Episode 32: Combining Technology & Creativity…for Social Good

Technology can help humanity achieve sustainable positive social change at scale. According to emergent technology expert Sally Eaves, however, it’s not just the technology: It’s how we choose to use it. On this episode, Sally shares how she is working to bring about the convergence of humanity, technology, creativity and education. Her work with underserved populations around the world is truly inspiring, as is her vision for the future of tech.
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Listen In To Learn

  • How STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) education can elevate under-served populations
  • How technology can make a sustainable, scalable social impact around the world
  • How to promote a productive cross-conversation between science and the arts

Reshaping the World through Technology, Science, and Art

We often hear about the specific ways technology will either save or end the world. AI is going to revolutionize how we work! Or, it’s going to lead an army of killer robots to our doorstep. Should we embrace the latest technological advancements, or run screaming?The truth is, the future will be shaped not by the technology itself, but by the way humans choose to use it. To make these choices wisely, we need people who are educated, scientific-minded, and engaged – but who also have creativity and ingenuity to spare.

For Sally Eaves, the key to unlocking a healthier, more prosperous future is that fusion of humanity, creativity, and technology. Sally is an emergent technology expert, CTO, public speaker and author. In this episode, she shares how her organization is bringing technology and arts education to underserved populations around the world. Listen in and catch her enthusiasm for how transformative the right tech with the right mindset can be.

Featured Luminary: Professor Sally Eaves, CEO and Founder of Aspirational Futures

Prof. Sally Eaves has been described as the ‘torchbearer for ethical tech’. She is an international advocate for opening-up access to opportunity and has founded Aspirational Futures to help skill, empower and support the next generation of interdisciplinary talent into careers yet to be conceived, alongside scaling the application of emergent technology as an enabler for business transformation and social good. Sally is also the Social Impact lead for the UK Government Blockchain Association and contributes to parliamentary policy thought leadership. She was an inaugural recipient of the Frontier Technology and Social Impact award, presented at the United Nations in 2018 and is now leading major initiatives in this area, including presenting at Davos and leading events worldwide.

Sally also brings a depth of experience from both Chief Executive Officer and Chief Technology Officer roles, as a Professor in Advanced Technologies and as a Global Strategic Advisor. She specializes in the application and integration of Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence and associated emergent technologies for business and societal benefit. Sally works globally with bleeding-edge disruptors, governments, academia and leading corporate institutions to apply her expertise for achieving sustainable competitive advantage alongside purpose-driven change.

A member of the Forbes Technology Council, Sally is an award winning international keynote speaker, author and influencer with globally leading rankings across all advanced technology disciplines, digital transformation, future of work and social innovation aligned to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. She has recently been ranked 8th in the World in Blockchain impact and is continually ranked in the top 10 for digital disruption and across frontier technology subjects by leading bodies such as Onalytica.

“We need creative imagination, creative confidence alongside the awesome tech skills to be able to build the future.”

— Sally Eaves, Emergent Technology CTO, Global Strategy Advisor for Blockchain/AI/FinTech, Keynote Speaker & Author

Luminaries Hosts

  • Mark Schaefer Author, Consultant, College Educator. Mark is a leading authority on marketing strategy, consultant, blogger, podcaster, and the author of six best-selling books, including "KNOWN." He has two advanced degrees and studied under Peter Drucker in graduate school. Some of his clients include Microsoft, GE, Johnson & Johnson and the US Air Force
  • Douglas Karr Technologist, Author, Speaker. Pre-Internet, Douglas started his career as a Naval electrician before going to work for the newspaper industry. His ability to translate business needs into technology during the advent of the Internet paved the way for his digital career. Douglas owns an Indianapolis agency, runs a MarTech publication, is a book author, and speaks internationally on digital marketing, technology, and media.

ANNOUNCER: Luminaries, talking to the brightest minds in tech.
MAN: And my hope is that we come together to share more than technology, and expertise, and products, but that we share a vision of a future that is better than today. A vision of technology as the driver of human progress.
NARRATOR: Your hosts are Mark Schaefer and Douglas Karr.
MARK SCHAEFER: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to another episode of Luminaries, where we talk to the brightest minds in tech. This is a special live addition from the Dell installation here at South by Southwest, so you’ll be hearing a little bit of ambient noise, which just adds to the excitement, don’t you think, Doug?
DOUGLAS KARR: Absolutely.
MARK SCHAEFER: We’ve got such an amazing guest today, such an amazing subject. We’re going to be talking about technology, using technology for social good, which is something that’s really super close to my heart. Is there some charity that you really support, Doug?
DOUGLAS KARR: Well, I do a veteran podcast where we’re trying to connect technology companies with veterans that are coming back from service.
MARK SCHAEFER: Oh, that’s awesome.
MARK SCHAEFER: We’ll put a connection to that in the show notes. That sounds like a really cool thing to be working on. So our guest today is Sally Eaves. Sally is recognized as a thought leader in emergent technologies such as blockchain, AI, and machine learning, and she’s the inaugural recipient of the Decade of Women’s Frontier Women Award for her work with the United Nations. Now, she’s a technology expert, but she’s probably best known for her work using technology for social good. Welcome, Sally.
SALLY EAVES: Good morning. Lovely to be here. What a great atmosphere.
MARK SCHAEFER: It’s electric.
SALLY EAVES: It’s awesome, isn’t it? Absolutely.
MARK SCHAEFER: It’s electric.
SALLY EAVES: I love it. I really love it.
MARK SCHAEFER: It really is. And so I was somewhat intimidated, to tell you the truth, about the things that you’ve done and the things that you’re working on. And we’ll put a link in the show notes to your lovely TEDx talk that you did, which was very inspirational.
So tell us a little bit about how you got to this place. You’re a technologist that has pivoted your career to focus on using technology for good. That’s wonderful. How’d you get here?
SALLY EAVES: I’ve always been very, very passionate about education and technology together, and I think the fusion of the two is how we can achieve really lasting change in many areas. So my background’s quite holistic. So on the academic side, it’s been researching, understanding how tech works. And particularly the human side of technology, which I think is the most important thing.
And then on applied side, I’m very experienced as a CTO. And so I really look to understand how we can apply technology. And then looking at that, it was just a fusion of things. I want to use technology as a change enabler. And so every project I get involved in, that has become the selection criteria.
So a lot of things I do in the community, I’ve blended them together with my work. So I think our personal values and our work values are so intertwined. I think never more so, actually, than at this time at the moment. And so for me, yeah, let’s harness tech for good.
MARK SCHAEFER: Yeah, absolutely. Was there something in your life that was your pivot point where you thought, something came together, and it just revealed itself where you said, yes. This is what I’m supposed to do. I’m supposed to connect education and technology for social good. Was there some moment?
SALLY EAVES: Yes. I think there’s been multiple moments, actually. So it’s really culminated over a period of time. And I’ve always really cared about opening up access to opportunity, and partly from personal experience.
So for example, things around losing my dad, and some other things that I’ve been involved in. I know what it’s like to be quite pragmatic, and to work really hard to find different ways to get into something. And I want to help other people have that same opportunity. And I’ve done a lot of mentoring, and set up lots of projects in developing countries, for example. And it’s incredibly, incredibly rewarding when you can see people enabled.
And people talk all the time about technology on the news, and it tends to be quite negative. What the tech might take away, and the threats of technology. I see it from a very balanced perspective, but really, a different perspective. Tech is the enabler, and I want to get that message out there very much through tangible examples as well.
DOUGLAS KARR: Well, that’s a great lead-in to our next question, which is, there is tons of fear out there getting past about privacy, hacking, AI turning machines into the Terminator.
SALLY EAVES: Yes, indeed, yeah.
DOUGLAS KARR: How do you get people to look beyond those threats?
SALLY EAVES: I think making visible what tech can do is absolutely critical. And again, social media can be a powerful conduit to help make that happen. Certainly, my account– I’m a very positive person. I like to share positive stories, and I like to share quality information that’s unbiased.
I think the more we can get that out there, the better. And particularly areas like blockchain. There’s so much conflation with things like crypto currency. And unless you’re directly involved in the space, you would think they’re one and the same thing.
And actually, again, with the United Nations and working specifically for blockchain and AI for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, incredible opportunities to bring identity. To also give banking to the unbanked. Incredible challenges of our time that this tech can help to achieve. So the more we get this out there, show how you can get involved as well– I think that’s also critical– I think the better.
And to do that very consistently. Like I say, it’s the core to what I do. And I think people see that over a period of time, and it helps them to think, yeah, I can get involved in that. This is something that I care about too.
MARK SCHAEFER: I mentioned that you have done this TEDx talk. I recommend everybody take a look at this because it’s so interesting. And there was a concept in there that you mentioned but didn’t really explore that was interesting to me. You talk about convergence. So what does that mean to you as it relates for using technology for social good?
SALLY EAVES: So yeah. I think the biggest catalyst for innovation over the next few years is tech integration. So as an example, blockchain and AI together, providing that security, that ownership of your data back. You control where it goes. But power that together with things like AI and machine learning, that depth of insight into data and what we can do with it.
So in health care, for example, for population studies, I think that would be incredibly powerful. Now we’re looking at DNA, our most sensitive data. If you have control of how that is utilized, you might be able to monetize it. For example, in developing countries, that could be an incredible leapfrog opportunity. But equally, you might want to give it away for free for a research study that you really care about.
And at the same time, there are a lot of groups that are underrepresented in research, particularly ethnic minorities. There just isn’t the data out there to get a mind to understand how certain conditions work. So again, incredible opportunities to make a difference, and I think health care is a classic example of that from an integration point of view.
MARK SCHAEFER: So convergence, you’re really referring to the convergence ma– it’s a mash-up of different technologies to solve new problems.
SALLY EAVES: Yeah, absolutely. But also the human side of tech as well. Because again, I think there’s some silo thinking sometimes in terms of human side of tech over here and the actual application. We need to look at more understanding of that.
It’s always the human side, and things like cultural differences, that could be a barrier for change. We need to look at that and understand that more deeply. Hence why I love to do the research alongside the application, trying to understand it holistically. I think that’s massively important. It’s all about collaboration for me.
So this word “fusion,” it’s embedded in everything I do, whether that’s a fusion of tech, but also different perspectives about how to make things happen. We can’t have conversations with government here, NGOs here, civil society here, big business, transitioning business. We need to find ways to open up this dialogue and bring it together. And that’s, certainly, again, a big part of what I do.
DOUGLAS KARR: On Luminaries, we’ve had a chance to really see the difference that Dell can make with social good. You pointed out– you singled out companies when you were saying that you needed to collaborate and work with them. What difference is Dell making, and why is it so important to your research?
SALLY EAVES: Yeah. I’ve been consistently impressed. Dell has taken a lead. I’ve seen things going back to 2013 about making social impact part of the agenda and integral to what you do.
Things like social impact shouldn’t be an add-on. It has to be embedded. It’s absolutely core to what you’re doing, and I’ve seen that from Dell at the very early stage.
Things around supply chain, I think is a classic example. There’s been some brilliant things around extracting minerals like gold, for example, and taking that and reusing it and repurposing it. There’s been a whole jewelry range very much echoing the circular economy. So it’s a fantastic way to make a difference and put something back.
And also, a lovely example in India, where I’ve done quite a lot of work myself, in terms of taking the diesel extractions, the soot, and repurposing it into ink and paint, and then using that in packaging.
DOUGLAS KARR: Incredible.
SALLY EAVES: It just shows what can be done. With a bit of pragmatic thinking, with a little purpose-driven business, everybody can make a difference. It’s all about this collaboration.
If we have more examples like this with big business partnering with smaller start-ups, with education to do research– and again, Dell is doing great stuff with the 2030 Agenda, and I’m helping to contribute to that as well. The great example of different sectors, different organizations coming together in the right way. And it’s CSR in its truest form.
And again, social impact at its heart has to be the future of business. I refer to it as social business in everything that I do. And for me, that’s the future, and it should always be this way.
MARK SCHAEFER: Before we started to record, you and I had a great conversation about how we have similar hearts, in some ways, about reaching out to people and helping get people involved.
SALLY EAVES: Absolutely, absolutely.
MARK SCHAEFER: And I know that mentoring is something that’s very important to you. And that’s been a big part of my life too. So talk a little bit about the critical– it’s really a critical importance of mentoring, and how that connects to technology and social good.
SALLY EAVES: Absolutely. I think mentoring is critical. I also think it’s a real privilege and a real joy, so it’s one of the things– I’ve absolutely loved doing that. And I’ve done that in education settings, and very technology [INAUDIBLE], so I’ve gone inside prisons.
And it’s an incredible thing. It can create a whole new circle of learning. And by explaining what you do and why you care about it, there’s nothing better than doing that in that experiential way. And I think you can get that contagion of interest from people when you’re doing mentoring. Inspire people to get involved, but also see ways to actually take that forward and do something with it.
And certainly, the foundation that I’ve set up, mentoring at its very heart. I think the other beautiful thing about mentoring is that people then become mentors themself, and you get that virtuous circle of peer-to-peer mentoring. And you pass on what you know, and what you learn, and what you do about, and you set up that whole cycle again. So absolutely, it’s critical. Absolutely critical.
DOUGLAS KARR: And one of your signature programs is Aspirational Futures.
DOUGLAS KARR: Can you share with our audience what that program’s about?
SALLY EAVES: Yeah. That would be a joy to do. Thank you. Yeah, absolutely. Very much in my heart.
So Aspirational Futures is– it’s the culmination and a new beginning of something. So it’s bringing together about eight years of projects, a lot of them in developing world, but also in cities as well in Western Europe. Because obviously, in any city, there can be a massive disparity about who’s got access to opportunity.
And so again, what we do is we repurpose space and provide physical hubs where people can go to learn, to experiment, to unlearn, to try. And it doesn’t just consist of tech. It’s also around arts. So it’s very much a STEAM focus. So science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics.
Because I think that’s absolutely core. We need creative imagination, creative confidence alongside the awesome tech skills to be able to build the future. So this is a fusion of those things. So the three pillars of Aspirational Futures are STEAM learning, they’re tech for good, and the social impact at scale.
MARK SCHAEFER: Esteemed learning?
MARK SCHAEFER: I heard it as esteemed.
SALLY EAVES: It does build esteem at the same time, so there is that link.
MARK SCHAEFER: Yeah. All right. So I had it right, in a way.
SALLY EAVES: You did, you did. Absolutely, yeah. You were drilling into it. Absolutely, it is. Very much, STEAM and empowerment is a critical part of that process.
But yeah, it’s this fusion of skills for the future. Looking ahead at the jobs of the future, it’s all about agile learning. It’s all about critical thinking. Learning for life has never been more prominent than it is now, so this is about giving that confidence to do that, both for young people, particularly those from underrepresented groups. But also people transitioning careers as well.
And again, with the fear thing that we were talking about earlier on, if people know they’ve got places to go where they can learn, they can upscale, they can relearn and try and it’s safe, I think that’s powerfully important. So that’s what we’re doing.
And there’s also an online platform for this as well where people can try and learn, and have new skills, for example, in things like blockchain and AI. Again, example of partnership, of partnering up with a big AI platform. And for free, they’ve given access to this platform so people can earn and learn by completing tasks in an AI imagery.
MARK SCHAEFER: Where would they find this?
SALLY EAVES: Yeah. So if you go to Aspirational Futures on Facebook, that’s our lead site. And as of two weeks’ time, our brand new website is live. So that’s aspirationalfutures.com.
MARK SCHAEFER: OK. Great, great. We’ll put that in the show notes as well.
SALLY EAVES: Thank you. No, I appreciate that.
MARK SCHAEFER: Yeah, sounds fascinating. And another thing that I love that you’re bringing in here is this idea of infusing creativity into this.
MARK SCHAEFER: And my eyes kind of light up, because all these other Luminary podcasts we’ve done, it’s just like, I’m just not the techie– I’m not a coder, see. So I think my way through.
MARK SCHAEFER: But I love that idea of infusing creativity, because I often think about all these brilliant people, and they’re working on coding and all these things. I’m thinking, I’ll bet if I sat in that room with them, I could really help connect them in new ways.
SALLY EAVES: Absolutely.
MARK SCHAEFER: You’re doing that. You’ve identified that as a foundational principle of what you do. So talk a little bit about that, because finally, I have something to talk about on this show after two years!
SALLY EAVES: Hey, fantastic. I love the passion of that. It’s at the heart of what I do, so I absolutely love that.
But yeah. We’ve got, potentially, I think, a risk of a lost generation to the arts at the moment. Things like music and arts are being squeezed out of curriculums across the world at the moment. And if you haven’t got access to pay for extra lessons, you may not be able to have the chance and the joy of learning an instrument.
And for me– even if you look at algebra, there’s artistry behind that. Our art is everywhere, everywhere we look. And we need to envisage a future with confidence. We need to think creatively about how to deal with problems, and do it in a positive stance.
And I think arts– creativity is absolutely core to being able to do that. We need people to have the confidence to do that, to imagine new things. And it’s about– yeah– ugh. I can’t tell you how much I think this is vital.
SALLY EAVES: And I have to–
MARK SCHAEFER: She’s going crazy here, folks.
SALLY EAVES: Yeah, yeah. I’m going to break the booth [INAUDIBLE] by just the– yeah.
MARK SCHAEFER: She’s jumping off the chair.
SALLY EAVES: But yeah, it couldn’t be more pivotal to our future. And I think it’s a really joyous thing. I think it teaches us new skills. And I think the interplay of creativity and tech, why are we talking about them separately? They’re not at all. They should be one and the same.
MARK SCHAEFER: How do you formalize that? I mean, literally, practically speaking, how do you bring that together in an environment or a workplace?
SALLY EAVES: OK. So one aspect is, for example, the hubs that I’ve set up under Aspirational Futures. And that’s got different zones of activity. And so some of them are where you can learn and play with an instrument. You can take things apart. You can see how they were built.
There’s different zones of activity, and then there’s others where you bring all those things together. You have accidental conversations with people you might normally work with, and you get that spontaneity. I think that’s important.
So creating spaces and organizations which bring these different things together, rather than having them in different buildings and different people we don’t meet all the time. It’s all about this fusion. Accidental conversations. The whole water cooler thing, but with a little bit of structure behind at the same time.
And I’ve got eight years’ worth of research about how you put together a creative space, both from a technology standpoint and the opportunity to have conversations, promote collaboration, all different angles. I’ve just published that recently. So yeah, I’ve looked at it from every aspect. Because again, it’s important to understand how it works, why it works, what doesn’t work, and then really scale the right approaches.
MARK SCHAEFER: Wonderful, wonderful. I can’t wait to read that research.
SALLY EAVES: Thank you. Thank you. Cheers.
DOUGLAS KARR: Well, the irony there too is Mark and I both have kids that are both creative talent and technology talent. And I think they really lend themself to one another. Yeah.
SALLY EAVES: Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah, I think this all comes back to this focus I have on STEAM learning rather than STEM. Arts and technology need to be on an equal stage. It’s not an either/or. There needs to be this fusion.
And I think if we focus far more than this, rather than the STEM focus that’s currently pretty much everywhere, I think we can make a real tangible difference. And this has to be done now. We’ve got big gaps. You’ve got people leaving certain types of subjects, particularly girls leaving subjects around science and technology. But also, leaving around arts as well.
MARK SCHAEFER: So what a wonderful idea, this convergence, this fusion, and your obvious personal passion. If you and I were sitting together five years from now– and I hope that we are– and I said, Sally, what’s happened? What would have happened in those five years to let you know you’ve made an impact? What is that world going to look like for you?
SALLY EAVES: For me, definitely, the scale-up of Aspirational Futures. I think that’s absolutely pivotal. People talk about legacy, and I really want to build a legacy around that.
I want these hubs to be in every city in the world, to be frank about it. And also in rural areas as well, because they sometimes get left behind. We’ve done project in India and building effectively like a mini school in slum areas. We’re doing things with the Georgian government at the moment, rolling out hubs across the major cities, working with young people. We’re doing something refugee camp at the moment in Syria.
There’s lots of different contexts. I want to bring all these together under this one umbrella, get as many people involved as possible, and have ambassadors around the world that are really getting involved in this. I can’t say how much I want this to scale everywhere. It’s the heart of everything I’m building towards.
So alongside the other things I do, they’re all contributing to this mission, really. I want tech to be at the heart of what everybody’s thinking about, and for everybody to have a clear pathway to get involved, and to really care about it as much as I do, to be honest with you. That would be my legacy.
DOUGLAS KARR: Could you describe to us one tangible example of how that could happen?
SALLY EAVES: Absolutely. So it all comes down to space, first to start with. Might be repurposing a building that’s not being used anymore. It might be creatively working with a local business.
Or even things like libraries. There’s a lot of fantastic space there. With the digitization of books, you can go there and create these spaces, these zones of activities where a person can go in, no need for pre-existing skills whatsoever. It’s safe. There’s different zones where you can take apart old redundant [INAUDIBLE].
So for example, we have a scheme with local businesses that donate their old hardware. You can understand how things work. You can tinker. You can be creative. You can be curious, and it’s absolutely fine to do so.
And there’s also activities there where you can have access to instrumentation, to arts materials. Different zones. And also break-out areas where you can bring all these things together.
You have mentors there on-hand to help you, but it’s not prescriptive. You have that opportunity to be empowered. You can ask questions. You’re free to learn and develop.
And there’s also online support for this as well. So it’s a fusion of the physical and the online. You have training and things like AI and blockchain. Finance is not a barrier because we’ve got people working together to help support and make this happen.
And you can go through that journey. And then you could be mentoring people yourself. And going out further into local colleges, going out to local primary schools, working with local business, getting involved. Also government get involved in this as well, hence the Georgia project I mentioned earlier. It’s all this fusion of activities.
And also, I’ve built a social measurement model. So this is research back so we can actually track the impact over a period of time. And that’s beyond quant. It’s also qualitative.
Sharing these stories. And the people going through it can share their story too. You get that contagion.
I love the word “contagion.” Again, sometimes misused. It sounds like something else completely. But I want a contagion of opportunity for young people.
So that’s how I see that ending up. Lots of these different versions. Changes to the local context, so not everyone will be exactly the same. But they’ve all got that same shared value, and they’re all built on STEAM learning, tech for good, and scaling sustainable social impact.
MARK SCHAEFER: Aspirational Futures, everyone. You got to go check it out. New website coming out. So probably, by the time we have this show, it’ll be–
SALLY EAVES: Yes, should be there. Absolutely.
MARK SCHAEFER: It should be there.
MARK SCHAEFER: So go check out Aspirational Futures. And Sally, thanks so much for being part of our show today. It’s been an absolute joy.
SALLY EAVES: Real joy.
MARK SCHAEFER: This is Mark Schaefer and Doug Karr saying so long for now from this live episode of Luminaries. And we’ll see you next time on our show, where we speak to the brightest minds in tech.
ANNOUNCER: Luminaries, talking to the brightest minds in tech. A podcast series from Dell Technologies.