we launch a satellite into space, we can actually not see it even with a telescope for that matter, maybe with a very high powered one we can, but sitting in a room we know everything that is happening there. What is the term used for telemetry? Why can’t we understand what is the status of our societal development? Where are the people suffering? Where is it that we need to help? Where are the areas where we need to pay more attention to and use technology to understand more fine grained differences and respond to those differences? And I think that’s what I would certainly urge anybody who’s thinking of technology, firstly, take a wider view. It’s not always only information technology. Second is how do we hold these dualities: Build and repurpose, enable and orchestrate, empower and nudge the system towards equity. And I believe that technology has a massive role to play. And if you don’t do this, then the same thing can become a problem. It can become a weapon, which does not necessarily lead to a happier situation. It increases the divide creates more kinds of challenges, because we missed the fundamental reason why we as a civilization came up with technology in the first place. So I would certainly say platforms, technology, are very important role, but it behooves us to think about it with that lens and inspire others to think about it with that lens.

Elena  7:47  

Thank you, Sanjay. Wow, you bring so much to this conversation and it’s inspiring to, to hear you talking and to imagine, to envision really the possibilities that can be unleashed with a proper use of technology, what is possible today with the platforms that we need to enhance together. So Sybil, do you have something to add? Otherwise there is another very interesting question that came through. And I also welcome contributions once again, it seems our audience is very shy today. But, you know, we absolutely want to hear from you and your questions have been amazing, and I’m sure we will try to, you know, condense them or try to answer them in, a future format. Now, not today, we don’t have the time, but thank you really for the quality of your contribution through your questions. So, Sybil, do you have something to add to these questions?

Sybil  8:50  

I’ll add a little bit to the technology and then answer the question on the platforms. I think technology has a really central catalyzing role in the systems change that we envision for women and looking at women’s empowerment. Think of all the women in Africa who live in rural, remote locations. So digital presents the opportunity to really be able to access information products and services from their home. And then also highlighting, there are social norms that still exist that prevent them from being able to leave their home. So maybe they could be in urban areas, peri-urban areas, but still, there’s mobility challenges that they face given some of the social norms that exist, that prevent them from leaving their household, which probably means they don’t have a phone as well, but still looking at digital as presenting a potential solution to empower women to pool information and knowledge but also push. In that push aspect you know, you see a lot of social networks and cohesion happening between groups and between women across Africa. Whenever there’s a crisis, whenever there’s a flood or drought, they start spreading information. With COVID-19 as well, they’re starting to spread information, sharing best practices, sharing the right messages around what the virus is and how it spread, hygiene that should be practiced. They’re doing that through WhatsApp, they’re doing that through digital channels. And at the same token, you know, before or even during, such a natural disaster or crisis, they also share information by sharing YouTube videos. How do they potentially have more climate resistance fields based on some techniques that they have on the ground? So there’s a lot of ways that women are using technology in order to really help empower them, either by pulling information or pushing it out to others. I do think that technology also plays a role in being able to aggregate groups, be able to aggregate women I should say, and be able to allow potential other actors to converge on the groups and provide additional products and services. You can imagine if there’s a health worker who’s working in a specific area, for her to go into a community and go door to door to speak about breastfeeding practices; it’s going to take a long time and she’s not going to reach all the communities in her region. But if she’s able to, meet with a group and then disseminate some key information with a tablet that she has made sure that she touches on all the points, digital allows for the quality dissemination of information to be uniform standardized in many ways. And then also, you can imagine aggregation of groups in order for the private sector to start converge and offer products and services through those groups, instead of going one by one to each rule, woman. Technology plays a role in being able to access and correlate better data. Being able to collect data rapidly so the government can make decisions, you can imagine it now again, with the COVID-19 situation, when the government in any given African country is trying to provide stimulus checks or payments to certain income levels of the population. How are they going to do that if they don’t have information on people? One quick way of getting that is through digital surveys, or having that digital backbone through a number of programs that they’ve implemented over the years touching on their population. So I think technology has a role to play, especially if you think about it in a sort of an architecture that needs to be built out in order to inform various actors. On the platform question, are there platforms that drive that address gender related issues? You know, I started out in this discussion, throwing out this new term women’s empowerment collectives. Essentially, women’s empowerment collectives in Africa or savings groups, and in India, they’re SHGs (self help groups); what we see at the foundation is beyond that initial; there are five core elements that are important for that women’s empowerment piece. So it’s going beyond the ability for women to save, the ability for women to have that social cohesion, and really looking at how do you actually give the opportunity for women to have access to knowledge, life skills, training, on a number of things from health, agricultural, financial services. Another element is looking at the critical consciousness of gender. Great! You provide women access to knowledge, content and information. But again, if she has mobility challenges, there’s other social norms preventing her from actually being able to contribute to a conversation in the household on making the decision on who goes to school, then, you know, she’s essentially powerless. So looking at how do you then foster a critical look within the power holders, the gatekeepers and the woman herself to really start changing gender and the way that she is able to express her agency. And then the last one is looking at access to markets and services. And really, this is taking that piece looking at, great. You maybe have savings that you can draw from, you have access to credit, you have new skills to expand your business or your agricultural productivity. But then what about linking it to buyers? What about the ability to access healthcare. Great, you have new information on preventative care that you should be seeking. But what about actually accessing health care? So looking at the comprehensiveness of those elements, being layered on to a group of women will enable her to further along and advance towards really becoming empowered. So it’s not just one thing of just giving her credit or giving her the ability to access financial services. It’s also working on those other dimensions that impact her life and her household. So these collectives, in essence, are platforms to which you can start driving programs, services, and definitely ideas and change that can happen for women in rural in any location honestly, rural or urban.