Showing posts with label innovation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label innovation. Show all posts

Thursday, August 22, 2019

My East Asia book tour

The last two weeks have been thrilling! With my book being translated into Chinese, I got on the road to speak about the "The Next Billion Users"  with academics, development and tech practitioners, activists, and the lay public in Singapore, Macau, Hong Kong and Taipei. The news of the typhoons in China and Taiwan and the ongoing protests in Hong Kong did make me wonder how this would play out, adding a streak of adventure to this whole journey. But not only did everything run smoothly, but people across board were so extraordinarily kind, hospitable and generous with their time and attention that I am determined this is just my beginning with this region.

The book talks started at the launch of the Innovation lab in Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore. The workshop aptly called "Interrogating Innovation"  brought together speakers from across disciplines and countries and shed light on the obsession with innovation, the implicit normative meanings around this term and the policy and practical implications on tech design and policy:

"Although there have been various attempts to define “innovation,” part of its power stems from its polysemic quality. Rather than attempt to add to these definitions, this conference aims to examine what “innovation” does. What work does it do as a discourse or as an ideology? How does it organize and mobilize resources? Who does it include or exclude? How does it shape scientific or engineering practice? How does it shape social and urban relations?"

I got to see the Innovation zones in One North and we were very lucky with the timing as there was an open house policy during my stay there. What was interesting is the deep involvement of the state and the university system in this initiative. While media outlets love to perpetuate the lone entrepreneur in the garage tinkering away breakthrough tech, in reality it is and has always been a deeply top down process with the state and the tech empires steering those below to create something novel.

 From there I headed to Macau to talk at the UN University and hold a webinar for the public. It was a great experience and the place itself is fascinating. You learn quickly of its 400+ years of Portuguese colonization through the Vasco da Gama park, the Portuguese street signs alongside Chinese characters, pastel de nata stores all over the place. I had no idea that this place is one of the densest in the world, and had a gambling industry 7 times bigger than that of Las Vegas, and that it had overtaken Qatar as one of the Karen Keith which was a good 20 minutes of conversation on national TV - pretty rare in these days especially given the topic is about digital inequality, technology innovations, globalization and user experiences.
richest per person income in the world. Got to also talk on Macau TV Teledifusão de Macau with the wonderful TV host

Took the Ferry to Hong Kong, which was such a magical experience. A few days back, more than a million protesters had taken to the streets. Yet, when I arrived, it was business as usual and there was no trace whatsoever of the ongoing political developments. I was told that HK people clean up very well after them and this normalcy gives them the stamina to see this through longer term.



What was very rewarding was to give talks in two unconventional book stores. Nose in the Books is a crowdfunded initiative of allowing anyone to access and read some of the most classic and cutting edge books in this very warm and welcoming atmosphere. ACO bookstore is part of a larger art and literature scene which encourages activists, artists and thinkers to get together and take initiative. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of people who made the time to be there and engage deeply in spite of all their ongoing political unrest.
And last but not least, I got to give a talk at Taiwan National University (TNU) and was met with a wonderfully engaged and thoughtful group of students and scholars. People asked about solutions to the growing gender inequality online, the ways in which tech can debilitate as well as facilitate empowerment, and what should be done to institute the global mindset of tech infrastructures with the growing nationalist models in tech innovation. As we walked to dinner, I got to see the train tunnel come alive with Taipei people's support for the Hong Kong protests through their personal messages adorned across these walls.

Overall, this region just filled my heart with so much joy. I fell deeper in love with their food, their cultures, their kindness and humility and am determined this is just the beginning of my journey with these cities. Until next time. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Talking to Tech: Keynote at EMERCE Next in Amsterdam


Wonderful experience speaking as one of the few academics in a room full of young tech entrepreneurs at the EMERCE Next event in Amsterdam. I gave a talk based on my new book 'The Next Billion Users' published by Harvard Press earlier this year. I spoke about the myths that aid agencies and tech industries perpetuate about these new user groups based on their biased understandings of them and rooted in little empirical evidence. Worse yet, even in the face of vast evidence that contradicts these worldviews, this thinking still persists so I hope I was able to disrupt a little bit these conventional approaches. I got questions on Article 13 on copyright policies under the new GDPR which indeed is so far from the world of media piracy in developing countries. I emphasized how we need to look also at why these policies are barely enforced based on historical and unfair media business models in the global south. Other questions grappled with the ways the "West" and the "Rest" are the same and yet different and so how can we build tech going forward?

I learnt a lot from this conference that "brings the technology from tomorrow to today" and how "pioneers and experts, innovators and early adopters talk about the success of ML, VR, AI, IoT, AR, Blockchain and Quantum in marketing and business."

1. Academia has a Pessimism Bias while the Tech world has a Hyper-Optimism bias.

2. When asked how do you know you’re "doing good," Jip Samhoud of Samhoud Media said that it’s about writing down your values and knowing in your heart you are making the world better. Clearly academic discussions on Ethics and Tech have NOT made inroads with young tech peeps.

3. A big part of the blame falls on the shoulders of academia. We urgently need to find common ground/ language with the tech world that speaks about "growth hacking" instead of "surveillance capitalism"; that looks at the future through data maximization instead of data justice.

4. Academia and the Tech industry can be mutually beneficial: Scholars work slow and steady; thereby offer critical/ ethical guidelines. Tech peeps move fast and disruptive; thereby they offer insight on customer desires, needs, demands that scholars should give weight to in their theorizing. We can help them be more reflective while they can help us be more empathetic to the market.

5. Learnt that EU H2020 are funding data analytic entrepreneurs who are innovating and solving problems for the car industry (e.g. Media Distillery) on the taxpayers dime. We should use EU money to pioneer solutions to bridge the growing data inequality that corporations would never fund. I start to wonder what the market of venture capitalism looks like and if taxpayers are indeed subsidizing innovation, what kind of shares and benefits do the tax payers receive when these innovations get adopted and monetized by the private sector?

Anyway, was enlightening...

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Speaker on Prizes for innovation at the Digital Economies workshop in South Africa

South Africa, here I come! Am excited to finally head to the African continent for the first time. Will be speaking on how prizes are being used to spur innovation and strengthen the digital economies in emerging markets. My talk draws from the commissioned report for the UN on innovation in education in developing countries.

Am being hosted by the timely initiative and network established by Richard Heeks and team called the DIODE network (Development Implications of Digital Economies), funded by the UK's Economic and Social Research Council.

Besides this, I will be exploring new sites for my research on privacy in the global South in Cape town. Also, I am looking into how I can further the mission of Catalyst Lab, the organization I founded in 2015 that stimulates new forms of engaging communication between academia and the lay public using social media. I will be exploring a partnership with CREST (Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology) at Stellenbosch University, South Africa.

So much to do, such little time! And of course, do some academic tourism on the side...how can I resist the charms of Cape Town and Stellenbosch!




Monday, November 20, 2017

Opinion piece: A case for the ‘boring’ classroom

A case for the ‘boring’ classroom

There is a growing disdain for the traditional classroom, but for a teacher, the blank walls can be a canvas to play with, thinks Payal Arora.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

New Release: My UN Commissioned Report on Innovation in the ICT's in Education sector

In February of 2016, I was approached by UNESCO to come up with a report to advise the UN Education Commission on the role of prizes in shaping innovation in the education sector. After months of research, and evaluation, I was thrilled to learn that the report made its way into the policy pathway. This paper was prepared for the International Commission on Financing Global Education.

Basically, here is the executive summary for the report. If interested, click here to get access to the final report.

The use of prizes to stimulate innovation in education has dramatically increased in recent
years, but, to date, no organization has attempted to critically examine the impact these
prizes have had on education. This report attempts to fill this gap by conducting a landscape
review of education prizes with a focus on technology innovation in developing countries.
This report critically analyses the diversity of education prizes to gauge the extent to which
these new funding mechanisms lead to innovative solutions in this sector. This is
supplemented with interviews with sponsors and prize participants to gain the muchneeded
practitioner’s perspective. We address important questions that pervade as prizes
are being implemented in this sector: What seems to be working and why? How do prizes
compare to other funding mechanisms to stimulate technology innovations? How is
sustainability achieved? What can be learned that can inform the design of future prizes?

We structure our recommendations along the Doblin framework, which entails analyzing
the design of prizes along the criteria of Resources (sponsorships & partnerships), Structure (types of prizes, eligibility criteria, scope, types of ICT projects, phases, & intellectual property rights), Motivators (monetary & non-monetary Incentives, Communications (marketing), and, Evaluation (measuring impact and long-term sustainability). 

Through this process, a number of important assumptions are re-examined, namely, that technology innovation is central to educational reform, prizes stimulate innovation, scalability is a proxy for sustainability, and prizes are the most efficient funding mechanism to stimulate innovation. We re-calibrate expectations of technology innovation prizes in the educational field against empirical evidence. We reveal key trends through the deploying of prizes in this field and offer case studies as good practices for sponsors to consider when designing future prizes. The report makes recommendations along each of the given criteria to enhance the impact of prizes, drawing from interdisciplinary sources. The intent of this report is to enable sponsors to distinguish the hype surrounding these prizes and proceed to design prizes that can best serve the education sector.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Project leader for an UNESCO Report on prize-based incentives for innovations in ICT's in Education

In the next few months, I will be working on a UNESCO commissioned report on prize-based incentives to foster innovation in the area of ICT's in education. This is indeed timely as there is much hype on mobile-based learning and educating through gamification, particularly in developing countries. New technology again promises to come to the rescue by circulating hope in the midst of chronic failures in schooling in these contexts. With a majority of people in the global South gaining access to mobile phones, there is much proclamation that learning is now literally at their fingertips.


At the UN Mobile Week in Paris with the UNESCO Secretary General Irina Bokova
Since we cannot afford to have another 'lost generation' as the state fails the youth, funders are taking on the neoliberal approach to education, using financial incentives to capitalize on new ICT's to provide engaging and relevant e-content for these emerging platforms of learning. But are these incentives working to attract the best innovations in this field? What constitutes as sustainability in such schemes and is this coming at the cost of funding traditional modes of education? Is there an expectation that mlearning innovation will supplant traditional models of schooling? And who are the target audiences anyway for these innovations and is this overlapping with the actual gaps and inequalities within these societies? These are but a few questions one needs to tackle when approaching a project such as this.

Previously, I have worked on two major projects that were recipients of such prize-based incentives for innovation, namely the Development Marketplace Award for the Same Language Subtitling initiative on Bollywood songs to sustain neo-literacy by the Founder Brij Kothari. I have written a number of articles on the impact of SLS on literacy outcomes that can be accessed here. The second project was my critique of the much celebrated Hole in the Wall initiative by TED prize winner Sugata Mitra.

The bottom line is that today, the use of prizes to spur innovation in education has dramatically increased since the beginning of the millennium, but, to date, no organization has attempted to critically examine the impact these prizes have had on education. UNESCO proposes to fill this gap by conducting a landscape review of education prizes with an ICT focus. I will be taking the lead on this project, working with a promising young scholar Andrea Gudmundsdóttir as my research assistant. Should be a fun couple of months ahead!