What does Silicon Valley and Gender and Development have in common? The clue is in the title. That’s right, they both want to be seen as ‘disruptors‘. But the way that these actors in these very different fields approach this sense of disruption is worlds apart – just like them.
Let’s first take Silicon Valley. Home to some of the world’s largest tech and start-up companies, including HP, Apple and Google, and even Uber and AirBnB, these innovative companies are gradually revolutionising the way in which we behave in the world around us. As a species, humans have evolved in such a short space of time, from the agricultural revolution, the industrial revolution, to what many in this field are now calling the “technological revolution”. VR, wearable technology? We’re wholly and irrevocably immersed in it. It’s truly amazing how we put can be putting our potential into fruition. But to what cost? And more importantly, whose?
If you watched Jamie Bartlett’s two-part documentary ‘The Secrets of Silicon Valley’, perhaps you would be thinking twice about how much we are all investing not only our money into such technology, but our time, too. In the first part, also titled ‘The Disruptors’, Bartlett meets with CEOs from some of the largest companies mentioned, most of which have the mindset that the work they do is simply to find solutions to problems – not be part of the problem itself. For example, Uber, which was only created in 2009, was to solve the issue of having more convenient transportation for people to get from A to B. And along the way, this concept has evolved into reducing costs and carbon footprints. Now, operating in 633 cities across the world, this company has globalised. Watch Uber’s Co-Founder, Travis Kalanick give a Ted Talk on ‘Uber’s plans to get more people into fewer cars’:
However, as Bartlett found out, drivers who have signed on to Uber in countries such as India are having an excruciating time trying to manage their costs of owning such a mode of transport in such an economically-restricted country. Uber claims to set up schemes whereby individuals can be paying back the cost of the car in instalments, similar to that of microfinance or microlending, but this is just falling through, leading to gargantuan amounts of debt for such individuals.
This is much the same for individuals across the world wanting to sign on to AirBnB, where scandalous landlords are increasing the rent of homes at the expense of residents. Thus, places will only become cheaper for tourists to stay, but more expensive to actually live.
And then there is what is possibly the most common injustice. For tech companies requiring materials such as cobalt for their products, such as Apple, not only are there poor working conditions for factory workers, but young children in countries such as Congo are cobalt mining for the smartphones we generally take for granted.
So yes, you are “disruptors”, but your idea of creating a better world through the use of technology and innovative thinking is costly in so many more ways.
On the flip side, let’s explore another group of disruptors: women in development. Over the past couple of weeks, I have been doing an online course on FutureLearn called ‘Gender and Development’ which, even if you don’t study development (or don’t study at all) is an extremely eye-opening short course to broaden your mind about issues regarding gender equality and women’s rights, and this is where I realised that women could also be considered ‘disruptors’.
When a woman is empowered, she can not only change her world but the world around her. She can attend school and receive a good education, which will enable her to find a good job. She’ll be conscious of family planning, and if she does decide to have children (and she will have the power to make such a decision), she will be able to raise them healthily and happily. This is what is explored in Sheryl WuDunn’s Ted Talk, which you can also watch down below.
The FutureLearn course also includes some wonderful resources and in one session, we focus on the World Bank and how their 2012 Development Report was dedicated entirely to Gender Equality and Development. And this is because gender equality matters in its own right.
Women all over the world are now taking on jobs that were once only considered for men. They are now participating in armed conflicts on the front line, for there cannot be sustainable peace from conflict without both genders participating and explaining the support they want and need. Likewise in Microfinance programmes in countries such as Bangladesh in South Asia, often it is the woman who will receive such loans, and should she invest this effectively, can enjoy the rewards of her work.
And while there is still a lack of women working in the sciences and technology, campaigns are underway to change this, or rather disrupt the status quo, such as the L’oreal-UNESCO for Women in Science campaign; the World Bank as already mentioned as well as Project Girl Code, a non-profit organisation which is “teaching digital literacy skills and providing IT training to girls and young women who are vulnerable to trafficking, slavery or forced marriage. We aim to prevent poverty and fight exploitation through education and technology.”
I think that before we start hyping over driver-less trains and trucks and even flying cars, surely we need to ensure that all women enjoy the same rights and status as men to drive these vehicles on land in the first place *cough* Saudi Arabia *cough*.
So with this in mind, which type of disruption are you more likely to support? I know which one I’m more likely to.