Nathan Wyeth

Weekly Roundup: Live from Hyderabad

This past week saw a fantastic Tech4Society conference take place in Hyderabad, India, focused on the worthy goal of how to build systems that maximize the social value of technology. When I came to understand the thrust of the conference in this way, I became that much more enthusiastic about it. This is a particularly valuable approach to take because while technology is often conceived in a relative vacuum, imagined with a very specific audience or market in mind, it of course exists within a broader context. From Google’s business decisions vis a vis China to the countless simple low-cost improvements to basic tools used globally like more efficient cookstoves or drip irrigation, the systems in which technology is used and propagated determine more of its impact than any particular aspect of its design. A good example of the sensitivity of technology interacting with business models and human proclivities is here.

I was not, unfortunately, in Hyderabad, but I followed the Twitter feed from the conference, #tech4soc, which you can still peruse. Not surprisingly, a popular topic was scale, because it is difficult for technology to make an impact if it doesn’t get out of the garage in which it’s put together, and systems for scale are essential. But building systems for scaling technology deployment requires a very different set of skills than building a technology, and the tweets I caught included discussion of this need for organizational change by technology companies that hope to reach any modicum of real market penetration.

You can read full coverage of this uniquely oriented conference on Tech4Society’s blog and the website of the Lemelson Foundation.

Two recent reports that caught my eye:

  • The 2009/2010 Beyond Grey Pinstripes report from the Aspen Business and Society Program (a report initiated in the past by Next Billion managing partner World Resources Institute) came out recently, highlighting what’s behind the hype when it comes to business school curricula and courses on social and environmental topics. Lots of schools talk a good game, but who’s actually got the content to back it up? Topping the global ranking by Aspen’s measurement is the Schulich School of Business at York University in Canada, followed by the Ross School at Michigan (wonder if Next Billion managing partner the William Davidson Institute has anything to do with it?), the Yale School of Management, and the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
  • To follow on my post from last week on mobile money, I’ve finally gotten the chance to look at a scenario analysis done by CGAP and the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) for “branchless banking” looking out to 2020. This is from November 2009, but should still be relevant giving it’s intended to look ahead for ten years still.
We recently updated the Take Action page with a whole heap of conferences – April is as usual a busy month on this front. If there are additional events then or further in the future that we should be covering or noting, please send them our way.