Michele Bowman, the host for our Pop!Tech pre-conference Wednesday afternoon session on "The Future of Mobility", started off the session by inviting each of the 40 attendees - and the three panelists - to introduce themselves by stating their names followed by up to three words (a "three word introduction" of sorts). It was a nice balance of inviting a small amount of initial participation from a large number of people right at the outset, and the words people chose were illuminating (and often rather humorous: I remember "jetlagged" as being among the most frequently used terms). Anyhow, my three words were "universal, empowerment, partnership" ... primarily because they seemed to be the themes that were most prevalent in [my conception of] the short talk I was giving there on "Empowering People through Mobile Technologies in Developing Regions".
Katrin Verclas, of MobileActive.org, was the first speaker, and she provided a broad overview of the ways that mobile technologies are being used by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to empower people in developing regions to achieve greater political, social, economic and/or environmental justice - a sort of mobile window into some of the types of activities that Paul Hawken champions in his book Blessed Unrest (and catalogs at WiserEarth.org). Nathan Eagle, a Research Scientist from MIT who has visiting appointments at a number of African universities, talked about his Entrepreneurial Programming and Research On Mobiles (EPROM) initiative, in which he is teaching computer science students in Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia how to program mobile phones - the only computing platform many of them (and their friends and families) are likely to have access to, emphasizing the indigenous entrepreneurial (vs. non-profit) prospects for mobile technologies for empowering people in developing regions.
I attempted to bridge the gap between the NGO and entrepreneurial / academic approaches represented by Katrin and Nathan, presenting a whirlwind overview of some of the ways that Nokia has been facilitating empowerment - through partnerships and provisioning of assistance in the form of Nokia devices (e.g., phones and networking equipment) and the involvement Nokia people with ethnography, design, engineering and other sociotechnical skills - in developing regions around the world. A recurring theme in all of our work is partnership - with NGOs, governmental organizations, multinational companies, local entrepreneurs, and, of course, professors (such as Nathan) and students from a variety of academic institutions.
[Katrin, Nathan and I have posted our slides on Slideshare (tag: poptech2007)
, and I hope Nathan will upload his there once he's done with his current round of travels. Katrin has also posted an entry on the session at MobileActive.org. I'll embed mine below.]
As I'd noted in my blog post on Blessed Unrest, I was excited about the opportunity to present - especially at a venue like Pop!Tech, and along with speakers like Katrin and Nathan who have done so much in this area - and yet I was feeling a bit self-conscious that I haven't [yet] done much more than talk and/or write about the challenges faced by people in developing regions, and the other people who are rising to help meet those challenges (fortunately, including a number of other people at Nokia, for whom I was simply serving as a spokesperson). I'm hoping that by continuing to follow this relatively new personal opening to opportunities for empowering people in developing regions (catalyzed by a number of sessions on Africa at Foo Camp this summer), I'll eventually be in a position to do more than talk and write about these opportunities.
Yesterday, the first full day of Pop!Tech, was filled with inspiring speakers and stories of people who are empowering people in the developing world (about which I'll post more in a separate entry). It was so inspiring, in fact, that I decided to cancel my plans to leave early and attend another conference, which is more relevant to my current focus of research (similar to the gravity pull toward a session on Africa I felt at the Communities and Technologies 2007 conference). Today promises more inspiring talks as well ... it may take me a while to properly (or even improperly) digest them, but I'll post more in the near future.
[Full disclosure: Nokia (my employer) was a sponsor of the conference, providing financial support for the conference, giving away N95 mobile phones to conference speakers and attendees of this session, making another set of N95s available as “loaners”, offering a special channel on our recently released MOSH mobile content sharing web service for the conference, and encouraging people to use the N95s to conduct "The Nokia Interview" – videotaping another participant answering one of a set of suggested suggestions, or discussing any other topic of interest or relevance to the Pop!Tech community.]