Thoughts from the Next Billion London conference by Quartz

Cat Jones from Unruly Media at Quartz' Next Billion London 2015 conference

Cat Jones from Unruly Media at Quartz’ Next Billion London 2015 conference

Anjali Ramachandran, Head of Innovation, attended the Next Billion conference recently.

A couple of weeks ago I attended Quartz’ The Next Billion event in London. As millions of people get online over the next couple of years in developing markets, the conference had people at the forefront of this revolution on stage.

Mark Surman, Executive Director at the Mozilla Foundation, spoke about the importance of digital literacy for the large numbers of people migrating online by 2017. They’re certainly walking the talk: last month, they released a $40 smartphone in collaboration with Orange in Senegal and Madagascar, making technology accessible to millions of people who didn’t have this before.

Cat Jones, Product Director at online video sharing experts Unruly Media posited that emerging markets might form the bulk of video producers in the future as they struggle with poor video speeds that make sharing videos cumbersome, which would in turn be left to the West. On that, Cat has recently authored a research paper on slacktivism on the web, have a read.

Nathan Eagle, the CEO of Jana, spoke about how it is important for data to be affordable if smartphones are to make an impact. His company has pivoted a bit since I first heard of them a year or so ago (it used to be a revenue stream for users who were paid for completing small Mechanical Turk-type tasks; more in this old Wired article). Jana now has deals with 237 mobile operators in the developing world that enable them to give users free internet access if they download and access these apps via the mCent Android app. ‘Make the Internet free for the next billion’ is their new tagline, very fitting given the theme of the conference.

Yonatan Raz-Fridman, co-founder of Kano, assembled one of his devices in less than 2 minutes on stage and filled us with inspiration at the idea of kids across the world playing with technology, getting accustomed to the possibilities and then exploiting them en masse in the near future.

Leila Janah, founder & CEO of Sama Group, made a joke of the fact that hers was probably one of the handful of ‘openly non-profit companies based in the Bay Area’ – a rarity in that part of the world with its oodles of cash going around, no doubt. Sama’s objective is important and very noble: they train, hire and give livelihoods to people with high rates of unemployment living in East Africa, South Asia and the Americas – currently almost 10,000 people, with the potential impact much wider than that.

Jambu Palaniappan, Uber’s GM for the Middle East & Africa, painted a picture of Uber being the good guy as the number of vehicles grows in emerging markets, weighing on an already crowded infrastructure network. UberPool of course is one of their newer services that they see as helping to alleviate this. He showed us this community-created graph of Uber’s expansion in the US and how that maps on to their international expansion, which is of course extremely rapid. He got a couple of expected and important questions thrown at him about Uber’s safety record in that part of the world, which he handled quite proficiently, as you’d expect. I have issues with Travis Kalanick as CEO but can’t argue with the service itself, which continues to be much used across the world. A friend of mine in Mumbai told me just last week that local taxis were just so much more expensive and less convenient that Uber continues to be a default option there for a large number of people.

The talk by Jason Mander, Head of Trends at Global Web Index, started slowly but came to an interesting point after a few minutes: VPN usage is pretty high in many emerging markets, which means declared traffic by most sites isn’t quite accurate and needs to be kept in mind when they are bandied about by (largely) US-oriented companies. Martin Belam has written a really good detailed piece on that session, which you can read here.

UNICEF, Frog Design and ARM announced the Wearables for Good challenge at the event, which is looking for innovative ideas using sensors and technology to improve the lives of women and children across the world. Denise Gershbein from Frog Design and Blair Palmer from UNICEF spoke about the importance of different fields like theirs and ARM’s, working together for the greater good. Lots of people talk about the importance of cross-fertilisation of ideas so it was good to see them put their money where their mouth is. I also learnt about their MUAC tape to measure malnutrition, a very basic low-tech way of measuring nutrition levels in children in poverty-stricken parts of the world.

There were a number of other fascinating speakers – Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig was a highlight for me. I urge you to watch the recorded videos, all available here.

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