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Generation NOW! Challenging Generational Understandings of Social Change, Technology, and International Development

The first of three of the Biennial of the Americas Panel Series kicked off on Tuesday night in Denver, CO at the Posner Center which addressed one of the themes from an international development viewpoint: Generation NOW!  The panel featured young women leading organizations with new approaches to international development.  The audience was very engaged in the discussion and a number of noteworthy questions and topics were examined.  The changing role of women as leaders of non-profits, diversity in the workplace, the role of technology (especially ICT4D), and the multi-generational perspectives that now make up Generation NOW were among the topics discussed.

Posner Center
Posner Center

Among the panelists were:

Julia Alvarez, Executive Director of Elephant Energy who provides access to renewable sustainable technologies in core areas such as the U.S. Navajo Nation, Namibia and Zambia.

Avery Bang, CEO of Bridges to Prosperity who provides remote communities with access to health care, education and other opportunities by building footbridges over impassable waterways.

Alex Fiorillo, Principal at Grid Impact, which is a collaborative organization where she leads innovative behavior change and economic development projects using behavioral science and human-centered design approaches in asset building, services and programs in places like Latin America, Asia and Africa.

The moderator was Susan Abbott who leads Cross Pollinate Consulting Solutions, where she works in the media development sector, emphasizing on program design and development, monitoring and evaluation, project management, and capacity building.

From left to right:  Julia Alvarez, Avery Bang, Alex Fiorillo, Susan Abbott
From left to right: Julia Alvarez, Avery Bang, Alex Fiorillo, Susan Abbott

One of hot-button topics the panel focused on is the perceived generational divide between the millennials and previous generations working in the international development sector.  The panelists and the audience were able to engage in a heated discussion about the differences and similarities between the social activists and change-makers from the 1960s and 70s, as compared to their counterparts in today’s millennial generation.  The evening served as a reminder that it would be fruitful to have more opportunities for different generations of change-makers and non-profit leaders to come together to discuss, critically reflect on, and inspire each other around how to tackle pressing social issues and challenges.

Another much discussed topic was the role of information and communication technology in today’s work environment, especially for NGOs and non-profits working in the international development sector. ICTs were mentioned as being a game changer in this field, especially given the role that platforms like Skype, Google Hangouts, and Cloud-based services play in how NGOs approach their work. Panelists emphasized that while technology has played a key role in the way they work and their success in implementing programs in developing countries, it is not the end-all-be-all rather a means to an end. All acknowledged that they are able to carry out their work and objectives due in large part to advances in digital communication, the spread of internet access, and the low barriers to entry required for services like Skype, the suite of Google products, and file sharing systems that are readily and cheaply available.  The panel and audience also commented on the range of experiences their counterparts in developing countries faced in terms of accessing the internet and making use of mobile communications.

So how can the different generations in international development learn from each other and make a difference while moving ahead?

  • Have more collaborative discussion around development, technology, and social activism;
  • Embrace the reality that there are four very active and involved generations in the area of international development; and
  • Be proactive in seeking out the right people for the situation: tap into the wisdom and experience of other generations who have worked in or are still actively involved in international development.

Be sure to mark your calendars for the remaining Biennial of the Americas Panel Series:

Business NOW! – Tuesday, May 12, 2015 from 6:00 – 8:00PM
Community NOW! – Tuesday, June 16th from 6:00 – 8:00 PM

Hope to see you at the next one!