The Shock of the New – Using Tech to Drive Social Innovation




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Apr 04, 2018
by Helena Santos
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The Shock of the New – Using Tech to Drive Social Innovation

Salzburg Global Fellows explore positive effects of technology in day-to-day life Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash

When picturing a utopian or dystopian future, technology invariably features. Technology already plays such a ubiquitous role in today’s life; one can only guess how humanity’s relationship with it can evolve further. Is this something which should scare us or excite us?

Projects such as Chowberry and Wazi Vision, however, remind us of the positives contributions technology is making to society and the social change it can drive. Both were highlighted as examples during the Salzburg Global Seminar session, The Shock of the New: Arts, Technology, and Making Sense of the Future.

Through innovation and enabling technologies, Chowberry aims to provide affordable nutrition to millions of people. The cloud-based application service is the brainchild of Oscar Ekponimo and was developed as a result of his own experiences. Having gone through a period of financial difficulty while growing up, he was determined to improve access to quality food in Nigeria for others.

Through the app those in need get access to quality food from the stores that sell products reaching the end of their shelf-life for lower prices, thus combating food waste and hunger at the same time.

While a lot of requests to export Chowberry to countries in Africa and South America arrive at Ekponimo’s door, he is currently focused on starting a new project in Nigeria. With Ars Electronica as partners, he is working on the Gallery of Code to plug the intellectual gap in Nigeria and build a relationship for cultural exchange from both artistic and technological points of view.

Expanding on this further, Ekponimo says, “We have put together a lab, or what I would call a creative space that would have a blend of arts and also creative technology. A collaboration between artists coming in from all around the world to understand the contexts of the local community and produce installations, works of art, [...] creative technologies using a leveraging of skills and intellects from the West here in Europe to work with local hands on the ground, to develop creative technologies that can help solve problems.”

Giving back to the community is something that is also present in Brenda Katwesigye’s work. With Wazi Vision, she works alongside female artisans in Uganda to transform recycled plastic into affordable eyewear.

As the business continues to grow, Wazi Vision is preparing to launch a range of glasses on Amazon, taking their concept worldwide. Meanwhile, Katwesigye’s company is also developing an app that will make eye tests more accessible.

“The reason that people in hard to reach areas do not have access to [conventional testing methods] is because you cannot open up an optical center in the village or somewhere. So these people don’t have access to optical centers and also, at least in Uganda, optometrists and opticians they are not as evenly distributed in the country as they should be … You find all of them in Kampala, in the capital, and then outside of Kampala maybe one or two if any. What we are trying to do with the app is for everybody … that’s how technology is actually changing society and integrating into culture and into the way we do life overall,” Katwesigye explains.

WATCH: An Introduction to Wazi Vission's Mission

The Salzburg Global session Ekponimo and Katwesigye attended sought to bridge divides between creative talents and technologists, scientists, futurists, policymakers, and educators. Despite their different backgrounds, all were united behind the idea to chart collaborative pathways to more livable futures.

Accessibility is a theme which runs through Ekponimo and Katwesigye comments – whether that’s access to resources, people, or food. Technology can enable different parties to come together and provide more opportunities for people previously left out of the conversation.

When humans and their needs are at the core of projects, integrated change is possible, and technology can act as a social enhancer as these two innovative ideas show.

Ekponimo, who won a Rolex Award for Enterprise for his work in 2016, says, “People just need to be empowered with the right skills and when they have the right skills, when they have the right know-how they can solve problems whether it’s in health, whether it’s in agriculture because this is key because they understand the problem more than an outsider coming in.

“All they just need [are] skills, whether it’s technology skills for example and they can then use [those] technology skills and be creative … Technology gives you a huge amount of creative power, and with that huge amount of creative power you can solve problems within your community and be effective in that problem-solving approach.”.

The Salzburg Global program The Shock of the New: Arts, Technology and Making Sense of the Future is part of the multi-year series, Culture, Arts and Society. The session is supported by the Edward T. Cone Foundation. More information on the program can be found here. You can follow all of the discussions on Twitter using #SGSculture.