Talking at Tech for Good

3 min read

I was excited to be one of the speakers at the first Tech for Good Live event of 2017. Organised by Jonny Evans and Rebecca Rae from Reason Digital, the topic was inclusion and designing for empowerment.

The first two speakers before me blew my mind. The first, Lisa Lee from Good Things Foundation spoke about digital inclusion in the UK and Jessie Blaynee from Reason Digital discussed how over-65’s are rarely considered by design teams.

Leaving the best to last (#jokes) my talk was about the design process behind U-able, a concept that enables refugees in Nakivale refugee camp, Uganda, to work remotely as translators. The intention was not to pitch the platform, but to speak about how we went used our design process to research, ideate, map and test U-able to the next iteration in a short span of time.

I started by sharing how we, at Common Good, follow simple rules of engagement to work with other people.These include ‘always give more than you expect to get in return’, ‘add real value’ and ‘do work you actually want to do’. Following them is easy as a team, and when we were presented with a great opportunity from two Hyper Island students and collaboration with the UNHCR, we couldn’t help but get involved.

Did you know there have never been this many displaced people on earth? 65.3 million as of this week. When I was sharing the data – maybe because I’m South American, maybe because I can easily imagine it happening to me having lived in the Middle East – I felt my mind and my heart tugging. I managed it and was glad to have used my empathy to help design and really take the initial concept to the next level.

I spoke about who our personas are, real entrepreneurs living in refugee camps, teaching themselves new skills to improve their livelihoods. People who like you and me have smartphones and who unlike most of us, speak at least two languages fluently.

The idea of translation as a BPO (business process outsourcing) or microwork is not new, it’s a tried and tested business model. However, it’s never been implemented in the circumstances refugees are in. It was great to talk to an audience about our U-able testing prototype, to see them react to our story.

Designers at Common Good don’t assume, which means we always go and do the hard things that need to get done in order to get first-hand validation. The set-up for this prototype, in particular, featured a room in the Ugandan Nakivale camp, with 6 refugees ready and waiting, a room in Manchester with 6 designers prepped, a branded facebook page, a google spreadsheet with a scripted conversation and about 2,000 words (in English) broken into chunks and ready to go. When the person on the ground gave us the go ahead, all the designers logged onto the branded facebook page, opened the scripts and started the sending of text in English and timing of the response in French.

Again, speaking about this, I felt the chills.

One of the toughest discoveries was that refugees, much like us, just want to have social contact. They want to talk to someone (Owain, a web dev student, came up to me at the end of the event later proposing to build a friendship app for refugees and I think it’s genius).

I wrapped up the talk showing how we iterated the idea, tweaked the service blueprint, added extra features and went out to test a couple more times. On new prototypes, we decided to include real customers and businesses who would be interested in translating work through this service. We spoke to more refugees and took more suggestions on board. After the process, we presented the final concept in Geneva to the UN who are currently looking to help fund it. At present Gabriela, one of the team will be at SXSW speaking at a panel about the project.

All in all, I’ve learnt that doing good work creates exciting opportunities; like sharing this idea at SXSW… like actually making a difference… like speaking to wonderful people at great events… like learning from others… like writing this blog… and like the wonderful things we can go create together. Inspired. Yay!