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Mashable #2030Now: Is Technology a Paradox for Social Good?

Ken Kaplan Executive Editor, iQ by Intel

Doing social good is about taking action with conviction, but it’s also about sharing best practices and pointing out the real progress of those actions so others can understand, be inspired and take part in their own social-good doing.

While that was the impetus of the Mashable Social Good Summit in New York on September 21-22, it was also pointed out that technologies used to tackle the world’s challenges are often the same technologies that expose us to controversial issues.

On day one of the summit, Stacy Martinet, chief marketing officer for Mashable, moderated a talk about the conflict-free movement, which has gained significant momentum from college student activists, such as Roxanne Rahnama, and industry leaders, such as Intel CEO Bryan Krzanich.

The movement’s aim is to encourage the use of so-called conflict-free minerals to manufacture products ranging from computers to hair dryers and many other consumer electronics.

Rahnama, a UC Berkeley student activist who started the Conflict-Free Campus Initiative at her campus before becoming the national organizer for the overall initiative. Now she is part of the national coordination team for the CFCI.

She told the Social Good audience that she was in eighth grade when she first learned about the conflict mineral issue in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

There, the extraction of minerals — including tantalum, tin, tungsten and gold, which are essential for making computer microprocessors — has been linked with corruption, violence and killing, as warlords, rebels and militia groups have taken over mines and forced others into slave labor. This illegal trade has enabled these groups to buy weapons, commit unspeakable acts and terrorize the region.

“I felt is was a moral imperative to turn this knowledge into action,” said Rahnama. The college-campus initiative she sparked is spreading across the United States to other colleges in an effort to encourage universities to adopt policies the support the conflict-free movement and use of conflict-free products.

Earlier this year, Krzanich kicked off a supply-chain program that would allow Intel to remain in the Congo but use only conflict-free minerals. He equated the program to open source software.

“Anyone can use it,” he said.

Today all of Intel’s microprocessors are made with conflict-free minerals, but Kzranich said these computer brain chips are only half of all products Intel makes. Intel also makes graphics chips, solid-state drives and many other products.

“We can get everything we build and everything we buy to be Conflict-Free by the end of 2015. That’s our new goal,” he said.

Watch the archived video of One Year Later — Progress in the Pursuit of Conflict-Free.

The second day of the Mashable Social Good Summit kicked off with a challenge from UN Secretary General Ban-ki Moon: continue to innovate with technology in order to help those less fortunate around the world.

As technology makes lives in the first world easier, it cannot be blind to the needs of the third world. Providing access to this technology and educating people in its use is necessary for the developing world to advance.

Michael Dell, founder and CEO of Dell, believes the most important factor in opening up technology to the disadvantaged is reducing production costs. Cheaper tablets and laptops will put those devices in the hands of the people who need them most.

Dell went on to state, “I think the outlook for the world that embraces technology and innovation is incredibly positive.”

The proliferation of education was also a major talking point. Peter Diamandis of XPrize, a driving force behind encouraging technological development for public use, recently announced the Learning Prize endeavor. Learning Prize is challenging developers worldwide to build software that can take a child from illiteracy to reading, writing and arithmetic in just 18 months. Diamandis plans for this app to be open source, so it will work on any platform and any mobile device.

In his roundtable discussion, Diamandis emphasized just how difficult it is in some places to get children into classrooms. With this app, he states, “the power of learning will be placed in the hands of every child in any country.”

A roundtable discussion between four leaders in the world of women’s empowerment took the importance of education a step further. Actress Connie Britton, Jane Wurwand, Rosa Wang and Vicki Escarra discussed how educating women in the use of technology can greatly help their social standings in the developing world.

Rosa Wang, the director of Mobile Money at Opportunity International, shared the story of a woman in Malawi whose husband had recently passed away. The man’s brother attempted to withdraw all of their life savings but was thwarted by the biometric security measures she had implemented using a mobile money management app.

Stories like these are not unique in the developing world, unfortunately.

In countries like Uganda where mobile phones are more common than light bulbs, women are taking it upon themselves to get educated in the use of mobile money management to better protect their families’ livelihoods and futures. Melinda Gates, philanthropist and co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, shared her own stories of using mobile phones to help track disease and pregnancy rates in the developing world.

Gates stated, “If we don’t empower women, we don’t allow them to unlock the potential of themselves and their children.”

In Sub-Saharan Africa, wildlife is at constant odds with illegal poaching, which technology is working to solve. Recently, wearable tech has been enlisted to save the lives of endangered black rhinos, but with more than 100,000 elephants poached in the last three years alone, other steps must be taken.

Enter Strathmore University student Mercy Chepkoech Sigey. She took the stage to share her personal story in learning to code with Arduino and motion trackers in an effort to curb wild elephant poaching in Kenya.

Along with two other classmates, Mercy enlisted the help of Google’s Innovate Kenya organization to learn the ins and outs of Arduino programming. The three women built motion-sensing arrays to help track poacher movement in protected wildlife zones. These motion trackers detect irregular movement patterns characteristic of vehicles and humans allowing the women to alert authorities before any animals can be harmed.

Mercy and her classmates are hoping their work can put an end to this unjust cruelty.

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