Humanitarian Technology Conference 2016

DCS Co-director Crystal Hall sat down with Samantha Valdivia (Class of 2019) to talk about the Humanitarian Technology 2016 Conference in Boston, MA. DCS has established a small travel fund for students who wish to supplement their coursework with an experience at a regional conference. Using these funds along with mini-grant support from the Roberts Fund, Sam attended one day of the conference this summer.

Professor Hall: How would you describe the conference? Who was there, what were they doing, what did you do?

Sam: I attended the Humanitarian Technology Conference (HTC) on the second day of the three day conference. It was located in the Revere Hotel in Boston, Massachusetts. This environment was filled with innovators and intellectuals whose life work was to pursue philanthropic goals through the scope of technology. Involved in this conversation were professors, graduates students, military veterans, and representatives of private companies and philanthropic organizations like Microsoft, IBM, Oxfam, and the Electronic Telecommunications Cluster.

The HTC event sparked my interest because I desired to learn more about the different types of humanitarian efforts taking place in the real world. Although my interest in philanthropy has persisted for a while, I haven’t taken much action beyond a few isolated acts of service. Thus I was filled with nerves because I knew the real world of service is completely new territory. However, in the midst of the conference, I found that I was able to add my own undergraduate voice to the conversation.

Prof. Hall: How did the conference connect with your DCS coursework?

Sam: During my Data Driven Societies research, about whether community satisfaction increased if an NGO has access to Internet during natural disaster relief efforts, I learned about the Electronic Telecommunications Cluster (ETC). They implement technology necessary to create internet hubs for the NGOs. At the HTC conference I met a member of the ETC organization. I spoke to him about the 2015 earthquake in Nepal and their effort to implement internet hubs. I asked him about the struggles in supporting Nepal after the 2015 earthquake. He stressed that transporting the equipment needed to install internet systems for the NGOs was difficult because of Nepal’s geography. This incited an obstacle because the majority of funding would be invested in transportation. Later in the conference I spoke with a woman from Microsoft. We talked about Big Data’s influence in society and data scientist’s current search to represent it credibly. I spoke to her about the research I had done and asked her about the Hack for Humanity hackathons she organizes.

Prof. Hall: What advice do you have for anyone thinking about attending this conference or a similar event in the future?

Sam: If you’re interested in going to the Humanitarian Technology Conference next year, I highly recommend going all three days. This will give you a better grasp of the conversation taking place. Unfortunately I attended the event for only one day because of a scheduling conflict. Regardless, it was a memorable and insightful experience. Many thanks to Professor Hall for informing me about and helping me plan the Humanitarian Technology Conference trip.

Prof. Hall: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Sam: Beyond the conversations I had with different professors, graduates, and corporate staff, I noticed that all the speakers stressed in some way that there is a pertinent need for an umbrella organization to consolidate all the humanitarian efforts efficiently. There are bunches of organizations who desire to make change, but these efforts would be strengthened if there was an organization that was able to balance and bridge the corporate and academic desire to change the world. I discovered many things during this conference, however I was surprised at how much we diverted from the technology theme. The main focus seemed to be discovering a method to concentrate philanthropic energies into something more impactful rather than theoretical.