Refugee Code Week: Programming A Future Perspective

SAP News Center

Refugee Code Week opens up new perspectives for refugees and displaced youth throughout the Middle East.

“Come in!” Nisreen’s father says cheerfully, as he invites us in from the dusty street. Inside his small house, the air is cool and smells of fresh tea. The tiny rooms are clean and lovingly decorated. Grandmother and niece are already waiting for us in the living room. It looks almost like their home in Syria did before the war, they tell us. Outside, laughing children play tag. It’s a little paradise they have created for themselves here.

But not all is as it seems at first glance: Nisreen Abu-Salou, 37, is a Syrian refugee, and the walls of the house are made of sheet metal. She and her father live there alone, her mother having since returned to Syria to Nisreen’s brothers and sisters. They have no idea how the rest of the family is doing. Contact with the outside world is only possible sporadically. Nisreen’s new “home” is Al Zaatari, a refugee camp in Jordan. It is the largest refugee camp in the Middle East, and with 80,000 inhabitants, the second largest in the world.

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Nisreen Abu-Salou with her family

Back in Syria, she worked as a teacher and taught children from grade five up to graduation. Her curiosity for all things new was her constant companion. Her eyes light up just reminiscing about it. And now she has the chance to learn programming.

Nisreen has been taking part in Refugee Code Week, an initiative sponsored by SAP in collaboration with the United Nations Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and Galway Education Center. The aim of the project is to introduce refugees in the Middle East to the basics of computer programming. The courses were held in Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, and Turkey.

Skills for now and the future

There are currently millions of refugees of all ages stuck in camps throughout war zones and hosting countries. Despite their wide range of skills and qualifications, most of these people have no choice but to idle away the day. For children, the biggest issue is the lack of access to education, especially beyond the elementary level.

The IT industry in this region, on the other hand, needs highly trained specialists to drive digital transformation and help secure the region’s long-term economic growth. Saudi Arabia alone already had a shortfall of some 30,000 IT professionals. Meanwhile, it is estimated that businesses and governments will invest around $260 billion in IT in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) in 2016 alone.

So what could be more obvious than to tap that tremendous motivation of the refugees – especially of the girls – and invest in a better future, right here and now?

The results

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Together with 33 partners, this event was able to equip 10,200 participants with coding skills. This infographic gives a detailed overview of the achievements during Refugee Code Week 2016.


The impact of the initiative is particularly evident in the camps nearest the Syrian border in Jordan. Take Amnah, for example, a 12-year-old girl also from the Al Zaatari camp. She says that learning with the special Scratch software is very easy “and a lot of fun, too.”

Some women in the program are students; others are teachers, such as 21-year old Rana. She sees this project as a unique opportunity for girls to shape their future and to develop a perspective, even in a seemingly hopeless environment such as theirs. Participants were taught in groups aged 8 to 11 years and 12 to 17 years. Free online courses were also offered to those who were unable to attend on-site.

Training for hundreds of teachers

The students didn’t just benefit from the pedagogical and didactical quality of the Scratch teaching program, which is very practice-oriented and thus capable of maintaining the learners’ enthusiasm even through the phases of dry theory. They also benefited from the high level of motivation of their teachers. 2,439 teachers have been trained by experts and supported by numerous volunteers. And they are not only coming from the refugee communities; volunteers also come from the host countries who will also forward their new digital knowledge to local youth.

“Hence the importance of ‘Train-the-Trainer’ events, where master instructors empower both refugees and local youth to become the next expert coding teachers,” explains Claire Gillissen-Duval, director of SAP Corporate Social Responsibility for EMEA and global lead of Africa and Refugee Code Weeks. “Leveraging freely accessible materials and teaching tools, Train-the-Trainer events provide a sound, replicable structure for inter-group knowledge sharing, unlocking the potential of people to serve as resources for each other.”

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Children living at Al Zaatari

The entire model builds on the success of Africa Code Week. In its second year now, the event, together with hundreds of partners, passed on coding skills to 427,000 children, teenagers, and young adults in Africa. Many of those participants now have career perspectives they never would have dreamed possible before. This is also the experience of the 10,200 participants of Refugee Code Week: Whether as employees in companies or as freelancers: their skills are in demand and can be used anywhere in the world – especially, of course, in their home countries, where they hope to be soon able to return and support economic recovery.

Direct from school to career

For some of the Refugee Code Week participants, the dream of a career becomes true even sooner. The 90 best “Master Class” students are selected to participate in a special “bootcamp” training program from non-profit partner RBK (formerly ReBootKamp). Of these, at least 30 can look forward to a job offer from the partner network upon completion.

Fatima Himmamy has already participated in a RBK training. The 26-year-old from Aleppo, who has already completed a four-year computer studies program, describes the initiative as one of the best experiences of her life. Being a teacher in the project is much more than just a job to her, though. It has given her a different perspective and has changed her life in the camp.

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Fatima Himmamy

The project has given her new drive, and lots of satisfaction, because passing her knowledge to other women and girls is a cause that’s particularly dear to her heart. “I love what I’m doing here,” she says.

Refugee Code Week demonstrates how people – even those in need – can turn potential opportunities into a better future. In the end, it all comes down to determination. And when it comes to determination, the participating girls and women are in a class of their own.

For more stories of how technology education can turn young lives around, see Bringing New Educational Opportunities To Rwandan Youth.

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Quayside: A Reminder That Canada Can Define The Digital Democracy

Colleen Hardwick and John Ramsell

Toronto is right to feel good about Alphabet subsidiary Sidewalk Labs choosing the city for its high-tech redevelopment of a 12-acre strip of the eastern waterfront. The Quayside project could be a watershed moment for the burgeoning global smart city movement.

In a Globe and Mail op-ed, Sidewalk CEO and chairman Daniel Doctoroff and Alphabet executive chairman Eric Schmidt said in Toronto they’d “found a city with unequalled diversity and a remarkable spirit of openness” for their futuristic vision.

But they also implied Toronto is an ideal test bed because of what it doesn’t have. “Like other successful cities, Toronto is struggling to maintain diversity as housing prices soar, congestion worsens and cost of living skyrockets.”

For all the potential of this innovative venture, Doctoroff and Schmidt acknowledged what Quayside cannot become: a wealthy, high-tech enclave. “The eastern waterfront should be a model for using technology and data as tools to enhance personal connections and the urban environment – not to close us off to each other and from our surroundings.”

In other words, data and algorithms alone cannot be allowed to drive the project. “Sophisticated modeling techniques” and the like will have value in determining how the city takes shape, but people and their wishes must remain part of the equation. Tracking people’s habits, behaviors and movements is not the same as asking them how they feel.

In fairness, Sidewalk Labs is adamant that policymakers, city leaders and citizens will remain part of the conversation. It’s in Canada, you feel, that this integration between government and corporation for the good of citizens could actually happen.

Canada’s democracy is considered one of the strongest in the world. The country is currently an “island of stability” in a Western world reeling from the effects of distrust in political parties and desperate lashes out for change, according to the Environics Institute.

Sidewalk isn’t the first to recognize Canada as a good bet for trialing government-friendly tech projects. Code for Canada – a non-profit committed to “technology and design for the common good” – shows the Canadian appetite for greater collaboration between government innovators and the country’s tech community to pursue better digital public services.

Elsewhere, Vancouver-based PlaceSpeak is tapping into the potential for municipalities to use the internet to better involve citizens in discussions that usually only happen in sparsely attended town hall meetings.

For it to work, governments had to be open to the idea of a civic engagement platform that puts location-verified citizens in direct contact with them and each other online. And they were – municipalities across Canada have embraced the tool with zeal.

Placespeak’s new feature, SentiMap, takes it a step further by generating colour-coded maps showing a constituent’s sentiment on whatever issues are up for discussion. The in-memory computing platform takes real-time measures of citizen sentiment, pulls it up from the gutter of social media shouting matches and rants, and turns it into an exciting way to see digital democracy in action. It’s a Canadian-made glimpse of the example we can set in using the internet to rejuvenate and reinvigorate policy making, and the antithesis of what could become an algorithm-defined democracy if Quayside is not properly governed.

While such examples can be cherry-picked, it would be disingenuous to suggest Canada is currently leading the way in digital democracy. When comparing, say, an Accenture study that placed Canada 14th in the G20’s most digitally innovative countries, to world-renowned success stories like Estonia’s, it’s clear there’s still a long way to go if we are to reach our potential.

If we can get there, it would be well worth our while. Technology brings great hope, but there are challenges in making it work for everyone. What Silicon Valley is to no-holds-barred innovation, Canada is to good government. It’s this complement that could make Quayside just one of many projects that helps Canada define digital democracy for the world.

For more on technology and smart cities, see How Cities Become What We Want Them To Be.

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Colleen Hardwick

About Colleen Hardwick

Colleen Hardwick was headed for a career in urban planning when a twist of fate launched her into a 20-year career in the film industry. Circling back to her roots in 2010, Colleen began to innovate in online public participation and decision-making. The result is PlaceSpeak, the first location-based community consultation platform. Colleen has a degree in Urban Geography from UBC, is a former member of the City of Vancouver’s Development Permit Board Advisory Panel, and is a member of Lambda Alpha International.

John Ramsell

About John Ramsell

John Ramsell is the head of the west region and public sector sales for SAP Canada. In this role, John works with Canada’s largest and most important companies and government organizations across a range of industries, creating road maps that lead to effective digital transformation.

Harnessing Digitization To Power Up Governance In ASEAN

Claus Andresen

As ASEAN celebrates 50 years of its establishment this year, one of its key achievements has been the formation of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC)—a platform that enables the economic integration of its ten member states. It is already making an impact on the economy of the region, which would be far greater in the years to come.

The potential for ASEAN is huge: With 630 million people (more than half of whom are under 30) and a US$1.5 trillion consumer market, it is poised to be the shining star of foreign investors. Southeast Asia is the fourth-largest exporting region in the world, accounting for 7% of global exports. As a single economic entity, ASEAN would be the world’s seventh-largest economy. The region has seen economic growth average a healthy 4-5% per annum since its formation.

Member countries in ASEAN are fully cognizant of this huge potential, and their goals of accelerating the economic growth, social progress, and cultural development in the region through joint endeavors and promoting regional peace and stability underline that. The ASEAN goals are aligned with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals: to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all as part of a new sustainable development agenda. From a development and governance point of view, it also includes goals such as sustainable cities and communities, and responsible production and consumption.

Key challenges before ASEAN

However, in a fast-changing and volatile world where digital transformation is impacting businesses, governments, and even individual lives, ASEAN faces some key challenges that will test the resilience of governments: the increasing pace of business and tech life cycles, the rise of the disruptive platforms and their impact on services, use of data analytics to engage citizens, the rise of technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and robotics and how they have upped the ante for governments, and the constant threats of cybersecurity.

The larger impact of these challenges faced by ASEAN nations today have implications for the economic conditions of their citizens, loss and automation of jobs, and the overall quality of life. These problems will only grow in complexity in the coming years.

Solving society’s problems through digitization

While digitization has been a disrupter, it also has the potential to solve some of ASEAN’s key problems.  It will touch upon businesses, people, and governments to bring growth, jobs, and service delivery.

For this to happen, governments in ASEAN should go for smart, connected, ubiquitous, and disruptive “intelligentization.” The World Bank recommends that digitization must be “a whole of government agenda” and cannot just be done in siloes.

Digitization can accelerate growth for countries as it enables organizations to reach new markets, improves service delivery for citizens, and strengthens institutions. For example, World Bank studies show that Vietnamese firms that are using e-commerce have high total factor productivity growth. Similarly, in the space of service delivery to citizens, digitization increases the capacity to resolve complaints quickly and creates transparency in e-government systems. Similarly, digitization strengthens institutions through population registers, payment platforms, and information delivery mechanisms.

To increase the pace of digitization, ASEAN governments will have to invest in making the Internet more affordable and sorting out the legal and regulatory issues to make digitization ubiquitous. Currently, Singapore and Thailand lead the region in terms of both broadband and mobile Internet speed. The good news is that countries like Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines are also investing heavily in developing their national broadband networks and smart city projects.

The move towards smart nations and cities

The best way governments can deal with the challenge of digital transformation is to endeavour to convert the whole nation into a smart nation, composed of numerous smart cities.

While Singapore took the lead in this direction, all major countries in ASEAN are focusing on building their model smart cities. In its neighbourhood, countries like India, Japan, and Korea are pushing for smart cities in a big way. India has announced an ambitious project to build 100 smart cities.

Smart cities and smart nations are built on data, engagement, and collaboration, and by meshing up these three principles/approaches, governments can take a 360-degree approach to serve their citizens. For example, the Singapore government has created SingPass as a ubiquitous product with 3.3 million accounts. It helps in extending digital identity of users for 220 services across 80 agencies. Contrast this with Indonesia, the biggest economy in the block. It does not even have a common ID but it wants to harness technologies such as Big Data and AI in tax fraud detection. In the Jakarta Smart City, the Indonesian government is using community data for startups, which are building apps to solve problems such as garbage collection from municipal areas.

Harnessing digitization to build better citizen services in ASEAN

While connectivity remains a big issue for ASEAN countries and skills gaps still need to be tackled, Big Data, analytics, and AI will be the biggest game-changers for ASEAN economies. By bringing together both transactional processes and analytical intelligence – and combining all agency knowledge sources in one platform – organizations can turn data into actionable information. That will allow decisions based on facts and provides predictive insights. As issues arise, agencies can be more agile and responsive, incrementally adding connected solutions to address new problems – without disrupting operations.

For more on how technology is shaping the future of cities and their economies, see Future Cities: A Nexus Of Smart Utilities, Smart Transport, And Smart Tourism.

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Claus Andresen

About Claus Andresen

Claus Andresen is President and Managing Director for SAP Southeast Asia (SEA). He is responsible for business strategy, operations, profit and loss, and sustainable growth for SAP across SEA, building on SAP’s success in its 28-year establishment in the region. Claus leads high-performing teams across Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, and other emerging markets in SEA.

Human Skills for the Digital Future

Dan Wellers and Kai Goerlich

Technology Evolves.
So Must We.


Technology replacing human effort is as old as the first stone axe, and so is the disruption it creates.
Thanks to deep learning and other advances in AI, machine learning is catching up to the human mind faster than expected.
How do we maintain our value in a world in which AI can perform many high-value tasks?


Uniquely Human Abilities

AI is excellent at automating routine knowledge work and generating new insights from existing data — but humans know what they don’t know.

We’re driven to explore, try new and risky things, and make a difference.
 
 
 
We deduce the existence of information we don’t yet know about.
 
 
 
We imagine radical new business models, products, and opportunities.
 
 
 
We have creativity, imagination, humor, ethics, persistence, and critical thinking.


There’s Nothing Soft About “Soft Skills”

To stay ahead of AI in an increasingly automated world, we need to start cultivating our most human abilities on a societal level. There’s nothing soft about these skills, and we can’t afford to leave them to chance.

We must revamp how and what we teach to nurture the critical skills of passion, curiosity, imagination, creativity, critical thinking, and persistence. In the era of AI, no one will be able to thrive without these abilities, and most people will need help acquiring and improving them.

Anything artificial intelligence does has to fit into a human-centered value system that takes our unique abilities into account. While we help AI get more powerful, we need to get better at being human.


Download the executive brief Human Skills for the Digital Future.


Read the full article The Human Factor in an AI Future.


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About Dan Wellers

Dan Wellers is founder and leader of Digital Futures at SAP, a strategic insights and thought leadership discipline that explores how digital technologies drive exponential change in business and society.

Kai Goerlich

About Kai Goerlich

Kai Goerlich is the Chief Futurist at SAP Innovation Center network His specialties include Competitive Intelligence, Market Intelligence, Corporate Foresight, Trends, Futuring and ideation.

Share your thoughts with Kai on Twitter @KaiGoe.heif Futu

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The Human Factor In An AI Future

Dan Wellers and Kai Goerlich

As artificial intelligence becomes more sophisticated and its ability to perform human tasks accelerates exponentially, we’re finally seeing some attempts to wrestle with what that means, not just for business, but for humanity as a whole.

From the first stone ax to the printing press to the latest ERP solution, technology that reduces or even eliminates physical and mental effort is as old as the human race itself. However, that doesn’t make each step forward any less uncomfortable for the people whose work is directly affected – and the rise of AI is qualitatively different from past developments.

Until now, we developed technology to handle specific routine tasks. A human needed to break down complex processes into their component tasks, determine how to automate each of those tasks, and finally create and refine the automation process. AI is different. Because AI can evaluate, select, act, and learn from its actions, it can be independent and self-sustaining.

Some people, like investor/inventor Elon Musk and Alibaba founder and chairman Jack Ma, are focusing intently on how AI will impact the labor market. It’s going to do far more than eliminate repetitive manual jobs like warehouse picking. Any job that involves routine problem-solving within existing structures, processes, and knowledge is ripe for handing over to a machine. Indeed, jobs like customer service, travel planning, medical diagnostics, stock trading, real estate, and even clothing design are already increasingly automated.

As for more complex problem-solving, we used to think it would take computers decades or even centuries to catch up to the nimble human mind, but we underestimated the exponential explosion of deep learning. IBM’s Watson trounced past Jeopardy champions in 2011 – and just last year, Google’s DeepMind AI beat the reigning European champion at Go, a game once thought too complex for even the most sophisticated computer.

Where does AI leave human?

This raises an urgent question for the future: How do human beings maintain our economic value in a world in which AI will keep getting better than us at more and more things?

The concept of the technological singularity – the point at which machines attain superhuman intelligence and permanently outpace the human mind – is based on the idea that human thinking can’t evolve fast enough to keep up with technology. However, the limits of human performance have yet to be found. It’s possible that people are only at risk of lagging behind machines because nothing has forced us to test ourselves at scale.

Other than a handful of notable individual thinkers, scientists, and artists, most of humanity has met survival-level needs through mostly repetitive tasks. Most people don’t have the time or energy for higher-level activities. But as the human race faces the unique challenge of imminent obsolescence, we need to think of those activities not as luxuries, but as necessities. As technology replaces our traditional economic value, the economic system may stop attaching value to us entirely unless we determine the unique value humanity offers – and what we can and must do to cultivate the uniquely human skills that deliver that value.

Honing the human advantage

As a species, humans are driven to push past boundaries, to try new things, to build something worthwhile, and to make a difference. We have strong instincts to explore and enjoy novelty and risk – but according to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, these instincts crumble if we don’t cultivate them.

AI is brilliant at automating routine knowledge work and generating new insights from existing data. What it can’t do is deduce the existence, or even the possibility, of information it isn’t already aware of. It can’t imagine radical new products and business models. Or ask previously unconceptualized questions. Or envision unimagined opportunities and achievements. AI doesn’t even have common sense! As theoretical physicist Michio Kaku says, a robot doesn’t know that water is wet or that strings can pull but not push. Nor can robots engage in what Kaku calls “intellectual capitalism” – activities that involve creativity, imagination, leadership, analysis, humor, and original thought.

At the moment, though, we don’t generally value these so-called “soft skills” enough to prioritize them. We expect people to develop their competency in emotional intelligence, cross-cultural awareness, curiosity, critical thinking, and persistence organically, as if these skills simply emerge on their own given enough time. But there’s nothing soft about these skills, and we can’t afford to leave them to chance.

Lessons in being human

To stay ahead of AI in an increasingly automated world, we need to start cultivating our most human abilities on a societal level – and to do so not just as soon as possible, but as early as possible.

Singularity University chairman Peter Diamandis, for example, advocates revamping the elementary school curriculum to nurture the critical skills of passion, curiosity, imagination, critical thinking, and persistence. He envisions a curriculum that, among other things, teaches kids to communicate, ask questions, solve problems with creativity, empathy, and ethics, and accept failure as an opportunity to try again. These concepts aren’t necessarily new – Waldorf and Montessori schools have been encouraging similar approaches for decades – but increasing automation and digitization make them newly relevant and urgent.

The Mastery Transcript Consortium is approaching the same problem from the opposite side, by starting with outcomes. This organization is pushing to redesign the secondary school transcript to better reflect whether and how high school students are acquiring the necessary combination of creative, critical, and analytical abilities. By measuring student achievement in a more nuanced way than through letter grades and test scores, the consortium’s approach would inherently require schools to reverse-engineer their curricula to emphasize those abilities.

Most critically, this isn’t simply a concern of high-tuition private schools and “good school districts” intended to create tomorrow’s executives and high-level knowledge workers. One critical aspect of the challenge we face is the assumption that the vast majority of people are inevitably destined for lives that don’t require creativity or critical thinking – that either they will somehow be able to thrive anyway or their inability to thrive isn’t a cause for concern. In the era of AI, no one will be able to thrive without these abilities, which means that everyone will need help acquiring them. For humanitarian, political, and economic reasons, we cannot just write off a large percentage of the population as disposable.

In the end, anything an AI does has to fit into a human-centered value system that takes our unique human abilities into account. Why would we want to give up our humanity in favor of letting machines determine whether or not an action or idea is valuable? Instead, while we let artificial intelligence get better at being what it is, we need to get better at being human. That’s how we’ll keep coming up with groundbreaking new ideas like jazz music, graphic novels, self-driving cars, blockchain, machine learning – and AI itself.

Read the executive brief Human Skills for the Digital Future.

Build an intelligent enterprise with AI and machine learning to unite human expertise and computer insights. Run live with SAP Leonardo.


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About Dan Wellers

Dan Wellers is founder and leader of Digital Futures at SAP, a strategic insights and thought leadership discipline that explores how digital technologies drive exponential change in business and society.

Kai Goerlich

About Kai Goerlich

Kai Goerlich is the Chief Futurist at SAP Innovation Center network His specialties include Competitive Intelligence, Market Intelligence, Corporate Foresight, Trends, Futuring and ideation.

Share your thoughts with Kai on Twitter @KaiGoe.heif Futu