More Thoughts from Davos – IT industry as Magnet and Catalyst

I’m catching up with my notes from the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, so let’s back up to Friday, as we finished the third day of discussions. Crisis continues to be the key topic — ranging from economic to social, political to environmental. I’m still inspired by Day One’s conversations around how we use this crisis as a catalyst to reshape the world we want to build. That requires new business relationships, new business models and new ideas.

As conversations focus on the many types of crisis facing the world today, education keeps coming up as an important area to invest and make advancements in. After all, people look at education as a way to build bridges and close the cultural gap during political and social crisis. When we can offer youth a better education, we offer them the hope of a better future. With the growing youth population in many emerging markets, getting an education is even more critical. For example, many conversations have focused on the mounting tensions in the Middle East – something I’m personally very connected to given my ethnic background. The thinking is, no matter where political crisis is looming, education can be a foundation for diplomacy and better understanding across borders. It keeps youth in school, engages them in learning and prepares for their future. Of course, job creation goes hand in hand with providing citizens a good education.

In another work session, we discussed social entrepreneurial opportunities to aid a farming village in India. The example included a farmer in rural India who supports his family by growing peas and onions. This is a man whose immediate problems are fertilizers and irrigation and food storage, but who also worries about the lack of good schools in his village because he knows his children need education to have a better life than him. I was reminded of a young girl I met in India during a recent visit. She learned about computers in school and eventually became the IT manager for her uncle’s farmer friends. I remember crowding around her computer in the very basic home, while the farmers in the area came by to work with her on researching weather and crop prices, and to learn new skills. It was a great scene of empowerment that still brings a smile to my face!

The diversity of discussions in Davos has really broadened my perspective, both personally and as the general manager of Intel’s Emerging Markets Platform Group. I see a real opportunity for the tech industry to step up and put our expertise to work where it will do the most good. That doesn’t mean just fixing schools; it means transforming and empowering communities. It means working with multiple stakeholders — different types of organizations, private industry, governments and educators — to use technology for development. We need to remember one company alone won’t make a difference. It requires all of us working together across both private and public sectors.

I think that’s what our Emerging Markets team is all about: having a positive impact on the world while building a sustainable business. We are entrepreneurs, operating like a social enterprise within a large corporation. The work we’re doing with education is helping to create micro-economies around the globe. In each community, we work with local businesses, governments and educators to create a sustainable and scalable business around technology in education. My team does the ethnographic research and usage design, which we then transfer to the industry as a reference design. We work with local PC companies that know the local education curriculum, politics, support and needs. They are the ones creating the solutions — from building the technology infrastructure (Internet connectivity) to implementing and supporting the deployments. We pull together local and global vendors who provide hardware and software solutions, from battery chargers to learning curricula. Programs like Intel Teach provide teachers with the training to integrate technology in the classroom. In the end, jobs are created, industry is catalyzed, teachers up-level their skills, and students acquire 21st century skills. It’s a lot of work, but the potential and results have been proven.

From what I’ve gathered here, the work Intel’s doing reflects where the industry needs to go. We can be both a magnet and a catalyst to deliver affordable, relevant technology that can be used to advance communities, opportunities and lives. My experience this week has taught me that I’m not going to leave here with all the answers. But I have months ahead of me to go find answers based on the insights I’m gathering here. Getting a better context of what the world environment looks like, I think we’re better prepared to deal with the problems and come up with solutions.