News on the Ground

Just one of many ways you could describe me.

Was it ironic then, that a techie NGO had hired me? Would I fit in with their tech-savvy culture? Trello, Slack, MailChimp, Cloud computing, IoT, embedded videos, HDMI, HTML, co-designing, social innovation labs. . .

We can remotely edit the document together, on our cloud.” Is the cloud not up in the sky?? Symbols @ # -> + f2f now replaced words in emails. Meeting minutes were now passé, replaced by colourful Trello cards. Communication methods changed from “I’ll pop by your office to discuss this” to “Lets talk on “.

Was I overwhelmed? Clearly, an understatement. Surprisingly (and luckily for me), the role wasn’t a race to becoming Asia Pacific’s Next Top Geek.

Although overwhelming, it has been equally refreshing to learn new philanthropic models, and how it is solving social challenges.  A few key defining moments in the last 60 days:

I remember sitting in the Microsoft office listening to their digital inclusion projects, thinking: “Wow. Tech is the new philanthropy!!” The same thought flashed when I met smaller organisations like Tandemic based in Kuala Lumpur who leverages on technology to create positive social impact.

One particular conversation with a group of coders stands out. Using a special software, they transcribed educational video content into audio so it could be broadcasted to schools in rural Kenya on the FM/AM radio, the only piece of electronic the schools had. Giving these children access to education materials they’d otherwise never have access to, was the biggest gift technology could give.

Technology has also empowered people with disabilities. I watched in awe as Faz, the software specialist at Malaysian Association for the Blind ‘read’ website script, using “Jaws”, a customised screen reader software for people with vision loss.  Using Jaws, Faz builds websites, reads articles, navigates websites and points out when a website hasn’t been scripted properly. It was literally jaw-dropping.

60 Days have been a combination of interesting, awe-inspiring, overwhelming, hair-pulling and heart stopping moments. Evidently, the role required a lot of adapting (developing NGO relationships through Skype and emails), probably the most I’ve had in my life, and undoubtedly, the steepest learning curve I’ve had in a very long time.

I’m now happily resigned to the fact that technology (and TechSoup of course) will continue to better the lives of people around the world, in small and big ways, and I’m very proud to be a part of it.