Last week I spent a few of days working from the FutureSocieties conference at WebSummit in beautiful Lisbon. The event is Europe’s biggest technology and entrepreneurship conference – a global meeting place for web-thinkers and entrepreneurs focused on changing business and lives.
The FutureSocieties conference is a big part of WebSummit – bringing together leading thinkers, politicians and academics to discuss how our cities, our working lives and our culture are being transformed.
There were a huge amount of inspiring talks, packed with useful ideas and opportunities to connect with new companies, media and organisations who could help us to go mainstream. See below for a brief summary from talks and the entrepreneurs I met – I’m obviously happy to expand on any of these themes or connections if particularly useful for anyone’s work.
Talk 1) How is tech changing giving?
A provocative talk that claimed philanthropy and giving is stuck in the past. French entrepreneur Alexandre Mars gave a super interesting talk about how philanthropic organisations often operate in silos. How do we encourage giving to new ideas and social entrepreneurs doing things a little differently?
He claimed that much of philanthropy is failing new social organisations and ventures seeking to make wide impact on problems that assail the poor. So, he set up Epic Foundation: this innovative website uses evidence-based data tools to identify innovative social ventures and organisations, giving them the tools they need to be successful regardless of prior track record, and then monitors their progress while working with them to evaluate what works and what doesn’t.
Corporate partners love Epic’s model because it demonstrates contributions unlocking their full social impact potential. Because of this, Epic helps corporations fulfil their social responsibility goals, while supporting organisations that make global social impact, whether that be feeding children in Darfur, offering underprivileged children access to technology and higher education courses, or getting homeless people out of shelters.
There is a Comms and storytelling element too. Epic also provides news, stories, photos, and videos curated by their team from each portfolio organisations, creating not only a second high-value data point for donors to monitor, but also a growing stream of content to drive their inbound traffic and marketing. The constant flow of information that the Newsfeed provides shows that their money is working hard and that Epic Foundation and the organisations it supports are constantly in motion. Lastly, each venture Epic supports comes with an individual profile. This offers data, news, and background information – building credibility they need to build their donor community.
Talk2) Is the internet making us stupider?
Comedian David Schneider led an interesting talk on how the online world is changing the way we think. It was centred around the amount of online “content” that is out there. Consequently, our brains have learned how to read differently (with constant distractions), which has reshaped how we learn. While the Internet gives us access to more information than before, paradoxically, we are becoming dimmer and more superficial as a people.
There is a science behind this too. When you encounter hyperlinked text, your brain asks the question: “To click or not to click.” Because you are constantly being interrupted to make these decisions, you rarely “get lost” in the text and consequently the information infrequently becomes deep knowledge. The WebSummit heard how this redirection of our mental resources, from reading words to making judgments, may be imperceptible at first. But it’s been shown to impede comprehension and retention, particularly when repeated frequently. Not surprisingly, Internet usage is rewiring how we think.
Talk 3) The Filter Bubble vs democracy
I was at WebSummit as Donald Trump (surprisingly?!) won the election, so the question mark about us living and working in a filter bubble was high on the agenda. Have the open channels of the internet become ‘echo chambers’ for certain viewpoints? Does this impact the democratic process? And scientifically, the way we perceive and understand information?
Charles Arthur from from The Guardian opened the session: what is the effect on democracy of the fact that search engines and social media tend to feed back to users ideas that they already agree with? He considered that the problem of the echo chambers caught everybody – possibly also search engines and social media – by surprise particularly around Brexit and the US election. He asked to his panel if in four years time, when the UK will not be a member of the EU and the US will have new presidential elections, the filter bubble will have been addressed and burst?
Ann Mettler, Head of European Political Strategy Centre, said: “The industrial age was about standardisation, the digital age is about customisation”.
This translates into an objective problem when it comes to today’s information world, where echo centres translate into the perpetual strengthening of biases and beliefs. Before the advent of social media newspapers were the ones responsible of fact checking and of making decisions on what was newsworthy. In today’s online world the absence of “mediators” in social media, and the fact that nowadays success depends on shares, not accuracy or precision, results in a wealth of lies and rumours dressed up as news.
The panel admitted the problem is far from being easily fixed, considering that people do not appear to really care, comfortable as they are right now in the bubble. Both Gary and Ann Mettler added that something would need to go “horribly wrong” in the democratic process for a solution to become felt as urgent globally.
Of course, WebSummit wasn’t just about the talks. See below for a few interesting start-ups trying to make the world better in their own way:
- A new start-up, hoping to become the first community platform for refugees and supporters
- Social Business who empowers Entrepreneurs to become Social Entrepreneurs, by using their knowledge and technologies to help the Governments solve Local and Global Problems, creating their own Crowdfunding Campaign where the Citizens and Investors support your Social Impact
- A new social network for social entrpreneurs basically!
- A social platform that connects non-profits, businesses and individuals to facilitate greater measured impact through incentivised volunteering and donating
- Introducing students to technology and entrepreneurship and inspire in them a sense of entrepreneurship, a quintessential skill in today’s economy. We provide technical students the opportunity to further develop their technical knowledge and reach out to non-technical students to introduce them to the wonderfull world of technology.”
- Helping refugees and migrants connect with locals through the language barrier
- A new app that changes volunteering – making it more accessible for people & efficient for organisations. Allows people to organise for action
The Happiness Network
- The Happiness Network is a social enterprise that focuses on creating technologies, brands and campaigns to empower people to maximise their quality of life and happiness.
The CultureJukebox team left WebSummit full of new ideas and promising new connections. Obrigado!