Innovating to address world’s pressing problems
Lucia Gallardo is on a mission to make the world a more just place.
She is the founder of Emerge, a Toronto-based solutions development lab that is using emerging technologies to address some of the world's most pressing issues, as defined by the United Nations' sustainable development goals.
Those solutions, Emerge says, enable the more efficient, more humane and more transparent movement of people, goods and data around the world.
Ms Gallardo sat on the panel “Solving the World's Biggest Problems” at the Bermuda Tech Summit, where she was joined by Page Crahan, of Google, and moderator Eric Jeffries, chief commercial officer at business venture innovation company Ambika, Inc.
The world's most pressing issue, Ms Gallardo said, is that according to the World Bank some 1.2 billion people globally have no way of proving who they are, including 68.5 million people who have been displaced by conflict.
Following the panel discussion, she said: “Identity is the one issue that affects humanity the most. It's the conductor to access to everything — employment, rent, education, safety.
“Human trafficking rings target populations in places where there isn't a high rate of birth registrations because there is no footprint of them. The world doesn't know you're missing.”
Technology, she said, can make a huge impact on the issue.
Emerge is developing the identity profile layer of an identity management and intelligent resettlement platform for refugees.
The objective is to develop a government-recognised identity for forcibly displaced persons who find themselves in a stateless position, often at risk, and in transit.
Named Homeward, the Emerge technology platform compiles physical and behavioural biometric data into a smart contract in order to provide refugees with self-sovereign identity.
Emerge plans to pilot the programme, Ms Gallardo said, “with case studies in the United States, Mexico, Jordan and Uganda to understand last mile needs in different contexts of displacement such as homelessness, economic migration, climate migration, conflict induced displacement, and more before launching at scale”.
She added: “In the case of refugees, three questions are important.
“They are ‘who are you?', ‘are you who you say you are?', and ‘have you been that person the whole time?'”
A biometric profile, she said, can answer the first two questions, while blockchain technology can provide “a chain of custody to let people prove a validated identity over time.”
Ms Gallardo left an international development degree programme at McGill University in Montreal unfinished before founding Emerge.
She said: “After leaving, I played with new technology and I saw that it had potential to be used more justly.”
Ms Gallardo, who was born in Honduras where she said 64 per cent of people live in poverty, said the work she does is “deeply personal” and is “embedded in who I am”.
Her company has sold technology to both Fortune 500 companies and indigenous tribes. Ms Gallardo told conference delegates: “We aim big, and execute small.”
She added: “What I love is solving problems that are meaningful and have an impact for the most amount of people in the world, especially those who have been systemically excluded.”
Meanwhile, Ms Crahan is head of product and market strategy for a confidential early stage initiative within ‘X', Google's “moonshot factory” that was set up in 2010 by company founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin to work on long-term problems facing the world.
Projects have included harnessing wind energy with kites to create renewable electricity, using beams of light to support the growing global demand for data, expanding internet connectivity with stratospheric balloons, and transforming the way goods are transported by using drones.
Ms Crahan said the most pressing issue facing the world is the climate crisis.
“So many other issues are related to it,” she said. “It is a huge area of opportunity for innovation.”
She said it was important that people in emerging economies have access to “platforms, ideas, playbooks”.
She was recently in Ghana, where many people have mobile phones — but farmers don't have access to weather forecasts. That lack of access to important data, Ms Crahan said, could result in their financial ruin.
Ms Gallardo said the internet was once praised as a “great equaliser” but that lack of connectivity in many places means that it is actually exclusionary.
She told delegates: “Our view is that it's not about innovating, it is about innovating so that it works for everyone.”