Technology as a path to empowerment
Technology as a path to empowerment
My solution for making sure the future leaves no one behind
I never felt so powerless as the day my brother was killed. I was twelve. As a Tamil boy growing up in war-torn Sri Lanka, violence and poverty were a day-to-day experience. At that time, I often felt despair and that the world was beyond my control. Soon after I left Sri Lanka and the conflict and poverty that defined my earlier years. Eventually, I made a better life for myself.
Education, and the support of a father who taught me the value of learning, was my key to that life. The scholarship I received at one of Sri Lanka's top schools was the platform I needed to make it to the UK, to build a successful career, and to ensure my children never would endure what I had. These experiences taught me the value of education and also made me realise that not everyone was as lucky as me. I am grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given but it doesn’t seem fair that I can take control of my life while others are left behind. I want to bring others with me.
Everyone can relate to feeling powerless. Many of us have felt a better life would be within reach if only we had the right teacher, the right opportunity, or the right skills. For the poorest communities in the world, powerlessness comes from a lack of access to the things we take for granted, such as education, security, and technology. The result is that a massive gap has grown between the poorest and wealthiest – a division whereby just eight people own the same wealth as the 3.6 billion people forming the poorest half of the global population. This gulf is defined by opportunity.
Giving money is rarely a lasting catalyst for change. What really makes the difference is giving something perhaps less tangible: empowerment. For Samasource founder Leila Janah, the solution is to “give work”. Her trailblazing social enterprise, established in 2008, provides much needed digital training and infrastructure in the world’s poorest communities. This, in turn, creates employment in the form of outsourced digital work. Imagine the difference we can make when we build an environment where people have the tools to lift themselves out of poverty?
This is the drive behind the Uinspire Digital Academy in Sri Lanka, which I will launch on the 20th January 2018, with support from Samasource. The academy will run an eight-week digital training course for local underprivileged 18 to 25-year-olds in Jaffna, in the north of Sri Lanka. We will offer the tools needed to attain employment that is both financially rewarding and socially accessible. The course will have a new intake of students every three months with the most successful of these students transitioning into trainer roles for future cohorts. They will be trained to instruct future iterations of the course that will be spread to other parts of the country, ensuring a regenerative ecosystem of digital skill building. Fintech companies from the UK will also be travelling to Sri Lanka in January to support the course with applied skills and know-how.
The digital academy is part of the broader Uinspire network, a social enterprise platform that connects philanthropists, entrepreneurs, projects leaders, and volunteers to power world-changing projects. By offering a hand-up, we are intentionally driving sustainable change. Alleviating poverty through digital training also carries an additional social mission: prioritising the enrollment of women who would normally be excluded from the digital work due to gender discrimination.
The school represents a first step on the road to ensuring the most underprivileged communities can share in the benefits of new technology and innovation. The journey is long, but a decade from now, we hope that the access we provide will mean more of the world’s poorest will finally be empowered and have control of their future and their prosperity.