Women Working in Development event
Women in Tech and Innovation for Development
On Friday 8th June, CDR and BDO LLP co-hosted our fourth session of Women Working in Development (WWID), dedicated to tech and innovation for global development. The panel was moderated by CDR Executive Director, Jessica Toale and introduced by Nadia Weigh, a Private Sector Development Consultant with BDO.
We were delighted to have an inspirational panel of women who shared their experiences and advice:
• Nicki McGoh, Portfolio Director at the Global Innovation Fund
• Katherine Krisp, Strategy and Innovation Consultant at Katherine Krisp Consulting
• Krista Baptista, Senior Director, Center for Digital Acceleration, DAI
• Lauren Kahn, Head of Digital Policy & Programmes, Department for International Development (DFID)
Our speakers started by sharing what they are most excited about in tech & innovation at the moment, which included youth innovation, understanding big data and customer behaviour, engaging with data to improve the effectiveness of our work as development actors, and using human-centred design to understand people’s realities.
They then briefly described their personal paths and experiences, and how these led to working in tech and innovation for global development. A common thread across the panel was the notable absence of formal education, training or background in technology and the reasons behind that.
Their message was that development is an inherently changing space, requiring rapid adaption. This type of environment inherently leads itself to a vast number of opportunities – the type of opportunities that our panel either jumped upon or found themselves working on. There is still a lot to be done in terms of the creation of digital tools and on how to harness them to support economic development. This work doesn’t only need technology specialists, but also those who are able to engage the right influencers, be that in governments or the private sector around the world. Katherine Crisp was clear that using technology can risk amplifying the very inequalities that it is trying to eliminate, and to respond to this challenge requires a broad range of soft and hard skills sets.
What advice would you give to other women?
Lauren stressed the passion for development and the will to harness development potential as the main requirement for working in tech and innovation for global development. She also pointed out that we need technologists, but also strategists, communicators and other professionals, in order to bring sectors together and optimise impact.
For Nicki, it is crucial to remember that technology is not always the solution – although it has immense transformative potential, it is imperative to think about the problem at hand and adapt solutions accordingly.
Krista mentioned that assessing opportunities and options is essential as there are still a lot of pockets within development to explore. Her advice also included finding a good mentor and a good work team, with effective leaders.
Finally, Katherine also highlighted the power of mentors, especially those from outside of the sector – who allow for wider networking and access to different perspectives on a career in tech and innovation for development and its challenges.
• On the challenges of scaling up for implementing tech solutions
It can be challenging for companies and technologists to communicate and be on the same page regarding the delivery of development programmes: it is essential to account for the time needed for the management of the relationship, plus the use of clear language/terminology. Also, to have in mind that these are still experimental and adaptive processes, which means that you will ‘break things as you go’.
• Blockchain and disruptive technologies: where do they fit and how do they merge with existing tech?
There are plenty of solutions which do not require trendy technologies such as blockchain – although filled with great potential, it’s not always about high-tech. Therefore, it is important to encourage staff not to jump to overly tech solutions but to actually think about the problem at hand.
• The role of academia
It is essential for young women to be involved in the design of technology and to ensure inclusion, given the divide in the sector, so academia plays a fundamental role.