At SIME Stockholm, lessons in high-tech and HR

Devex President Raj Kumar (middle) and Kiva board chair Julie Hanna (right) were among the speakers at the SIME Conference in Stockholm, a gathering that aims to be a catalyst for high- and low-tech ideas that could help change lives around the world. Photo by: SIME Conference

Gadgets reminding you to take your vitamins and eat right. Clothes providing electrotherapy to people suffering from cerebral palsy or Parkinson’s disease. Star Trek-like medical tricorders that empower patients to treat themselves.

From big data to waterless toilets, invisible bike helmets to 3-D printing, this week’s SIME conference in Stockholm was a catalyst for high- and low-tech ideas with the potential to transform lives around the globe.

The conference setting — a saxophonist improvised over bumping techno beats as angel investors, marketing experts and other creative types filed into the stylish Cirkus Arena on Tuesday, the first of this two-day event — seemed far removed from the world of humanitarian relief and international development.

But that impression was misleading. In session after session, social entrepreneurs highlighted the link between business and development, between doing good and making money.

“Development is an industry that is being disrupted,” Devex President Raj Kumar said in a workshop with Silicon Valley investor and Kiva board chair Julie Hanna.

Innovation is happening through crowd funding, wealthy philanthropists and foundations that are willing to take risks. Traditional development actors would do well to harness the creativity of social entrepreneurs and adopt the private sector’s outcome-based culture.

The new generation of changemakers, Hanna explained, is not so much interested in owning an idea — it’s interested in making a difference. She said that Kiva, for instance, is helping to lead and orchestrate a movement: “It’s not about ownership.”

To capture the interest of today’s generation of mission-oriented job seekers, employers need to create workspaces that stir passion and creativity and encourage collaboration and learning, noted Karolin Forsling, head of retail at AMF real estate.

“Work is not something you go to, it’s something you believe in. It’s a state of mind,” she said. “To create the workspace of the future, you have to understand what drives employees. You have to create different types of spaces for different types of thinking.”

In their knack for attracting the innovators of the future, the SIME crowd may have a leg up on the aid community. That’s why Devex was a proud media partner of the SIME Non-Profit Summit, one of several events happening simultaneously in Stockholm this week.

And that’s why it’ll be interesting to see the reception SIME gets in Miami next month for its first conference on American soil.

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About the author

  • Rolf Rosenkranz

    Rolf Rosenkranz oversees a talented team of in-house journalists, correspondents and guest contributors located around the globe. Since joining Devex in early 2008, Rolf has been instrumental in growing its fledgling news operation into the leading online source for global development news and analysis. Previously, Rolf was managing editor at Inside Health Policy, a subscription-based news service in Washington. He has reported from Africa for the Johannesburg-based Star and its publisher, Independent News & Media, as well as the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, a German daily.

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