NB Financial Innovation
Leveraging Technology for Good: An Interview With June Sugiyama, Director of the Vodafone Americas Foundation
With its parent corporation ranked as one of the top telecom companies in the world, Vodafone Americas Foundation’s focus is a natural fit: “We support projects that use technology for social impact,” says June Sugiyama, the foundation’s director.
Though mobile tech is a common element to these innovations – and though the Vodafone connection would suggest it – it’s not a prerequisite for the foundation’s support. “The innovation should be technology based,” she says. “Mobile and wireless is great, but we have IOT, internet of things … anything that has to do with technology, and that can really move the needle as far as social impact is concerned.”
Much of this support comes through grants to nonprofits, but Sugiyama says the foundation also boosts entrepreneurs through its support for conferences like SOCAP, and especially through its Wireless Innovation Project, which she refers to as “kind of our signature project.” Describing it as “a major competition … to find the best wireless solution to make social impact,” she says the contest opens every fall, starting in November, with the winners announced in June. These winners have ranged from mobile microscopes that detect eye disease and prescribe eyeglasses, to financial tools for the poor, and devices to help monitor cold chain vaccine distribution. “We really wanted to target wireless innovation that was at mid-stage, or ready to build a prototype, so that the amount of money we give will propel them into market. And a lot of our winners have gone to market and started helping people that they were meant to help.”
Vodafone has 27 foundations worldwide, with each focusing on a different country or continent. Though the Vodafone Americas Foundation does support projects in the U.S., she says it isn’t entirely geo-specific, since it also supports projects that lift the whole sector, such as “open-source projects, or something that’s being tested in one country that can be scaled to another.”
In this Q&A, recorded at the SOCAP16 conference, Sugiyama discusses the foundation’s multifaceted work, the reasons for its growing focus on women and girls, and the results of its mobile pitch sessions at this year’s SOCAP.
James Militzer is senior editor at NextBillion.