‘Time to use tech to fight poverty’

Ritu Jha-

It is time to use technology to fight poverty, according to Dr Muhammad Musa, an activist and expert on poverty, who spoke at an event hosted by the Stanford Graduate School of Business March 22.

Musa, executive director at BRAC (Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee) one of the world’s most effective anti-poverty organizations, was speaking at a fireside chat session “Scaling Impact at the Intersection of Technology and Global Development to Achieve Sustainable Development Goal 1.”

“In BRAC and other organizations that we are working with, we don’t see technology as meaning you jump [ahead]… We see it as a continuous output that allows you to do things differently,” he told a group of people at the intersection of technology, academia, education and global development to eradicate extreme poverty and achieve sustainable development.

BRAC’s first social enterprise was in Bangladesh but it has expanded into Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tanzania, Nepal, Pakistan and Uganda, to name a few.

“[Technology] allows you to think differently as the work, the needs and the demands are changing,” said Musa, who earlier worked for 32 years at CARE International, another anti-poverty group.

He described how the arduous collection of data by field workers that drove healthcare practices were often put into manuals, making material hard to find.

“Now we give them tablets to data collectors and now it goes through the system saving time,” Musa said, adding that this helped to put together quick analyses that led to reliable decisions.

BRAC is still discussing plans for an expansion into India, Musa told indica.

He said that given that India has plenty of non-governmental organizations fighting poverty, BRAC did not want to just be another NGO but as a social enterprise.

Radhika Shah,  an angel investor and Co-president of Stanford Angels & Entrepreneur who moderated the event, told indica,“I would love to get BRAC … to India.”

“In India there are so many technologies happening that we can use them to eradicate poverty,” said Shah, who is also an adviser for the Sustainable Development Goals Philanthropy Platform, which brings together the United Nations, governments, philanthropy and private sector firms to ensure sustainable development.

Shah said SDG PP was launched in India in 2015, holding meetings in Mumbai and Bangalore on sustainable development goals.

According to her, “Unemployment of the rural youth takes away hope and inspiration and is one of the biggest crisis in India.” She was optimistic about some initiatives, including those that addressed the grassroots development of rural women.

“I see a deep partnership between the UN and the government in India that gives me hope… I am a believer in the power of technology. Nandan Nilekani, the co-founder of Infosys and the former chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India, is now working to create an digital infrastructure to lift everyone up with the power of technology.

“Technology could be the infrastructure that help India leapfrog not just come out of its poverty but lead the way for the world,” Shah said, while admitting there were huge challenges ahead and the work would call for collaborations across sectors, Still, she thought India was adopting technology at a pace not seen in other countries.

However, Colburn S Wilbur former president of the David & Lucile Packard Foundation, was less sanguine.

He told indica he was concerned about India’s growing pollution problem.

“Through energy efficiency we are trying to help in many ways as air pollution in India is going up,” he said. He described how farmers burning crops and vehicular exhaust are making air pollution worse in New Delhi, where the foundation has an office.

Wilbur felt the government needed to intervene.

“Whether one is a mayor of a tiny town or a legislator, you must think about environmental issues,” he said.

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