Exploring the Frontiers of Digital Development

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By: Emma Sakson

Do emerging technologies such as crypto and AI have a place in international development? How do we balance the risks of untested tools with their potential rewards, and impact?

Throughout my time working in ICT4D, I’ve tended to be a skeptic when it comes to the promise that frontier technology can improve development outcomes and, most importantly, people’s lives. Rather than fixate on the newest technology on the scene, I’ve tended to focus on basic tools deployed in ethical and effective ways. At the intersection of technology and development, there are no “magic bullets,” but new tools can unlock exciting ways for people to connect and collaborate with one another.

TechChange believes deeply in that power. To put our values into action, we convened the first-ever hybrid Frontiers of Digital Development Forum (FDDF) to bring technologists, development practitioners, and thought leaders from all over the world together for exciting, tough, and necessary conversations about the role of emerging technology within development. 

We used our innovative approach to hybrid events to ensure that these debates, conversations and demonstrations were accessible, inclusive, and dynamic. Compared to a traditional DC event, the hybrid nature of the Frontiers of Digital Development Forum allowed for critical voices from outside of Washington D.C. to be heard. Overall, over 600 people across 55 countries participated in the forum either in-person, virtually, or both. 

FDDF Day 1

For Day 1 of the conference, 190 people representing more than 60 organizations convened in DC’s historic Capitol Turnaround hall to discuss topics such as the role of technology in humanitarian response, digital transaction of carbon credits, and how crypto can democratize development. 

As a new TechChange employee, I was thrilled that FDDF did not shy away from polarizing topics, and I was struck by how fresh and inclusive this event felt compared to many  conferences I’ve participated in the past. In addition to select virtual-only sessions, all of the in-person sessions were live-streamed to virtual participants, who could also engage with discussion boards, Pop-up Studio interviews, and virtual networking experiences. 

Our amazing FDDF ambassadors led local watch parties and conversations in Tanzania, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Jordan. It was exciting to be a part of a new model for convening in this globalized, digital age, and engage with ICT4D practitioners all over the world.

TechChange CEO Nick Martin engages with Nairobi watch party organized by FDDF Ambassador Peter Omondi
Watch party in Dar es Salaam

FDDF Day 2

Day 2 of the conference utilized the TechChange platform for an entirely virtual experience. As one virtual participant from Kenya said, “FDDF2022 was one of the greatest events I have attended. The quality of discussion, unique topics, great panelists exchanging ideas, insightful audience– this was an eye opener.” 

One of the most-watched sessions featured Ukraine’s Deputy Minister of Digital Transformation

The user-friendly features of our platform provided not only unfettered access to content but multiple ways to engage with speakers and other attendees. The platform recorded over 32 hours of content featuring 97 speakers, and participants were buzzing with energy– over 1,000 in-session chat messages were sent throughout the forum.

That’s our favorite thing about hybrid conferences- there’s something for everyone. And when gathering together to discuss emerging technology, isn’t it appropriate that we should use an innovative approach that leverages the best of conference tech to ensure a diverse collection of voices are at the table? 

At TechChange, virtual participation isn’t just an afterthought, it’s an integral part of how we make connections and build community. We’re looking forward to applying the lessons we’ve learned to our hybrid events in the future to make them even more engaging and inclusive. This is emerging technology I can get behind.

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