Development + Tech: A Perfect Union

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Alex Dehgan speaks at the Lewy Global Development Technology Forum.

Most people think of risks in terms of the potential costs of change. However Alex Dehgan, former chief scientist for the U.S. Agency for International Development, says when we do that we’re failing to ask the opposite, often more important, questions. What happens if we don’t take risks? How many lives will we fail to save? How many people will not be educated?

“It takes risks, it actually takes change, to be able to save lives, to end AIDS, to train people, to address these big development challenges,” Dehgan said in his opening speech at the inaugural Lewy Global Development Technology Forum.

Almost 100 people participated in the November 4 event in Washington, DC, which provided a hands-on exploration of how emerging technology can be used realistically and effectively to address the development and educational challenges facing our world today.

“It is perhaps my highest single priority at World Learning to ensure that we’re taking full advantage of new technologies, social innovation, and new ways of thinking as we empower the next generation of global citizens to build peace, prosperity, social inclusion, and responsive institutions,” World Learning President and CEO Donald Steinberg said in his welcome address. [Watch Steinberg’s full speech.]

Dehgan, who recently founded the start-up Conservation X Labs, framed the day by discussing the need for people to adapt and innovate to solve major global challenges and the opportunities technology provides. He explained that while there is more data and technology available than ever before in human history, we still need to find ways to improve education and expand access to it in order to include all people in creating these solutions and benefit from their contributions. Dehgan also said we need to shape education around critical challenges rather than specific disciplines, envisioning a time when students study a problem, not a major.

“The major doesn’t equip you with the sets of skills you need no matter where you are in the world to be able to address these problems,” he said.

Dehgan challenged the audience to think big, saying the same resourcefulness that was used to land a rover on Mars can be used to fix other world problems.

“It is using the ingenuity of humans, and the tools that technology gives us, and that connectivity it has unlocked that will allow us to be successful,” he said. [Watch Dehgan’s full speech.]

Following Deghan’s speech the event featured two rounds of Lightening Talks, short presentations on subjects related to development and technology; a Speed Geeking session, where participants engaged with leading practitioners and vendors demonstrating their products; and Expert Round tables, lively discussions about how to integrate technology into development.

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Hany Atalla speaks during his Lightening Talk.

In his Lightening Talk, World Learning Chief of Party for Egypt Hany Attalla described how the organization’s Education Consortium for the Advancement of STEM (ECASE) project, is answering Dehgan’s call by creating model schools with project-based curricula, in which students apply their science and math skills to create solutions to real issues facing their country.

“You’re not studying physics or chemistry or biology,” Atalla said. “You’re studying how to solve a problem, one of the great challenges that face Egypt.”

Other Lightening Talk topics ranged from using mobile technologies to fight Ebola, to Tech Camps to train young people in Algeria, to community-oriented online courses, to digital experiential learning.

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Ali Jafari discusses CourseNetworking during the Speed Geeking session.

Participants also showed their skills in Speed Geeking — five minute round-robins with leading innovators who demonstrated their latest wares including CourseNetworking, DevResults, DynEd International, Inc., The Fab Academy, Magpi, The New York Academy of Sciences, Souktel, and TechChange.

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Paola Gonzalez speaks during the Expert Round Table session.

Participants capped off the day with Expert Round Tables, delving into the topics of distance learning and online education; democratizing technology; bridging the user divides; technology for monitoring and evaluation; and social media for networks, alumni, and participant engagement.

Attendees said the event was eye opening and introduced them to new ideas and technologies they would never otherwise have known about, but could now use in their work.

“I think there are so many opportunities for us to be integrating technology better into our projects, not only for World Learning, but within the international development sector more broadly,” said Meredith McCormac, World Learning’s country representative for Pakistan.

Raana Zafar, assistant training manager for World Learning’s Training for Pakistan program, said she was inspired by Dehgan’s comments that people need to find different methods and approaches in order to confront the world’s problems.

“What really stuck with me is that if we’re not ready to adapt, to change, we’re going to fail,” she said.

The event was funded by a generous contribution from Cheryl and Glen Lewy, long-time supporters of World Learning, SIT, and EIL. Cheryl is a member of World Learning’s Board of Trustees.

World Learning empowers people, communities, and institutions to create a more peaceful and just world.

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