Extraordinary opportunities emerge when people and devices connect. Connectivity and innovation in technology are transforming how organizations and governments operate. For instance, Mobile technology empowers remote workers. Internet of Things (IoT)-based factories achieve new levels of efficiency. Sensors monitor the availability of clean drinking water.
Technology can address the biggest of the challenges:
The challenge now lies in learning to use the potential of these technologies to develop creative solutions to our toughest real-world problems. Poverty and its associated concerns of hunger and limited access to education, sanitation and housing; a dangerously changing climate; and pressure on natural resources, especially water and food, can be solved with affordable technological solutions in increasingly shorter time-frames. Similarly, tech innovations are extending the reach of education with low-bandwidth videos, measuring the level of pathogens in the environment through a smartphone-based disease detection platform, and monitoring the life of village pumps with sensors.
We can appreciate the power of digital technology to address the very real problems of hunger and disease.
- The Akshaya Patra Foundation serves as a valuable illustration. As the provider of the world’s largest (non-profit) mid-day meals, The Akshaya Patra Foundation serves food to more than 1.76 million children of 15,668 schools across 12 states in India. Incredibly, the cost of each meal, inclusive of raw material, cooking and transporting to different venues, is just a few rupees.
- As even small improvements in operational efficiency can have a significant impact when the distribution is done at scale, Akshaya Patra decided to digitize its kitchens and key offices. By digitizing their kitchen and enabling real-time data collection, Akshaya Patra brought down the cost per meal by 10 paise, on account of an increase in operational efficiency by 5%. This enabled the programme to be extended to 28,500 more children immediately.
Health and disease:
- Similarly, technological innovations are tackling a wide range of complex social problems. For instance, approximately 4.5 million people with cerebral palsy and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) cannot speak, and modern speech devices cost too much for the vast majority. The Voz Box, a promising solution, uses wearable sensors that are customized to the user’s movements. This enables them to make selections, allowing them to instruct words, ideas and even literary selections.
Direct Benefit Transfer
- Governments, too, have an opportunity to make a substantial impact on billions of people with the use of technology. The Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandhana Yojana, a direct benefit transfer programme announced by the Prime Minister in December 2016 in favour of pregnant and nursing mothers, is offered on a cloud-based platform that automates the entire benefit transfer mechanism and approval processes. Onboarding benefit delivery providers, onboarding beneficiaries, integrating with Aadhaar for beneficiary authentication/validation, integrating with the Union government’s public financial management system for transferring funds to the beneficiary’s account, tracking programme milestones, benefit delivery, and funds utilisation, are all done on the cloud.
Universities can play important role in such transformation:
- Digital transformation provides better mechanisms to solve complex social problems.
- Universities have a major role to play as they sit at the center of innovation, technology, entrepreneurship, policy, and society. Innovation for the digital era cannot happen in a vacuum. Nearly 45% of the world’s population don’t have access to the internet. This translates to almost half of all humanity lacking the life-changing benefits that connectivity can bring, from access to better health and education to the enabling of jobs and financial services. It is vital to understand that connecting the next 3 billion requires an inclusive approach, as lone innovations and ideas will not be able to scale.
- While corporates are looking at addressing this problem, universities are freer to address the most acute problems of society inclusively, unhindered by a quest for return on investment.
- Whether it is in research or learning, universities must adopt a focused problem-solving approach and constantly re-evaluate their allocation of resources.
- The innovative application of simple technology can have a far greater impact than developing new cutting-edge technologies. Universities must balance the two priorities.
- Technology is the key to build a thriving, resilient world, especially in India where high mobile penetration and the government’s digital initiatives can work in tandem to bring a sustainable and affordable transformation for societal needs. Universities are at the center of this imperative.
Source : the Mint