Technology for an inclusive future: 10 insights from Bengaluru Technology Summit 2017

After two days of deliberation on digital disruption and enabling policies, the final day of Bengaluru Technology Summit 2017 wrapped up with two engaging panels on emerging technologies and inclusive design.

The challenge for large emerging economies such as India is balancing the global opportunity for its tech community while also ‘designing for Bharat.’ Senior design leaders, CSR heads, industry associations, academics and investors shared a wide range of insights on tech futures.

The speaker lineup consisted of Shrikant Sinha (NASSCOM Foundation), Meenu Bhambhani (Mphasis), Gunjan Patel  (SAP), Richa Natarajan (Unitus Capital), Rumi Mallick Mitra (IBM), Parag Trivedi (Microsoft), Anand Pillai (Autodesk), Saurabh Dubey (Amazon), and Abhimanyu Kulkarni (Philips).



Here are 10 takeaways from the two wide-ranging panel discussions, on issues ranging from ecosystem engagement and environmental impact to co-creation and citizen volunteering.

  1. The CSR push

Companies such as SAP, Mphasis and IBM have launched CSR initiatives to widen access to technology and grow the larger ecosystem. As with tech ventures, many social ventures may also fail, and companies need to develop the ability to learn from failure and bounce back with better initiatives.

  1. Impact investors

A range of impact investors are looking at seeding and scaling social enterprises who are creating appropriate technologies. These enterprises and NGOs/NPOs need to offer accessible price points with sustainable business models, and the teams will receive investment if they show they can persevere on the projects over long gestation periods.

  1. Technology for the differently-abled

It is easy to get carried with the rosy promises of technology, but social inclusion should also be an important criterion. Mphasis worked with Uber for over a year to help it rollout taxi services for passengers with wheelchairs, called uberACCESS and uberASSIST. Government regulations are stringent on how much the interior and exterior of vehicles can be altered, and this will need to be taken into consideration while scaling up such services.

  1. New mindsets and skills

The Indian education system needs to improve the ability of students to engage in critical thinking, problem solving and design thinking. The act of creation is itself a source of learning. Nasscom is involved in promotion of tinker labs in schools and communities to promote the maker mindset. In addition to creation, stakeholders should also promote co-creation with rural and marginalised communities.

  1. Emerging technologies

AI was identified as one of the more promising technologies to deliver services like healthcare at lower cost, higher speed and greater scale. It can help learn from larger and larger bases of structured and unstructured content.

  1. From hard work to smart work

Many corporates apply big data and analytics in their business offerings, but also need to apply similar rigour in their CSR initiatives. This can help identify success factors and tripping points, and better plan and forecast their CSR projects.

  1. The power of volunteers

It is easy to criticise big corporates and government for failing society as a whole, but citizens can do their part also by speaking up for their rights, taking part in corrective campaigns, and volunteering for good causes. Technology platforms can play a part here, such as NASSCOM Foundation’s My Kartavya platform to match volunteers with social projects.

  1. Design for inclusion

Design in technology is like salt in food: invisible but indispensable. Design should be inclusive from the ground up. Thanks to interactive digital technology, design is not just about projecting an image but also listening and communicating.

Two-way design features of emerging technologies help create insightful and empowering conversations. The product or service itself should be able to grow as more data is gathered across channels and senses.

  1. Numbers and stories

Impact needs to be measured at multiple units of analysis: project, product, company, community and even the entire CSR allocation of a country. This includes numerical measures such as productivity along with stories that inspire and inform.

For example, some cited stories were of a bhelpuri vendor in Pune who has set up a Whatsapp group for her customers, and is now promoting other foods and goods as well. Nothing works like a customer story or business case study to convince others also to come on board the digital wave.

  1. Design to make a difference, not just differentiate

Instead of designing for differentiation in the marketplace, the purpose of design should be to make a difference. The tech community should come up with a range of scenarios of the future, ranging from utopian to dystopian. This will help society gear itself to envision and solve the larger problem and not just immediate problems, eg. new tech-driven models of transportation rather than just building new flyovers. Insights should be tapped from the periphery and outer horizons to look for weak signals.

The technology and business communities should work together with civil society and entrepreneurs to figure out how to recycle and upcycle existing products. Otherwise the never-ending race for new products will become unsustainable. Design should move beyond customer and human-centric models to environment and ecosystem-centric frameworks.

In a world of increasing population pressure on natural resources, it is important for the technology and design communities to focus on optimisation of scarce resources. In sum, the panelists called for a combination of boundless creativity and empathetic design from the human side, along with computing power and iterative scale from the machine side.

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