November 13, 2020

The Human Connection: TechCon 2016 Highlight

From November 9th-12th, 2016, researchers, students, entrepreneurs, innovators, field practitioners, and private sector professionals convened at the Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN) conference, TechCon 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. TechCon showcased innovations emerging from the eight HESN Development Labs and the broader development and higher education communities focused on innovation for social good. These various stakeholders met to energize science and technology solutions for development.

With the advent of technology and the increasing popularization of big data, it can seem like an obsolete task to spend time gaining qualitative insights through conversation. But the importance of human connection is still of the utmost importance in this age of technology. It is probably even more important now than ever before. During TechCon 2016, the theme came to light in multiple conversations throughout the conference.

While discussing the skill set needed for the next generation of development practitioners, the overwhelming majority of panelists pointed at words like humble, connected, grounded, and empathetic. This shows the continuing need for us to develop not only our technical skill set but our emotional and mental skill sets. Development work relies on the people doing it to be compassionate as much as it requires them to be data driven.

This sentiment was heightened in the session dealing with mobile technology for development which I thought was a bit ironic. The speakers emphasized the need for practitioners to really understand the communities they are working for and sometimes the greatest insights come from conversations with the people living there. One of the speakers said, “a phone is not a phone is not a phone.” A confusing phrase but it demonstrates an important point. A phone technologically is the same in two environments but that does not mean it is utilized in the same way. Our ability to understand the way different cultures use technology is as important as the technology. As we innovate and produce newer, more innovative technology, the importance of understanding human behavior and it's culturally-specific nuances cannot always be reduced to data.

The importance of connection and empathy is relevant not only when dealing with populations across the globe but even at home. You don’t need to wait to be in another country to start developing these skills. One of the closing speakers suggested going as close as the next zip code over and starting to have these conversations and starting to understand people. I cannot agree more, especially now. The importance of the human connection cannot be understated. 

Originally posted by the Social Entrepreneurshp Accelerator at Duke (SEAD) here.