From the Ground to the Cloud: Day 5
President & COO at Arm, Graham Budd, reflects on a week with UNICEF Innovation in Malawi
Since 2015, UNICEF and Arm have been seeking to unlock the life-saving potential of technology to solve the most complex problems facing the world’s children, now and in the future. In Malawi, Arm has taken action through funding UNICEF Innovation programming focusing on child development and emergency preparedness.
In November 2019, a field trip to Malawi allowed Arm leaders to experience programmes firsthand, inspiring them to identify opportunities for co-created technology solutions that will help deliver on the UN’s Global Goals.
8 November 2019 — LILONGWE, MALAWI. Graham Budd, President & COO at Arm, recently spent a week with UNICEF in Malawi. Along with Kate Kallot, AI Ecosystems Director; Louise Paul, Developer Program Manager; John Heinlein, Chief of Staff to the CEO; Hetansh Shah, Design Engineer; and Fran Baker, Sustainability Manager, they set out to identify more opportunities for co-created technology solutions that will accelerate the delivery of the Global Goals.
This week has been an amazing and emotionally intense experience. Malawi is 171st out of 189 countries on the Human Development Index – an 80% agricultural economy and one of the poorest countries in the world. People here face so many basic challenges with health, water, education and natural disaster, yet everyone we met was so welcoming, with a deep sense of strong community relationships.
Innovation Through Collaboration
As part of Arm’s ongoing partnership with UNICEF, our task throughout the week was to develop ways to collaborate on innovative, tech-based solutions to address these local challenges – and ways for Arm people to volunteer their skills to help improve the lives of people in these communities. The UNICEF team worked us hard but it was well worth it!
We started the week with a very warm (38°C) trip to Chikwawa in Southern Malawi – a region affected by mass flooding earlier this year. This immersed us in the challenges that rural communities and displaced people face on the ground, creating great context for the workshops during the rest of the week.
UNICEF has recently installed a solar water pump in the village to provide drinking water, and we learnt about the challenges of installing and maintaining even this relatively low-tech piece of technology. We also learnt how UNICEF works in partnership with the government of Malawi – always in the context of being invited in to help enable long-term self-sustainability.
The highlight was meeting with the village headman, the school headteacher, the healthcare worker who ran the mobile clinic, and some of the young mothers who were having their babies weighed in the clinic – not to mention the children who were very excited at seeing the UNICEF drone!
Ahead of this visit, we’d spent some time with local government officials to understand the issues behind the flooding and the challenges involved in future prevention. A strong message from the local leaders was their desire to be able to assume responsibility for solving problems and donated infrastructure, and the need for education to help solve problems at source rather than having to react to disasters. The drone is being used to map the area to help better prepare for and reduce the impact of future flooding, using image recognition and AI to identify different types of buildings and build a picture of the community.
Game of Drones
After flying up to Lilongwe, the capital, the team at UNICEF Malawi HQ presented a deep dive into some of the technology and innovation programmes they’re running in the country. One theme that kept cropping up was drone technology.
The Government of Malawi, together with UNICEF, has created a drone corridor – based at Kasungu Aerodrome, with a 40km-radius flight zone – where organisations can apply to test drones for humanitarian purposes. We were lucky enough to visit the facility, during which we saw a test flight of a 1.5m-long drone designed to carry medical supplies, which we saw fly off to a village 39km away.
Watching the procedures necessary to enable it to take off and fly on its waypointed path helped us understand some of the challenges involved with this kind of technology – not least safety, but also the education of communities living on flight paths to convey the benefits and enable acceptance. It was also interesting to get the Malawian government’s perspective on why they are supporting this, from a representative of the Malawian Aviation Authority who joined us for the visit.
They see this as an opportunity to do something pioneering to contribute globally to humanitarian development through technology, as well as creating benefit for communities in Malawi.
You can read more about the drone corridor in the team’s Malawi Diary Day 3.
Wearables for Health
Some of Arm’s sustainability funding to UNICEF has been used to help support the development of a wearables research study which is about to begin in rural communities.
The idea is to use multiple wearable sensors – developed by researchers and start-up companies from across the world – to build a comprehensive data picture of the health and social development of children in vulnerable communities. We met representatives from five of these teams, whose technology between them spanned proximity sensors for social networking and disease transmission studies; EEG and ECG wearables; and physical environment monitoring.
The project will obtain data from all these sources once a week, to build a rich data picture of what is really happening during child development in this kind of highly challenging environment. This will then help with pre-emptive diagnosis of disease and identify where supportive intervention is needed. For me this was a great example of Arm ecosystem-building in action – bringing together these five diverse projects from five different countries, together with UNICEF and the authorities in Malawi, to enable long-term change and social impact through technology.
You can find out more about the child development study based on wearable tech in the team’s Malawi Diary Day 3.
Workshops for Good
Another highlight of the trip was a workshop with 20 young people, from Malawi and beyond, who are active in UNICEF Innovation programmes. The Arm team presented on innovation topics and encouraging collaboration – it was great to get the perspective of the students on the challenges the country faces, how technology could be used to solve them, and what the barriers are to making that happen.
The main part of the workshop – and, for me, the highlight – was working with the students to develop ideas to solve some of these challenges.
The skills and knowledge that these young people had already developed, and their hunger to innovate and make a difference with the limited resources at their disposal, was amazing.
I found one student in my group – a largely self-taught refugee from a war zone in the Democratic Republic of the Congo – particularly inspirational.
Our challenge now is how to help students and entrepreneurs connect with others globally to develop their ideas and drive real change locally.
Learn more about the session with young innovators in the team’s Malawi Diary Day 4.
In the final workshop, the UNICEF team took us through a process to develop three ideas for technology to solve some of the challenges we had seen – focusing on how these would help the individuals we’d met during the week.
We also looked at how a skills-based volunteering program for Arm people could work, building on our experiences from this week. This could encompass both volunteering with skills-matching, to address a specific technical capability need on a project, and simple volunteering to help bring together innovators beyond Arm, to enable broader programmes through our global network of partner relationships. These themes will be worked up further over the next couple of months as the Sustainability team take the Arm/UNICEF relationship forward. Watch this space!
And the Benefits on the Side…
Extra benefits of the week for me included being able to spend time with such a diverse group of high-energy, innovative, creative Arm people – I learnt a lot! – and the chance to try out my newly acquired (Flexpot-inspired) language skills with the very hospitable German Director of UNICEF Malawi, Rudolf Schwenk.
It was also great to get the latest on the important work our own Sustainability team has been doing, from creating a global network of social-impact-focused Arm innovators and partners to specific projects with UNICEF and the Gates Foundation, and the way our 2030Vision initiative is convening the tech sector globally.
Overall, the week was a great demonstration of how globally sourced, locally implemented innovation partnerships can deliver social impact at scale, made possible by organisations like UNICEF who have the infrastructure and government relationships already in place to deliver programmes on the ground. And Arm technology has an important role to play.
On behalf of all the team, I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone involved in making the week such a success: THANK YOU!
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