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From the real world into the virtual one

Teja Palko



The concept of virtual reality (VR) means using computer technology to create a simulated, three dimensional world. User can manipulate, interact and explore computer generated environment using different motions, particularly head or eye movements.

With Oculus Rift, a head-mounted virtual-reality display, virtual reality is not fiction anymore. It gives a user 360-degree view of the virtual world. It was founded by Palmer Luckey, self-described virtual reality enthusiast and hardware geek. It all started with Kickstarter campaign to help fund development of their first product. With the support of top video game companies the Kickstarter was an enormous success. They raised over 2.4 million dollars in funding from project backers and supporters around the world. Facebook bought Oculus a year and a half later for 2 billion dollars in cash and stock. Currently there is possibility of purchase oculus rift Development Kit (DK) 2 and with it the taste of virtual realityfor 350 dollars. DK is not a consumer product yet, it is a developer version of the head mounted display meant for developers to develop content for the future version cv1 – consumer version.

If you are questioning what it is like to use it, I can say it is very interesting if not fascinating. Imagine yourself being in a live show that is happening on the other side of globe. Imagine you can experience every concert of your best group or singer, or football game from the first person perspective. Imagine yourself in universe. Imagine diving in the most beautiful seas around the world. Imagine driving a formula, tank, plane or helicopter. Imagine you can go wherever you want. With Oculus Rift everything is possible. All you need to do is put the HMD-head mounted display on and pair it with headphones to make events even more real. Within seconds your brain flips and it feels like that what you are watching at is a reality. You do not know you are looking into the screen. If you want to change your point of view you just need to turn your head. Manipulation of our mind is fascinating. It offers first person point of view and personal experience. Even not a fan of games or video games will be very impressed. It did however make me a little sick but eventually sickness passes. I was dropped into a room with roller coaster. When I got to the top of the roller coaster the feeling was very realistic. It was like I was in the real park.

In some way the available version is still very clumsy with cables and the quality of display is not good enough yet, but that will be better in the consumer version. Currently there are no special input controllers for Oculus Rift, and it is kind of clumsy to use keyboard and mouse when the device is on your face, since you cannot see anything else. You can be dropped into a movie theater, complete with rows of seats and a flickering projector behind you. Or you can drive a car or Cockpit and with some gadget it appears you can learn to drive in your apartment. Headset was basically designed for entertainment but it can be much more than just a toy.

Now virtual reality has the potential to profoundly alter our lives. There are limitless educational possibilities. Breathtaking advantages can be seen in fields of architecture and medicine. Architects may be using it to check their designs before starting to build. You will be able to walk through the buildings, new kitchen, house or landscape and experience the designs before they are even made. In medicine doctors can get a first-person view of an actual surgery. It can help learn new techniques by stepping into the virtual shoes of another surgeon. There are also some reports of using the Oculus Rift to help treat vets with post-traumatic stress disorder and help them confront traumatic memories. There is potential to reinvent the online shopping experience with 3d models. It can go further and with help of cameras around the world virtual tourism can happen. New possibilities and changes are on horizon and you can reach them without even leaving your seat. We are bringing the real world into virtual one. There is nothing left but wait for the year 2016 and the date when updated, advanced and more user friendly Oculus Rift will be available for consumers.

Teja Palko is a Slovenian writer. She finished studies on Master’s Degree programme in Defense Science at the Faculty of Social Science at University in Ljubljana.

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Coding with impact: Training female tech talent from Latin America

MD Staff



Photo ©Laboratoria

“We want to train young women to make them talented and globally competitive software developers.”

Meet Mariana Costa Checa, a young social entrepreneur from Peru. She is the CEO and Co-founder of Laboratoria a company that has been training young women coding and software development skills in Latin America since 2014. Mariana will be attending Mobile Learning Week – UNESCO’s yearly flagship ICT in education event – taking place from 26 – 30 March 2018 in Paris.

What inspired you to start Laboratoria?

We started Laboratoria when I moved back to Lima after living abroad for many years. Before venturing into this, my two co-founders and I actually started a web development agency. It was through that experience that we realized there was a lot of demand for software developers, but that there was a big shortage of talent in that particular area. There were also very few women in that sector so there was a huge gender gap. Even in our team, we had 10 developers and all of them were men. We were puzzled by this disparity in a field with so many job opportunities. In contrast to other sectors, the field of software development is quite flexible in terms of the requirements for qualifications. Many talented individuals working in web development did not necessarily have degrees in computer science from prestigious schools. Some did not even have a degree at all. It is one of those fields where you do not necessarily need an actual degree to find a good job. With all this in mind, we saw the opportunity to create a social enterprise that would train young women in this skill set, and especially women who have not been able to access higher education due to their financial situations.

How did it all come together?

We started Laboratoria as a pilot project and we wanted to keep it very lean and focused. We created a curricula, secured a loan and partnered with two non-profit organizations in two different parts of the city to select a group of students to launch the programme. Our goal was to validate the idea and prove that we could actually teach coding skills to women who had no previous contact with technology and help them build a better future. We learned a lot after the initial pilot. Many of the students performed really well and we hired some of them in our agency and we placed others into other companies. We also realized that there was a lot of interest from the hiring companies who were impressed by the talents and they started reaching out to us. After the pilot, we decided to refine the project and in 2015, we turn it into a full-time, six-month bootcamp training programme with nearly a thousand hours of training to build not only the technical skills of our students but also the soft skills that are needed in the professional world. It has been a long process of adjusting and improving our programme to better prepare our students to make them globally competitive software developers. We have also been working with the hiring companies to create a smooth transition for them after their training. The average income of our graduates has been multiplied by three. We started in Lima, and we have already expanded to Santiago (Chile), Mexico City, Guadalajara (Mexico) and we are now setting up in São Paulo (Brazil). We managed to prove that our model was strong in terms of social impact and that it can be scaled to change the lives of young women across Latin America. To date, more than 580 students have graduated from Laboratoria, and they have been hired by more than 200 companies across the industry.

What is the recipe for a successful social enterprise?

It has been years of very hard work! And there is still so much more to be done. The most important thing for us was the focus on learning. Learning as much as we could, following a methodology to continuously improve our work. We are very focused on gathering data to monitor exactly how the programme is performing and to keep improving it. That is what has enabled us to track and improve our work in such a short period: we have built a culture around learning and we try to attract people who share the same mindset to work at our company. And we want to make sure that we do that with excellence by forming the best junior developers who are competitive in the global job market.

How can the digital and gender divide be tackled?

The digital divide and the gender divide are two issues that are of critical importance. As the economy is shifting and becoming more automated, we are seeing the depletion of many low-skilled jobs. And that is usually where women are overrepresented. But in high-skilled professions, particularly those related to tech where there are many job opportunities, women are underrepresented. Unless we urgently do something to change that ratio, women are going to be left out. The private sector needs to know that diversity adds value, not because they need to check in a box, but because their products will be better by having people from different backgrounds and experiences: it will ultimately benefit the companies. Accountability is a key factor, particularly from education institutions. They must ensure that they are training people with the right skills that are needed and that are relevant to succeed in today’s and tomorrow’s economy. Properly analyzing job prospects is essential because a diploma on its own is not going to do anything. As for governments, they should be enablers of the private sector and of civil society by putting the right incentives to help initiatives that tackle these issues and encouraging companies to be more diverse for a better use of technology.

What is your advice to young women – and young people in general – in today’s hyper-connected economy?

We are living in an era of unprecedented opportunities because of Internet, connectivity and the immense access to information. The most valuable skill-set is to know how to learn by yourself. Be curious to go out and take responsibility for your own learning process. That is what we teach our students at Laboratoria as well. Education is being challenged in all sorts of ways because the future of work is still being defined. People need to take advantage of the opportunities of access to information in order to shape their own paths.


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Leveraging Community Mapping to another Level

Magdalena Pawlowicz



Community Mapping, often referred to as Public Participatory Geographic Information Systems (PPGIS), can be used to narrate a story surrounding what is occurring everyday (at every second) in our communities. However, community mapping as we see it, can in some parts of the world be a drawing in the sand.

Whereas regular maps seek conformity, community maps embrace diversity in their presentation and content. That said, to be useful for outside groups such as state authorities, the closer the maps follow recognized cartographic conventions, the greater the likelihood they will be embraced as effective communication tools.

During Community Mapping events, community members come together to collect data, which by nature is varied – an inventory of health centers, restaurants, pedestrian infrastructure, toxic emissions, health conditions, the list is endless. The goal – improve the community, curb violence, and increase local economic revenue bases. Community mapping empowers the public by providing opportunities to have a lasting, positive influence on their community. The maps that are generated are used to document community needs and assist with consensus-building and decision-making for improved program designs and policies at a public-sector level.

There are several great websites which are creating training sessions on how to get people more involved in community mapping. Engaging Together is a U.K. organization aimed just this where they list all community assets present in the Dudley borough, and communicate how they use these assets to build relationships and strengthen communities by bringing together a contingency of individuals thus creating a sense of belonging. However, to create community mapping that sticks, one needs technology.

The next generation of community mapping is the app which aims to include community asset mapping on various levels. This will help to stimulate and motivate change in the local society, and the app is specifically useful is when:

  • There are people not engaged in their local community and/or isolated from relationships with their neighbors.
  • A community is fractured with little belief that it can change.
  • There are no community associations or where those that do exist are exhausted, characterized by low membership and dominated by public agency agendas.
  • Agencies only see the community as a source of problems and needs and cannot visualize potential solutions.
  • There is a group of people who organizations see as dependent – for example, people with learning disabilities. This people can thus be empowered.
  • Communities and staff who both desire change and see the world differently. By making potential changes visible, assets are uncovered which is where change can thus occur.

Community Asset mapping levels – actual and potential:

The assets of community individuals: these are skills, knowledge, networks, time, interests and passions. Residents can be asked what is positive about where they live, and what they could do to make life better for their community. This can be done by a municipality using the app.

The assets of associations in community: this is not just formal community organizations or voluntary groups. It includes all the informal networks and ways that people come together: football teams, allotment associations, workplaces and so on. For example, a pub quiz team has members of interest, but it could also offer fundraising and networks.

The assets of organizations in community: this is not just the services that organizations deliver locally, but also the infrastructure assets they control, e.g., parks, community centers etc. In fact, it covers anything that could be put to the use of a community to improve its wellbeing. It includes staff and their influence and expertise.

The physical assets of a local community: the green space, unused land, buildings, streets, markets, and transportation in the area. Mapping these assets helps people to appreciate their value and to realize the potential productive uses.

The economic community assets: economic activity lies at the heart of rebuilding a community. What skills and talents are not being used in the local economy? How do local associations contribute to the local economy by attracting investment and generating jobs and income? Could public spending in the area be used to employ local people instead of outside professionals? How could the residents spend more of their money in local shops and businesses and increase local economic activity?

The cultural community assets: everyday life is full of creativity and culture. This involves the mapping of talents for music, drama, art and opportunities for everyone to express themselves in ways that reflect their values and identities.

We are asking all local authorities worldwide to embrace community mapping not as expert mapping, but as a human interaction mapping initiative. Let’s map together!

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UN forum to spotlight ways ICT can help beat poverty and boost development

MD Staff



Young people participating in a "Hack for Health" event at the 2017 World Summit on the Information Society. Photo: ITU/R. Farrell

Making information and communication technology (ICT) readily available for vulnerable countries and harnessing it’s potential to help tackle a raft of ills – from disaster risk reduction to reaching ‘zero hunger’ – will be among the issues on the agenda at an annual United Nations information forum that kicked off Monday in Geneva.

From building vibrant information and communication technology (ICT)-centric ecosystems to harnessing their potential for disaster risk reduction, the annual United Nations forum on information kicked off Monday – exploring a range of compelling possibilities to meet sustainable development challenges.

More than 2,500 ICT experts from around the globe have assembled at International Telecommunication Union (ITU) headquarters in Geneva for the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Forum seeking to bring benefits to everyone, everywhere.

“[The WSIS Forum] is our common platform to review the achievements of [information and communication technology] developments, to discuss the challenges and opportunities, to showcase innovation and to share best practices,” said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao.

Innovative projects showcase ICT solutions in areas as diverse and critical as the ‘Internet of Things’ for development, e-agriculture, information accessibility, cybersecurity, virtual reality (VR) and education, autonomous robots, gender empowerment, and the implementation of WSIS Action Lines –  a framework for worldwide action on ICTs – towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

On site, “ICT Solutions for SDGs” will include drones for social development, robotics, artificial intelligence – and VR experiences.

Cyber nuts and bolts

This year’s WSIS has raised the spotlight on how ICTs can help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including with a new Youth in ICTs track to leverage the skills of young people aged 18-35.

In a Cloud Café, youth and subject-area experts will exchange knowledge to advance the UN’s work while a Vloggers for SDGs session will discuss how YouTube has changed the way development organizations communicate with the public, including the rise of video blogging or Vlogging.

An innovation track called Accelerating Digital Transformation: Building Vibrant ICT Centric Innovation Ecosystems, provides a unique opportunity to build high-level dialogue, cooperation and partnership and identify good practices to support innovation ecosystems and funding policy for sustainable ICT projects.

For the second-annual global Hackathon, called #HackAgainstHunger, the ITU, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Impact Hub Geneva assembled more than 75 coders, food and agriculture experts and innovators to develop new ICT solutions to end world hunger.

During the Forum, WSIS Prizes will be awarded to recognize outstanding projects supporting the SDGs. Winners, or WSIS Champions, will play a key role in engaging global and grassroots community in online and community advocacy going forwad.

This year’s forum marks 15 years since the first Summit was held in Geneva, demonstrating that the foundations of a “just and equal information society” set by the Geneva Plan of Action in 2003 are still crucial to all WSIS stakeholders.

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