During my adolescent years, I observed peers enthusiastically admiring pop stars and envisioning their future adult lives. I genuinely felt happy for them, although I never personally experienced the same moments of awe or the certainty some felt. That changed when I had the opportunity to sit in the audience and attend the "Purpose-Driven Tech: Advancing the UN Sustainability Goals" panel at the Tech and Society Forum.
The panel, moderated by Varun Shankar, consisted of Hila Cohen, Gina Lucarelli, Swati Mylavarapu and Zikho Pali. A diverse panel of women fighting the world’s fight, who I believe should be on Time's most influential list. Their collective expertise, ranging from UN projects to technology-enabled Hospital-at-Home services and investments in climate change initiatives, showcased a comprehensive approach to addressing global challenges. In essence, these women embodied a force dedicated to making a meaningful impact on a global scale. Their leadership helps address pressing global challenges and contribute to achieving the UN's sustainability goals.
This panel conveyed their insights into the opportunities and challenges of addressing good health and well-being, hunger, climate and poverty. Within the panel, a shared sentiment prevailed—acknowledging that understanding the problems and adopting a human-centred approach form the bedrock of practical solutions. The consensus within the panel underscored the risk of techno-solutionism that doesn't stand the test of time. Gina mentioned she only funds teams that know a local problem deeply.
A multitude of projects, milestones and sources of inspiration were at the fingertips of the panel speakers. Just that day, a company Swati's business, Incite.org, had invested in made a leap to decarbonising the cement industry, historically a hard-to-abate industry. Recently, the World Food Programme focused on prompt response and aid distribution and thus assessed the extent of building damage caused by natural disasters and conflicts through satellites and AI. These are a couple of examples from the deep well of expertise on the panel. A particular comment by Swati, which still resonates with me a month later, pertained to sustainability in any project she provocatively questioned, "If they [the company] are radically successful, is the world in a better place?"
In the concluding remarks, suggestions encompass alterations to governance structures, nature-based solutions, and a call to reimagine capitalism. The call was to build upon the normative movement seeking to redefine metrics and encourage bolder aspirations from organisations. It was also suggested there could be an experimental approach to solving the UN Sustainability Goals. This is a particularly unique suggestion for government bodies, advocating for a blend of agile start-up mentality and insights from social science literature to drive transformative initiatives.
These remarkable women, collectively fighting for a better world, became my new sources of inspiration. Their commitment to people first and then leveraging tools for the greater good stirred a profound sense of purpose within me. As the panel discussion unfolded, I admired these women and recognised the potential for purpose-driven action in my own life.