This blog was originally posted on Huffington Post.
Every day, we’re bombarded with seemingly unsolvable issues — health care crises, struggling schools, poverty, and climate change are just a few. These issues may at first seem too big for any of us to solve. But in today’s technology-driven world, we actually have more power than ever.
The growth and convergence of people, process, data, and things on the Internet — the Internet of Everything — is making networked connections more valuable than ever before, creating unprecedented opportunities to bring about social good.
How? Let me give you three examples.
1. The Cisco Networking Academy trains 1 million people in 165 countries annually in networking technology. The Networking Academy curriculum is a combination of in-person instruction (people), hands-on activities (process), and online assessments (data) delivered to students on fixed and mobile devises (things) around the world. Instructors use performance data generated from millions of online assessments to evaluate students’ knowledge and fine-tune their teaching accordingly. In real-time, we can track the progress of every student, in every academy classroom around the world. Unlocking this intelligence lets us turn data into actionable information.
This work is critical because there is a worldwide shortage of people who are qualified to design, build, manage, and secure the computer networks needed to communicate and do business today. For example, a study of eight Latin American countries conducted by IDC predicted a shortage of almost 300,000 such professionals by 2015. Countries like Mexico and Brazil, which are experiencing significant economic growth, must fill these jobs if they are to continue moving people out of poverty and into the middle class.
Training people in computer networking skills has a real impact on real people’s lives. In Saudi Arabia, more than 85 percent of participants in a Networking Academy program for women have either found jobs or decided to pursue a master’s degree. In Mexico, Networking Academy courses being delivered at drug rehabilitation facilities have helped 100 people build the confidence and skills that can lead to jobs — improving their quality of life and helping to fill the demand for skilled workers that will keep their country competitive.
2. Healthcare is another area where the Internet of Everything is a game-changer. Worldwide, millions of people lack adequate access to doctors and specialists, especially in rural areas. To receive specialized treatment, rural patients often must travel for hours or even days for consultations — an expensive proposition in a world where 80 percent of people live on less than $10 per day (World Bank).
Lack of access is a major problem in developing countries, but it exists even in advanced economies. China has an estimated shortage of 200,000 pediatricians, and there is only one pediatrician for every 6,000 children in France. In the United States, more than 15 million children live in regions with fewer than 22 pediatricians and family doctors for every 100,000 children.
Earlier this year, Cisco Chief Futurist Dave Evans wrote about how technology is ushering in a new era of health care. One of the challenges of health care today, Evans wrote, is that “expertise is often contained in a fixed location or individual person.”
We can address this reality with the Internet of Everything. Telehealth and cloud technologies are bridging the gap between urban and rural health care and enabling health providers to collaborate on patient information affordably and efficiently.
In Jordan, through Cisco HealthPresence, doctors and patients can see and speak to one another from distant clinical settings as if they are face-to-face. Network-connected medical devices — such as thermometers, blood pressure cuffs, stethoscopes, and handheld cameras — route patient information from the clinic to the hospital for instant access to critical data by medical specialists. In Sichuan Province, China, patients who use similar remote consultations save the equivalent of 22 percent of their monthly income.
3. Nonprofits and other social entrepreneurs recognize that combining people, process, data, and things can achieve better results in the communities they serve. In Uganda, Living Goods operates networks of mostly female “agents” who go door-to-door selling affordable products that support better health: fortified foods, de-worming pills, malaria treatment, and water filters, for example. The agents earn a living and their customers get better health resources right in their own communities — a classic win-win. Living Goods has smartly tapped into the Internet of Everything — in particular mobile technology, which is exploding in developing countries — to make a bigger impact. Agents use mobile phones to report sales, manage inventory, and directly communicate with their customers. Customers receive valuable follow-up information, such as reminders to complete a child’s malaria treatment.
Living Goods Founder and CEO Chuck Slaughter wrote recently that a text-based marketing campaign promoting a sale on efficient cook stoves drove a 300 percent increase in sales. The stoves, designed for the more than 3 billion people in the world who cook with open fires, reduce fuel costs and emission of pollutants that can cause respiratory illnesses.
We are only just beginning to see how the Internet of Everything can advance social good. Technology, and the networked connections it fosters, will continue to be critical, but so too will the creativity and ingenuity of the people behind those connections — those who have the drive and the desire to make a positive difference in the world.