What makes technology humanitarian?

This is the month when I deliver my very first talk at IEEE’s Global Humanitarian Technology Conference. Here is the abstract:

The United Nations addresses economic objectives in SDG 8 (promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth) and SDG 10 (reduce inequality within and among countries to achieve greater participation in economic growth). A 2017 UN Policy Brief noted that MSMEs make a “critical contribution to broader social economic objectives” in the context of these SDGs but cited obstacles including lack of empirical evidence, asymmetric access to information, and challenges accessing credit and finance. The Brief leaves unaddressed what uses of technology are best suited to addressing these challenges while respecting the cultural and social contexts in which MSMEs operate.

The presenter offers a framework for humanitarian-centered technology that addresses economic goals of the UN’s SDGs 8 and 10. Drawn from development history and pilots of a data-governance system and platform designed to facilitate MSME financing, this approach flips the orientation of Fintech startups and incumbent credit agencies. Rather than defining solutions from the perspective of big banks and creditors, the subject platform manifests a communitarian view of commercial credit, focusing on typically unheard voices of MSMEs and driving their perspectives across each critical stage: 1) market vision; 2) customer definition; 3) architecture; 4) development processes; and 5) market entry strategy.

Because of ongoing travel restrictions, we all taped our primary presentations ahead of time but conducted Q&A in real time. I developed a first pass at a methodology for conducting due diligence on technologies offered up for humanitarian relief. More specifically, such technologies as may be deployed to meet the two SDGs noted above (sustainable development goals). To the stages I described in the abstract, I added something new at the beginning–the innovator. What perspectives, cultural roots, lived experience does she bring to initiating a new offering?

I hope to see much more conversation on the latter topic. It will be important to lifting conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion beyond a numbers game. We should all hope to see contributions, technology and otherwise, from many different innovators, unfettered by pressures to assimilate to Silicon Valley expectations or seeing their work appropriated and recast by others!

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