Social Good Summit 2016: Using tech to hack PH progress

Chris Schnabel
Social Good Summit 2016: Using tech to hack PH progress

Martin San Diego

Technology today provides all the tools needed to spur development exponentially but a better educational foundation and a whole of society approach is needed to drive it forward says a panel of the country’s premier tech thinkers

MANILA, Philippines – While there is a lot of excitement about how artificial intelligence and nanotechnology are expected to extend human limits by leaps and bounds, developing countries like the Philippines need not wait for these technological advances to improve living standards for their populations.

The Philippines has yet to harness the power of available technologies to solve most pressing problems, according to leading technology experts in a panel discussion during the 2016 Social Good Summit held on Saturday, September 24.

“Our belief is digitization can enhance people’s lives and drive inclusive growth. Think about how the internet is changing lives and consider this: World class content from California can be viewed everywhere from Cavite to Catanduanes,” said Google Philippines head Ken Lingan.

They cited how knowledge available on the Internet, for example, can teach farmers how to protect their crops from pests and diseases. The farmers can then expect a boost in their harvest and their income. 

They also discussed how the internet levels the business playing field for small entrepreneurs or MSMEs, who can now easily access the global market through e-commerce platforms like Lazada or Amazon.

Lingan said this is particularly relevant to the Philippines because 99.6% of the economy is comprised of MSMEs. They only account for 30% of GDP despite employing 60% of the population.

Lingan shared the story of a former overseas Filipino worker in Dubai, who returned to the country to sell ornamental plants. Demand for her plants grew exponentially when she brought her business online, allowing her to expand and employ her own friends. 

“Imagine the economic value that was created by this ordinary entrepreneur who took the step of going online. Think of how many other businesses can be be helped by doing the same,” Lingan said.

“Access to the world’s information is transformational and our journey to digitization is starting at an exciting time. Last year alone, 8 million Filipinos were connected [to the Internet for the first time], bringing the country’s connected population to close to 60 million,” Lingan added.

Education for all

People need educational foundation in science and engineering to be able to maximize available technologies, according to Paco Sendejas, managing partner at venture capital firm Narra Ventures.

The problems is 80% of Philippine schools, which should be tapped to provide training, are not connected to the Internet.

Sendejas, a trustee at the Philippine Development Foundation (Phildev), was thus inspired to set up Xepto Computing. His firm developed cloud based learning system called Xepto Learning Systems, which now delivers the Department of Education’s online resource library to 200 public schools in the Philippines through funding from corporate donors.

Thirteen-year-old programmer Isabel Sieh showed how proper tools and environment can turn young Filipinos into innovators who can aspire to rethink solutions to the country’s longrunning problems. 

Sieh started coding at 10, using tools that were available online. When they were no longer enough for her to advance her coding skills, she founded the Philippine chapter of Girls Will Code to create a local community of women programmers.

She said the goal is to eventually have coding taught in all schools in the country.

“I could be doing lots of other thing but the reason I do this is because ever since I started coding, it changed my thinking,” she said.

“Coding can help solve world problems. The internet has brought so many communities together and it just gives everyone the opportunity to create,” Sieh said.

Sandejas said it is crucial that the materials and tools available to Sieh are also available to poor kids elsewhere in the country.

“Coding is just the start and there’s so much to do but if people like Isabel keep studying then eventually one day she could go on to solve cancer,” said Sandejas.

Human touch

In a world where artificial intelligence has been broadly predicted to outstrip human capabilities, Kickstart Ventures president Minette Navarette stressed that humans are still the key ingredient to innovations.   

The popular mobile game Pokemon Go exhibited the power of technology in terms of speed and scale, she said, but the game also showed that human intervention is crucial.

The mobile game hit over 100 million users within a week of its launch, but Navarette said such speed and scale created a sitution where there is no design, no specificity, and no identity.

“The ability to pause, think and validate and check is not a technology. That’s human. We should remember that technology ought to exist for the individual as well as for society as a whole,” she said.

Navarette said fake news have proliferated on social media, too, because netizens sometimes just pass along information or opinions in the Internet without reflecting on them first.

“All the big problems of the world will not be solved by technology alone or art alone. We need an interdisciplinary approach but the great thing about is that there are a lot of tools available now that are collaborative,” she said.

“That’s what excites me about the future. The ability to take all the tools and all the people with different skills and put them together to solve this big problems irrespective of how old they are or where they are,” she added.

Kickstart Ventures is a venture capital firm backed by Globe Telecom. – Rappler.com

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