Emerging Insights 2018: Science and Technology

The Rise of the Social Scipreneur
Science and Technology
Source: Science and Technology

Global Issues

Can science and technology help us to solve the world’s most pressing social issues? It is evident, at least, that future of jobs will be increasingly reliant on science and technology literacies. Children entering primary school today will grow up to engage in careers that do not yet exist, and these will be driven by ubiquitous high-speed mobile internet, artificial intelligence, widespread adoption of big data analytics, and cloud technology.[1] How do we enable educators, employers and the general public to acknowledge and prepare for a technological future at scale and to recognize that these skills must be developed to solve pressing global issues? Science education needs to evolve to produce students who can learn to iterate, problem-solve, and adapt to our changing world. 

It can sometimes feel that support for science is at risk as a distrust of academic institutions and big data abound. In the face of this, the World Economic Forum has called for a renewed push to “stand up for science”.[2] And numerous institutions and organizations are calling for scientists to integrate their scientific focus on practical solutions to solve pressing problems. Scientists are already taking up the charge - moving beyond their labs to engage in the public debate to advocate for truth in an age of disinformation, but even more are needed to ensure that scientific evidence remains the foundation on which we build knowledge.

New Ideas

Science has a great potential to contribute to solutions for the most pressing social challenges of our time, but barriers still prevent scientific research to be deliberately and efficiently leveraged. In France, through her organization, SoScience, Melanie Marcel is building a framework and standards to make impact-driven research a recognized, easily accessible, and attractive field. In a world where research is often determined by the availability of funding provided by outside institutions and companies, Mélanie is creating a bridge between science and its social application by creatively curating a process that integrates both scientists and social entrepreneurs. Her campaign, Science for Good, highlights scientists working at the intersection of science, social impact, and business, to spotlight great initiatives that are assessed by a team of experts from different sectors.

This emergence of science for social impact can be seen in several examples from our recently elected Fellows who are helping to create new science literacies and are designing tools and resources that improve lives.

Science as a literacy

While Melanie is working to bring scientists to the social sector globally, Theo Anagnostopoulos is focused on helping the public distinguish between science, pseudoscience, and antiscience in Greece. His organization, SciCo, from Science Communication, began as a theater company with a goal to popularize and increase the science literacy of the public. SciCo has reached over 30,000 children with Science Theater and has integrated tools for science communication, like an annual Science Festival, into standards set by the Greek Ministry of Education. But Theo has also moved beyond institutions to the street – his program Mind the Lab is driven by scientists, teachers, and students who set up science labs in metro stations and use interactive, entertaining ways to engage the public in STEM related topics.

Making science accessible for meaningful futures

Science education and promotion is at the core of Melina Masnatta’s work in Argentina. Her organization Chicas en Technología is focused on making technology careers a possibility for girls. Her initiative, Programming for a Better World, rests on the premise that experiential learning through technology not only encourages the adoption of technology as a course of study but also builds complementary skills like teamwork, logical reasoning, and communication. Young women, between the ages of 13 and 17 are encouraged to solve a problem in their communities by building technology tools together. Outside the core program, Chicas en Tecnología offers clubs, where members meet weekly to identify problems and receive training on how to solve them. Alumni of the program are also supported through scholarships and other opportunities. In just two years, 50 clubs have formed in partnership with local education ministries and companies. Melina joins Fellows globally who find innovative and practical purposes for technology while preparing youth for the future.

To reform the education system in Thailand, Tanin Timtong focuses on instant feedback. He combines virtual teaching on computers with adaptive curriculum in the classroom. His organization, Learn Education, has built a service for resource-strapped schools to improve the quality of teaching by reducing the burden of manually evaluating student work. Instead, students learn in the classroom but are tested on the computer. Their results are immediate – they are encouraged to review materials they missed or move forward in their learning. This blended learning platform enables students to learn at their own pace and frees up teachers to spend more time on individual coaching. The platform has been introduced in 150 schools in 45 provinces with a cost of just $50 a student per year. Tanin is already working on alternative financing models to ensure the program is able to reach all children in Thai schools.

Komal Dadlani

Ashoka Fellow since Aug 2018

A major disadvantage in science and technology education is access.  In Chile, Mexico, and the United States, Komal Dadlani is working to change how science is taught with smartphone technology. In doing so, she partners with resource stricken schools to provide students with virtual laboratory tools, enabling all to engage in real-life experiments, develop critical thinking skills, and see new potential careers. Her team has developed an app, Lab4U, which uses the built-in sensors of a smartphone and offers lessons plans and instructional videos for teachers to connect to other science instructors through a forum. The app does not require Wi-Fi, so students can use the application in school, public places, and at home. The app has been downloaded over 128,000 times, is used in schools in Chile and the United States, and is piloting expansion into Mexico.



The Opportunity: An enabling ecosystem for more scipreneurs

How can we promote the promise of technology while protecting against its harm?

For more scipreneurs to emerge and thrive, we need to build effective coalitions of leading social entrepreneurs and scientists to achieve ambitious social and environmental goals. We also need to empower more young people to be problem-solvers equipped with the power of science and technology for the benefit of all. Public commitments from like-minded universities, school districts, and philanthropists to empower the next generation of such changemakers can be an important starting point. Transformative alliances between tech businesses and social entrepreneurs to leverage market dynamics for large-scale social change are another important avenue.

We also see an urgent imperative to find and support Fellows working at the intersection of technology, science and social change. We have seen that technological solutions can radically democratize access to basic needs and help communities leapfrog innovations. But in building a movement to find and support new technologies, we are also interested in entrepreneurs who are addressing the risks and mitigating the social isolation that technology has created. This is an area of opportunity of which we are only beginning to understand the implications.

[1] Leopold, T.A., Ratcheva, V.S. and S. Zahidi. (2018) The Future of Jobs Report 2018. World Economic Forum.

[2]Bourguignon, J. (2018) Scientists can lead the fight against fake news. World Economic Forum. Retrieved from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/09/scientists-can-lead-the-fight-against-fake-news/