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Coding with impact: Training female tech talent from Latin America

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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.

UNESCO

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Science & Technology

Technologies That Are The Future

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Innovation is the introduction of something new. As we are in this progressing age, one can observe changes in the surroundings within seconds. To cater for this, technological advancements and new innovations with better features are the need of the hour. Futurists of the 1950s or so predicted that by 2000s, we will have flying cars and airborne robots. While the forecasters had their timing wrong, but their foresighted technology was right. Today we are at the brink of manufacturing self-driving cars and robot assistants.

Among these, another important innovation that will go mainstream is the ‘Voice Assistants’. In about four to five years, every home is expected to have a voice assistant like Amazon Echo or Apple Homepod. This is all thanks to the power of artificial intelligence that we are able to develop something like this. Voice assistants are making a vital change in markets all around the world and some scientists believe that in the near future, people will be communicating through voice rather than text. This will save time which can be used in completing other tasks.

Another emerging technology is the technique of ‘Reversing Paralysis’. Researchers have begun using brain-reading technology which helps the people with paralysis to move their limbs again. This is done by placing an electronic implant in the brain which is connected to electrical stimulators located on the body to create a ‘neural bypass’. Although the progress in implementing this technology is slow but this technology is also being tested for people with other diseases like arthritis. These innovations with new advances would allow patients to regain control of their bodies.

The wait for ‘Quantum Computers’ is ending soon. A computer that can accelerate pharmaceutical research, compute equations that are hard to fathom right now or rewrite encryptions. Quantum computers have more qubits, the basic unit of quantum information. Qubits need ideal conditions to function properly, but new technology reduces the computational capability needed to correct errors caused by physical intrusions. These computers will be in the commercial market for common use by anyone in a few years.

The next on list are the ‘Hot Solar Cells’. Solar panels are more efficient today than their previous versions, but they still absorb only a fraction of sunlight. To solve this problem, hot solar cells are introduced which convert the sunlight into heat and then back to light. So, what happens is an ‘absorber-emitter’ absorbs the sunlight then converts it to heat and funnels it to solar cells. This system could even allow energy to be stored for later use. This system could deliver continuous power even when the sun is not shining.

‘Botnets’ is the real game changer in the list. As we are living in the age of smart phones, laptops, internet, media, etc. we do not entirely realize the importance of cyberattacks. Botnets are centralized systems that gain control of internet connected devices to launch cyberattacks. The situation is getting worse day by day with so many devices that have little to no cybersecurity measures. Botnets can evade spam filters, create click fraud, and launch denial-of-service attacks. Once a botnet is spotted, its command and control center can be attacked and rendered ineffective. In the coming years, botnet trends favor the attacker, and more botnet attacks will be coming for internet users.

A world where genetic diseases like Huntington’s and cystic fibrosis are defeated is something, we all wish for. Well, thanks to ‘Crispr’, genetic diseases may be eliminated. CRISPR Cas-9 is an abbreviation for ‘Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats’. It is a gene-splicing technology which is capable of finding and removing mutated sections of DNA. Once it is removed, crispr can replace the mutated ones with non-mutated variants. In conclusion, crispr has the ability to permanently remove certain types of genetic diseases from blood lines. It is already being used to eliminate cancer cells in some patients and may as well be able to cure genetically caused blindness as well in the near future.

Practice makes a man perfect but you never know the advancements in the technology might make the robots perfect too. ‘Reinforcement Learning’ is a new technique which helps artificial intelligence (AI) to solve problems it has never seen before. This concepts is connected with a large neural network which is trained to recognize patterns in data. The computer learns which information is correct and which is not and continuously improves itself. A computer using this technology can beat one of the best players in the world. Reinforcement learning might be moving towards its most vital tests soon with its use in self-driving cars and other technologies.

Another new technology in the market is the ‘Gene Therapy’. It is for hereditary diseases and is available in Europe market and will soon be launched in the United States. The success of these gene therapies increased phenomenally when scientists started to use viruses that are more efficient at transporting new genetic materials. Gene therapies can even treat the diseases which involve multiple genes. This kind of treatment might seem rare now but will be more common in the blink of an eye.

At one point last year, Bitcoin was worth more than $19,000 per coin but recently the value of cryptocurrency has decreased still a single coin is worth thousands of dollars. Cryptocurrency has stirred up controversy around the world but it is steadily becoming mainstream. Platforms like TrustToken and HybridBlock are poised to connect the global trading power of blockchains with real world assetd and are designed to give crypto enthusiasts greater access to silo trading markets which help to expand the industry to a new wave of crypto enthusiasts. As a result, sellers can make illiquid assets liquid, and buyers can have control of a vast portfolio of assets. By giving access to mobile friendly products like easy to use applications, these platforms are providing the market with a new form of crypto education and the tools to execute crypto trades.

Last but not the least on the list is the ‘Artificial Intelligence and Automation’. Some of the world’s most famous brands are majorly turning to automation in order to serve their customers better and become more affordable by reducing the costs. Big box retailers utilize automated warehouses to sort and ship products, while social media networks use automation to moderate comments and credit card companies use automation to detect fraud and theft. The implications here are massive because a new artificial intelligence economy incorporating the decentralized blockchain AI, can change the way businesses operate and run around the world.

Indeed, it is just a matter of time before everything goes to the market. We are moving to a time where everything is just a click away. New innovations are coming daily, changes are being made within minutes. In fact, as we speak, we might be unaware but there might be some company in the world working at this hour to bring a change to your smartphone but there is nothing we can do about it. We just have to hang in there and go with the flow.

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Science & Technology

What is a ‘vaccine passport’ and will you need one the next time you travel?

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An Arab-Israeli woman shows her COVID-19 card which shows she has been vaccinated against the virus. Mohamed Yassin

Is the idea of a vaccine passport entirely new?

The concept of a passport to allow for cross border travel is something that we’ve been working on with the Common Trust Network for many months. The focus has been first on diagnostics. That’s where we worked with an organization called “The Commons Project” to develop the “Common Trust Framework”. This is a set of registries of trusted data sources, a registry of labs accredited to run tests and a registry of up-to-date border crossing regulations.

The set of registries can be used to generate certificates of compliance to prevailing border-crossing regulations as defined by governments. There are different tools to generate the certificates, and the diversity of their authentication solutions and the way they protect data privacy is quite remarkable.

We at the Forum have no preference when it comes to who is running the certification algorithm, we simply want to promote a unique set of registries to avoid unnecessary replication efforts. This is where we support the Common Trust Framework. For instance, the Common Pass is one authentication solution – but there are others, for example developed by Abbott, AOK, SICPA (Certus), IBM and others.

How does the system work and how could it be applied to vaccines?

The Common Trust Network, supported by the Forum, is combining the set of registries that are going to enrol all participating labs. Separately from that, it provides an up-to-date database of all prevailing border entry rules (which fluctuate and differ from country to country).

Combining these two datasets provides a QR code that border entry authorities can trust. It doesn’t reveal any personal health data – it tells you about compliance of results versus border entry requirements for a particular country. So, if your border control rules say that you need to take a test of a certain nature within 72 hours prior to arrival, the tool will confirm whether the traveller has taken that corresponding test in a trusted laboratory, and the test was indeed performed less than three days prior to landing.

The purpose is to create a common good that many authentication providers can use and to provide anyone, in a very agnostic fashion, with access to those registries.

What is the WHO’s role?

There is currently an effort at the WHO to create standards that would process data on the types of vaccinations, how these are channelled into health and healthcare systems registries, the use cases – beyond the management of vaccination campaigns – include border control but also possibly in the future access to stadia or large events. By establishing in a truly ethical fashion harmonized standards, we can avoid a scenario whereby you create two classes of citizens – those who have been vaccinated and those who have not.

So rather than building a set of rules that would be left to the interpretation of member states or private-sector operators like cruises, airlines or conveners of gatherings, we support the WHO’s effort to create a standard for member states for requesting vaccinations and how it would permit the various kinds of use cases.

It is important that we rely on the normative body (the WHO) to create the vaccine credential requirements. The Forum is involved in the WHO taskforce to reflect on those standards and think about how they would be used. The WHO’s goal is to deploy standards and recommendations by mid-March 2021, and the hope is that they will be more harmonized between member states than they have been to date in the field of diagnostics.

What about the private sector and separate initiatives?

When registry frameworks are being developed for authentication tools providers, they should at a minimum feed as experiments into the standardization efforts being driven by WHO, knowing that the final guidance from the only normative body with an official UN mandate may in turn force those providers to revise their own frameworks. We certainly support this type of interaction, as public- and private-sector collaboration is key to overcoming the global challenge posed by COVID-19.

What more needs to be done to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines?

As the WHO has warned, vaccine nationalism – or a hoarding and “me-first” approach to vaccine deployment – risks leaving “the world’s poorest and most vulnerable at risk.”

COVAX, supported by the World Economic Forum, is coordinated by the World Health Organization in partnership with GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance; CEPI, the Centre for Epidemics Preparedness Innovations and others. So far, 190 economies have signed up.

The Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-Accelerator) is another partnership, with universal access and equity at its core, that has been successfully promoting global collaboration to accelerate the development, production and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines. The World Economic Forum is a member of the ACT-Accelerator’s Facilitation Council (governing body).

World Economic Forum

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Iran among five pioneers of nanotechnology

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Prioritizing nanotechnology in Iran has led to this country’s steady placement among the five pioneers of the nanotechnology field in recent years, and approximately 20 percent of all articles provided by Iranian researchers in 2020 are relative to this area of technology.

Iran has been introduced as the 4th leading country in the world in the field of nanotechnology, publishing 11,546 scientific articles in 2020.

The country held a 6 percent share of the world’s total nanotechnology articles, according to StatNano’s monthly evaluation accomplished in WoS databases.

There are 227 companies in Iran registered in the WoS databases, manufacturing 419 products, mainly in the fields of construction, textile, medicine, home appliances, automotive, and food.

According to the data, 31 Iranian universities and research centers published more than 50 nano-articles in the last year. 

In line with China’s trend in the past few years, this country is placed in the first stage with 78,000 nano-articles (more than 40 percent of all nano-articles in 2020), and the U.S. is at the next stage with 24,425 papers. These countries have published nearly half of the whole world’s nano-articles.

In the following, India with 9 percent, Iran with 6 percent, and South Korea and Germany with 5 percent are the other head publishers, respectively.

Almost 9 percent of the whole scientific publications of 2020, indexed in the Web of Science database, have been relevant to nanotechnology.

There have been 191,304 nano-articles indexed in WoS that had to have a 9 percent growth compared to last year. The mentioned articles are 8.8 percent of the whole produced papers in 2020.

Iran ranked 43rd among the 100 most vibrant clusters of science and technology (S&T) worldwide for the third consecutive year, according to the Global Innovation Index (GII) 2020 report.

The country experienced a three-level improvement compared to 2019.

Iran’s share of the world’s top scientific articles is 3 percent, Gholam Hossein Rahimi She’erbaf, the deputy science minister, has announced.

The country’s share in the whole publications worldwide is 2 percent, he noted, highlighting, for the first three consecutive years, Iran has been ranked first in terms of quantity and quality of articles among Islamic countries.

Sourena Sattari, vice president for science and technology has said that Iran is playing the leading role in the region in the fields of fintech, ICT, stem cell, aerospace, and is unrivaled in artificial intelligence.

From our partner Tehran Times

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