Themes in technology and social impact

Summary of “development” book club readings from April 2017-June 2020

By Joy M., Victoria T Gu, and Meiri Anto

We are leaders of a book club that reads books related to “development” — it started out with the intention of reading books related to international development and technology but has since expanded to include content about the future of work, climate change, governance, systemic inequality, economic theory, social entrepreneurship, and much more.

The following is a summary of themes that have emerged from the books we read on a roughly monthly basis from April 2017 to June 2020 (full schedule and list of books). We selected books based on the interest of those present at each gathering, often resulting in a range of sometimes constructive, sometimes conflicting view points. Therefore, this summary is by no means necessarily a cohesive or complete picture of all content related to “development.” Rather, it is just a snapshot of some pieces and perspectives in a vast literature — and a fairly impressive one for people who are just reading these books for fun ;)

We hope this is helpful as a guideline of different ideas and potential areas to dig deeper for anyone who is interested in technology and social impact!

1. Businesses have the potential to help poor people.

Businesses can cater to the poor through specific products or services.

2. But it is important to keep in mind the local context when trying to “help.”

Often there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to trying to implement a technological or other type of “solution” in general. Many well-meaning approaches will fail without a real partnership with and deep understanding of the intended beneficiaries.

3. There are different paths that nations have taken and continue to take towards “development.”

Some factors that are varied are the role of neoliberalism (and markets) versus that of the government. These different paths have varied impacts on the economic, social, and political state of the countries.

4. Often, it is the power structures and systems that maintain a (broken) status quo and make it difficult to more towards equity.

Thus far, “solutions” mainly address “symptoms” that are the result of these systems. It requires true humility and evaluation of how we contribute to these to make real change.

5. There are some interesting economic ideas of how we can radically change society.

These include using different economic concepts and reimagining how we think of capitalism, free markets, and work.

Wants to change the world using technology. Loves both exploring new places and curling up with a good book and a cup of tea.