Your Facebook friend that is a goat in Somalia, Tinder for Foodwaste, and Solar investment with impact  – the innovative Stockholm Tech Fest + SOLUTIONS summit brought together the tech and global development geeks of this world in a groundbreaking new alliance with some unexpected results…

What can the tech world do to help solve the world’s global development problems? This was the question tech entrepreneur Tyler Crowley wanted to ask his diverse audience on the final day of his Stockholm Tech Fest last week.

“My mission is to make entrepreneurs and tech developers wake up to the bigger problems that we should be addressing” – Tyler Crowley, STHLMtechfest + SOLUTIONS 2016

Taking the plunge into the hitherto unexplored territory of the nexus between Silicon Valley startups and global development projects, the day was something of a social experiment – 1000s of tech geeks, startup investors and CEOs, plus UN officials, social entrepreneurs and NGO practitioners, all in one room to deliberate on how technology can be harnessed to help us reach the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

But far from an oil-meets-water scenario, throwing these people together instead resulted in a hot bed of ingenuity and innovation, of practical ideas and new collaborations, and had an impact that will no doubt continue to reverberate beyond the event itself.

“It struck me that while in the tech startup world we are fixated on developing new and innovative products to improve our lives, always looking for the next million dollar idea,” Tyler explained. “We are completely ignoring the needs, and necessity to improve the lives, of people in the developing world.”

“The situation is this – the development sector assume the tech entrepreneurs are going to come up with the innovations we desperately need to fix the world’s problems, and the tech people think it’s the development lot who have all the solutions in hand – that disjuncture creates a gap and missed opportunity where we could be exploiting technology to solve very specific and urgent development problems.”

And so, through a roll call of each of the key Sustainable Development Goals, ensued a day packed with debate and a plethora of pitches on different ways to harness progress in technology for social good. It at once provided an opportunity for the tech world to gain a better understanding of the context and immediacy of global development problems from those working closest to it, as well as exposure of those international development practitioners to the technological innovations and new business models that could be extremely relevant to efforts to hit the SDGs.

Sustainable Development Goals
Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development 

“You have the opportunity to save the world. So go ahead and do it,” Niklas Zennström, Co-founder of Skype and Atomico, told the audience. “All solutions can leverage on tech we have. Now it is time for geeks to innovate,” said Elaine Grunewald, Head of Sustainability at EricssonAlex Verbeek had this message for businesses: “your technology, your innovations, your entrepreneurship – can all help us reach the SDGs.”

Then Guilleme Fourdinier of Agricool, an urban farming startup, asked: “Why is it easier to find Pokémon in a city than healthy fruit & veg?”,  Olio presented their “Tinder for foodwaste” and Ari.farm introduced “Your Facebook friend that is actually a goat in Somalia”, an app where you can invest in a goat to help farmers in Somalia.

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“Your Facebook friend that is actually a goat in Somalia” – Ari.farm. We need this app for our cows…

We also heard from TRINE who have created an investment platform for solar projects that bring much needed energy access to those in living in poverty, and Humanium.se presented all that can be done with a metal bar to “promote just, peaceful & inclusive societies.” Maja Brisvall from Quantified Planet waxed lyrical on the power of data to help tackle issues in developing countries: “Data is transforming the geek world but how it can impact in other ways?”.

"Together we can promote just, #peaceful & #inclusive societies" humanium.se - epic t-shirt #sthlmtech #peace #SDGs
“Together we can promote just, peaceful & inclusive societies”  – humanium.se. Great project, epic t-shirt.

The focus was also very much on new cross-sectoral collaborations: “New solutions need new collaborations,” said Diana Amini from the H & M Foundation, presenting their Global Change Award, which gives funding to the best new ideas for sustainable fashion.  Anna Ryott, CEO at Swedfund and Member of UN Foundation Global Entrepreneurs Council, spoke eloquently on the multiplier effect of investing in women entrepreneurs. And taking a fresh look at stubborn problems, Gapminder delivered some home truths and advice for an evidence-based world view: “The whole blame game consumes so much of our energy.

Gapminder at STHLMtechfest
“The whole blame game consumes so much of our energy” – some home truths from Gapminder at STHLMtechfest

Such ambitions chime very much with Communities for Development – by reaching out of the usual comfort zone for NGO campaigns to tap into the world of crowdfunding and tech entrepreneurship with our latest campaign video (created by the incredible minds at DUDE creative agency) we wanted to engage a whole new audience in the projects of entrepreneurs in unexpected places like rural Uganda.

After seeing the campaign, Tyler felt that by bridging these two typically disparate worlds, through our representation of the people we work with in rural Uganda in a mock-up of the Western-startup style, it was capturing just his sentiment – and screening it to his guinea pig audience could be a great way to frame his message.

“Thank you for making a video that touches such an important point and in a beautifully humorous way that is often missing from the conversation” – Tyler Crowley on the #BackOurValley campaign video, STHLM TECH FEST + Solutions 2016

“When searching with DUDE for a way to tell the story of our NGO and the people we work with in an engaging way, we considered that actually the people we were helping save and start businesses – such as growing tomatoes, rearing chickens and making chairs – were not so different from the entrepreneurs creating startups in the Western world,” we told the room via Skype feed. “The same need for risk-taking, for courage and vision, and of course support from those who believe in their projects – just a different context.

The challenge of course is to get the people from these different worlds speaking the same language – and this is where the conference came into its own, creating a common space where ideas could be exchanged and new and exciting initiatives sparked off.

The Stockholm Tech Fest Solutions Summit seemed to be a well overdue initiative – by bringing the insight of NGOs and policy makers into contact with the creativity and know-how of tech entrepreneurs, and combining it with the resources and new business models supported by investors – practical, sustainable and workable solutions to the world’s nagging development problems felt truly in sight.

Now to get an invite for next year to get to that free bar…

First published on Communities for Development blog, 13 September 2016. The Stockholm Tech Fest + SOLUTIONS Summit 2016 took place from 4-6 September in Stockholm where 6,000 tech entrepreneurs and investors joined with leading policy makers, foundations, and NGOs, in an unprecedented event to showcase and inspire solutions to the UN Global Goals. Find more information here and access to the whole set of presentations here.

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