This episode is mostly about driven professionals doing great work in difficult places for people who really need help. Fundamentally that’s what Lauren Woodman and her NetHope team do. It’s not about speech recognition, AI (yet), or your wifi fridge telling you that your avocado ice cream is about to melt.
We talk about providing connectivity in giant, semi-permanent refugee camps, and about streams of migrants — otherwise educated and smartphone carrying people trying to live their lives — and giving them basic services that of course we’d crumble without. A constant thread: having the grit to work through solutions in places where the environment (physical and political) is potentially hostile. They do work that’s super tangible (getting satellite dishes up), and work that’s less so (data security policy so refugees are protected even in cyberspace). It’s applied, 100% non-frivolous tech.
There are many things to admire about Lauren, not least that she’s so effectively made the transition to the world of development from tech — a culture not known for patience or diplomacy. She and her team inhabit a space between governments, and a truly who’s who set of partners, including non-profits, massive NGOs, and tech giants (The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Path, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Cisco, Dell, etc.). This snippet gives you a sense for how crisp Lauren is about her very unique organization
NetHope is constantly on the lookout for how to operate more efficiently, both in terms of making their partners’ funds go further, but how to scale, including running training programs — NetHope Academies — so they can get abundant local human resources spooled up. The next frontier is using data in ways that were never before possible.
Lauren’s a Smith College and Johns Hopkins SAIS grad who’s on the front line of some of the world’s most painful humanitarian situations, and she’s well worth the listen.