Here's what happens when you ask Stanford undergrads to use technology to reduce poverty

We told you late last year about the new Poverty and Technology Lab at Stanford University, where they also have a Center on Poverty and Inequality. As part of these initiatives, Stanford offers a course where students learn about the basics of poverty and past efforts to eliminate it. Then teams are charged with coming up with ways to use technology to reduce poverty. Definitely not an easy assignment, but as you'll read below, they turned in some pretty compelling ideas. – Liz Enbysk


“In this course, students are not just asked to master a rapidly developing basic science on poverty, but also to understand the complicated programs and interventions that have been developed in the United States and elsewhere to reduce poverty,” sociology professor David Grusky explained in a Stanford News article.

But they are asking even more than that of the students, said Grusky, who in addition to teaching the Ending Poverty with Technology course is also director of the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality and a senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.

"We’re then asking them to figure out, based on what they have learned, how to intervene successfully and actually reduce poverty," Grusky said.  "To jump into a complicated field, to master it, and then to creatively develop new interventions -- that’s a big ask."

And the results were quite varied.

One team came together due to a common passion for helping improve children's lives by improving affordability and accessibility to childcare, the Stanford News piece explains.

Mayuka Sarukkai, one of students on the team, pointed to research on how the first five years of a child's life are so important. But she also saw in childcare an opportunity to, as she put it "use technology to augment existing social patterns, rather than replacing them – a kind of inversion of some of the more detrimental effects of technology that prioritizes uplifting invaluable human resources rather than transplanting them."

What grew out of that was the concept of a web platform and mobile app that low-income families could use to trade childcare with trusted friends, neighbors and family members.

Though the course is over, the team plans to develop what they are calling CareSwap.

Other projects were equally compelling, from an app to encourage wealthy millennials to step up their charitable giving to one leveraging several technologies to identify and stop the distribution of counterfeit seeds to small farmers in Africa.

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This article is from the Council's Compassionate Cities initiative which highlights how city leaders and other stakeholders can leverage smart technologies to end suffering in their communities and give all citizens a route out of poverty. Click the Compassionate Cities box on our registration page to receive our weekly newsletter.

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