Tech x Social Inclusion Webinar Summary

Aug 21, ’21: This day was able to mark the organizing of the very first THINC (Technology, Humanity, Inclusion, Nurture, Changemaker) Fellowship webinar. The THINC Fellowship is characterized by 10 teams of fellows (56 fellows in total in the 2021 cohort) from around the world (the 2021 cohort ranging from San Francisco to Melbourne) – organized by Tencent and Viva la Vida. The central agenda is to make happen highly intellectual discussions across ten pillars concerning tech and humanity at their core.

The ten pillars range from topics such as Social Inclusion, Education, Human Connection, Globalization to Nature, Mental Wellbeing and Spirituality. As these ten teams come together, the result is visualized in the format of ten webinars throughout the year which is ultimately planned to culminate in a summit in China.

 

The magical sorting hat chose the Tech x Social Inclusion team to be the first to bear the torch of hosting their share of the webinar, with the agenda of making happen truly stimulating discussions centred around the involvement of tech in the domain of social inclusion.

 

As major is the logistical nightmare in hosting a webinar for attendees present across multiple time zones spanning a 17-hour difference, the webinar managed to gather around 40 attendees which included the fellows, speakers, volunteers as well as the core THINC team. The result was a big block of truly enjoyable 2.5+ hours - longer than anyone could have expected, but super-fun and very intellectually stimulating. The core agenda was to have discussions around inclusion by means of tech, while touching upon use cases of diversity in gender, financial and social standing et. al..

 

The webinar commenced with a welcome and stating of the agenda in brief. The team was fortunate to have Mr. Howard Ling, the Chief Consultant of HKCSS Social Enterprise Business Centre (SEBC) and the Convener of Artificial Intelligence & Social Intelligence Alliance (AISIA) as a speaker as well as the team’s mentor; Mr. Carlo Calimon, Director of StartUp Village in Philippines; and David Zhou and Yifan Ren from Tencent.

 

The first item on the agenda was Mr. Howard’s session on describing the nitty gritty of social intelligence, where he gave the audience a glimpse of the cutting edge research happening in this domain with the goal of expanding social inclusion of a diverse set of population from various strata – all with the use of technology. This session gave a great commencement to the webinar by setting the expectations well for the audience. This was immediately followed by a quick show of culture by each fellow from the Tech x Social Inclusion team. Kunal started off with a pleasant ice-breaker by hosting a series of polls that enabled fellows, volunteers, and speakers to put forth a show of hands for questions such as where they were joining from to what kind of positive experiences they had where they may have witnessed technology to be used in the inclusion of socially vulnerable groups into the social security net during the pandemic in their respective countries. Abhishek displayed how COVID had affected certain cultures and occupations very specific to India, such as the wedding industry, classical dance festivals and tourism. Erika being Italian as well as Dutch, touched upon how she saw a massive divide during the hard lockdowns in Italy from 2020, and how technology could blur the divide to a significant extent by people coming up with innovative app-based ideas to connect emergency services with citizens.

 

The Culture Moments were followed by the Insights Sharing sessions – ones which were carefully crafted to deliver truly engaging discussions for the audience. The first session was presented by Mr. Calimon, who diligently described what the startup ecosystem looks like, where can technology play a very crucial role in inclusion by innovation, and what he believes that entrepreneurs across the globe can strive for, to make the world a much better place.

 

The second Insights Sharing session was started off by David who described Tencent’s efforts in social and technological inclusion and how a variety of products and subsequent features are driving these initiatives. This was followed by Yifan’s session on building trust through technology, which indeed was very timely in the sense that September marks the beginning of 99 Giving Days – a very large scale charity festival. Yifan’s session described how the festival is carried out and has seen charity amounting to more than 2 Billion Yuan in 2020 itself. Her session also detailed out the various products and apps that help with the donations, social discovery, sharing, inclusion et. al..

 

The last segment of the webinar was for the fellows to distribute into three breakout rooms, each having a specific topic of discussion such as inclusion of women in tech moderated by Martha, inclusive tech adoption moderated by Precious and Abhishek, and how social inequities shape technological inclusion moderated by Erika and Kunal.

 

The first breakout room, taking up the major issue of inclusion of women in technology, discussed the low involvement of women in the tech workforce across borders. Howard was a part of this room and helped the team understand that the issue is not just restricted to community, rather is an economic issue, by taking examples from ethnic women in Hong Kong. The group was able to recognize a massive gender gap at the top of leadership and engineering roles. However, initiatives such as the Grace Hopper Program and others are trying hard to bring in women in tech at a much earlier age. Countries such as Rwanda have come up with opportunities for women with their understanding that rightful participation by 50% of the population is key to any inclusive development.

 

The second breakout room saw a vast span of ideas ranging from financial inclusion of smallholder farmers and blue-collar workers to complex ideas bringing in the notion of Decentralized Finance (DeFi) for cross-border fintech initiatives such as P2P lending, monetization of digital assets, lending against real world asset NFTs etc. The breakout room had the presence of Mr. Robin Lewis, ex-Associate Dean of SIPA, Columbia University who specifically showed interest in the use of powerful technology focussing narrowly on certain segments and strata and providing them with access to more inclusion – financially and socially.

 

Talking about the third breakout room, the session focussed on, primarily, recognising the growing digitisation in our lives as a double-edged sword—i.e. while technology breaks some old barriers of access and creates social inclusion, in some ways, it also reinforces some other barriers and inhibits true inclusion. The session focussed on understanding the need for more socially-inclusive ways of using technology, especially when it comes to addressing access for traditionally disadvantaged communities. This was done through using real-life examples of how the use of technology has resulted in social exclusion. The session illustrated this by highlighting the technology-driven process of inclusion and exclusion among migrants, both domestic and international. 

 

One of the outcomes of the session was a unanimous agreement with the fact that digital technologies need to be created keeping in mind the end users from disadvantaged and marginalised communities. Participants agreed that there is a need to better understand the barriers that inhibit technological access for these communities—from literacy to language to technological savviness to systemic barriers like race, religion and caste. This can be best done by understanding the lived realities of users, through extensive engagement with such users.

 

Conclusively, reflecting about the experience of the participants and their feedback, the fellows enjoyed the overall structure to the letter. Their comments over certain aspects such as the timekeeping of the session will help the next webinars to plan these areas well. Few of the fellows have mentioned that a result of these discussions would be to enable further research in the respective domains, especially noting the requirement of blockchain technology in the non-profit sector and the necessity of more fintech ideas to include the unbanked population which currently stands to be around 1.7 billion people around the world. A prominent idea is to create tangible deliverables as a part of the fellowship – ones that can be consumed as knowledge by researchers, entrepreneurs, facilitators in the associated segments and domains.

 

This was definitely not the end, rather the beginning of a series of further webinars that are scheduled to take place around the pillars that will form the core topics of the discussions over the next twelve months. Additionally, it is quite evident that as a very selective program bringing in 56 handpicked fellows who have been working in very important areas that can result in massive impact, the culmination of the THINC Fellowship would witness not a conclusion but a commencement of a journey for these fellows resulting in creation of opportunities, initiatives, technology, products, and services, all with the focus of uplifting the underserved, underbanked, and underrepresented segments.