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HPE Tech Talk Podcast - Investing in Your People, the Planet and Tech for Good, Ep.7

Applying tech for the good of our people, planet and communities is vital to the value of every organization. On this episode, HPE’s Janice Zdankus, VP Innovation for Social Impact, talks “Tech for Good,” HPE's sustainability work with Purdue Universityand how companies can create lasting impact.

 

 

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Transcript

Robert Christiansen:

[0:00] Hi, this is Robert Christiansen with the HPE tech talk.

[0:19] I am so excited to have Janice Zdankus, VP of innovation for social impact joining us this week. Her role in creating and applying technology for the good of our planet, our people and our communities is table stakes for any of the organizations today. So, on this episode, Janice joins us to talk about the tech for good and how the organization can create effective programs with the concept of systems thinking. So, welcome to this tech talk. I really appreciate you being here, Janice.

Janice Zdankus:

[1:09] Thanks, Robert. I'm thrilled to be here with you.

Robert:

[1:35] So let's start with some background on tech as a force for good. What does that actually mean in practice?

Janice:

[1:41] Well, Robert, it actually comes to the design thinking around how we put global human problems at the center of our solutions. So, really where we can bring together innovation, technologies, employee skills-based expertise and thought leadership along with our ability to bring systems together and applying the combination of those attributes around designing for human global problems.

Robert:

[2:28] You're leading this for the company. So this is very important aspect. You're on the tip of the spear for a lot of the activities going on. There are so many places where technology can apply good. How did you think about getting into that and what was that experience been like when you first started embracing that?

Janice:

[2:43] So, the company, Robert, has always had an emphasis around social good and living progress and a great number of activities we fund through our foundation and through our social impact activities overall. But what we discovered, and this really started with engagements with our clients and partners, was the timing is right now for some of the advances in our research and our technologies that could actually be applied into major problems. Problems that are screaming for assistance and in breakthrough thinking and disruptive innovation. In the case of a couple of problem areas that I selected to work on, I was exposed to issues with clients who were doing research, in particular in hunger and global agriculture and climate. And it was through that initial engagement that I immersed myself along with our HPE team into trying to determine where we could add value. Where HPE could bring expertise and new knowledge and new thinking around technologies to the global space.

[3:57] This was happening right around kind of the same time of our engagement with the world economic forum and the world economic forum working with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals around the challenge—the 10 year challenge—of how can we make significant impact in the next 10 years, in the next decade, to address the SDGs? And in the course of that challenge, together we formed partnerships to start to study this. And I would say one of the things that kind of really excited everybody here at HPE is that every employee and partner that we brought into the problem space, we're working with a client, Purdue university in particular, we started to study what they were researching and where they needed help or where we could accelerate the key findings that they were uncovering.

[4:45] I just discovered that every employee who participated in that project wanted to keep participating in that project, wanted to keep contributing ideas and technologies and bringing new solutions to the table. And that started kind of the light bulb around: Is this a program? Is this something we could do more systemically as a company to engage our employees and to contribute our technologies and our innovations against really meaningful problems? And so in addition to agriculture, we also had a similar kind of “a-ha” with health. And so those are the two SDGs, SDGs two and three, that we've selected to focus on. We'd like to do many more but of course those are huge problems and we wanted to focus.

Robert:

[5:30] Let's pull back a couple of things. Could you tell us what an SDG is? How does the world economic forum or the UN look at these categories and what do they really mean?

Janice:

[5:50] The United Nations has 17 SDGs, Sustainable Development Goals, and they have selected major challenges but also major initiatives that require coming together and a focus to make the world a more sustainable place. They include things like Eco-ship partnerships. Beyond health there are agriculture, there's climate, there's many other categories of change. And the UN works with agencies and governments and industry partners around the world to try to bring together solutions in those spaces. The World Economic Forum of course is a partner of the United Nations, and they have set of initiatives and many corporate partners, as well, along with public policy makers and governments engaging with them, they come together every year at Davos and try to drive significant progress in each of these areas.

[6:54] There's a couple of areas we're engaged in in particular with the World Economic Forum, but one that I'm engaged with is called the New Vision for Agriculture. It's a work stream of 150 transformation leaders who come together to try to discuss and think about and broker together and discuss tangible actions that can be taken to make progress.

Robert:

[7:20] Well, you and I talk a lot about this and we believe in the term of a global data fabric, a repository where people can share data globally and not have to worry about: How do I get at it in a way that requires very specific technologies and stuff like that. Open the door and broaden it out to the world. And I know you're working with a number of organizations to kind of say, "Hey, how do we take this world hunger data or the agricultural data or that to groups that otherwise would not have aspects of that?" Could you dive a little deeper into how HPE has taken our technology thought leadership and then applied it to that particular problem?

Janice:

[8:02] Sure. Let me talk a little bit about agriculture, and arguably, I think we could say that the industry of agriculture, although it certainly has technology applied in it in many different ways, I would say is probably one of the last vertical industries to really transform itself and digitize it to the way that is required to address the challenges around world hunger and nutritious feeding of our population and even to respond to the climatic shocks and impacts that are occurring in the world around us. In our initial assessment and evaluation of looking at the agricultural space, we learned that one of the obstacles for really transforming and helping to instruct small shareholder farmers which produce more than 50% of the world's food, on what to plant, where to plant it, when to plant it, how to adjust in response to climatic impacts really requires an understanding of all of those features.

[9:05] What's happening in the world, in the soil, in the planting, in the biodiversity. And there's a tremendous amount of data that is available and has to be analyzed and predicted in many different ways. In our engagement, we initially started to kind of help think about how the world of Internet Of Things, or IOT, could actually gather this data up at the edge—at farms or in laboratories or in phenotyping facilities for example or in food distribution centers—and then transfer that information to make decisions.

[9:43] What we learned quickly was that this data is very rich and very very large. There's visual data, there's audio data, there's flat data, and it is immense. And there's a complicating factor here which is: Most farmers really want to own their data and don't necessarily want to release data to people who could price against them around purchase of pesticides or herbicides or other advisory services. And so there is an emerging ecosystem that's happening around the brokering of data in the world of agriculture. And we saw actually the opportunity to help bring a solution in that space: A data fabric that would allow the ability to name the data, create a metadata standard to help support industry standard initiatives to create an international data standard for agriculture. And then to actually help create a platform that allows the exchange of data while protecting ownership and security of the data. And that is the project right now that we're working on.

Robert:

[11:03] So, this is some pretty broad stuff. And one of the challenges I think is people say, Hey, well I don't have access to the World Economic Forum. I don't have access to the UN or these large universities or engagements, stuff like that. How does a person say, “Hey, I'm a technologist, I know a lot about networking, or I know a lot about putting together systems at some high school.” How does somebody get started being a force for good using technology?

Janice:

[11:34] So, I guess two things. One, if you're in an organization or a company, I think it's important to start first of all, by thinking and looking at the problems that interest you and to find like-minded companies and partners who share alignment in your value system.

[12:25] There’s problems all over the place. There's 17 different SDGs. You can engage wherever you want. In our example, we selected problems that were uniquely suited to strengths in technologies that we brought, and we were bringing to the market along with our employee passion and expertise.

[12:43] If you're an individual I would say seek out organizations that again are tackling problems that interest you. I would say I have engaged with small food systems, organizations... and large ones, corporate type of organizations, public policies, small governments around the space, and everybody welcomes contributions, employee volunteerism and the ability to engage on their problem sets. There's many, many things you could do as an individual. And I would say seek out those organizations or join forces with a partner. For example, HPE, we are eager to convene and bring together our clients and other partners to participate in these projects with us. It's really around building a community of practice and having a community of practice that can actually contribute solutions together is what it takes to make real progress.

Robert:

[13:45] I want to say that from my perspective as we sit here in the office of the CTO and look at where... Where do we want to be as a company? How do we engage our technical leadership around the globe to elevate the purpose of technology?

Janice:

[14:17] I learned in our initial engagements that there is incredible employee motivation and pride that gets developed in working on problems that create meaning and impact in the world, especially in the companies that are focused on technologies. You can get really, like we say "geeked out," on the coolest of the technology. But there's nothing more rewarding than actually seeing the application of that technology when that application improves the world we live and work on. I would say that no other industry besides the technology industry has had the level of impact in the world than we have in technology. And not all aspiring computer scientists or engineers know that at the beginning. And I think we probably should be doing a better job overall in the industry communicating about the impacts we've made to make the world a better place.

[15:05] But when you think about it like in the case of hunger where one of nine people around the world are hungry or undernourished, a third of the world's population is obese and the cost of dealing with health issues around obesity lead to 3% of the GDP cost. One third of the world's food supply is wasted. And one third of the greenhouse gases are attributable to the food system. There is real impact that can be made by focusing on these problem sets and bringing technology solutions to accelerate progress in those spaces. That also reflects pretty favorably on companies. And so I think recently the business round table has published some opinion articles around how companies need to be thinking beyond more than just shareholder value and looking beyond around the overall ecosystem in worlds that we operate within when measuring success and contribution.

[16:07] I think that's also an opportunity for us to apply our innovation engine and illustrate how the innovations and research developments that we have underway can actually contribute to these problem sets.

Robert:

[16:29] Well, I appreciate that Janice. I have a... You reminded me of a saying that I always hold dear to myself that, if your “Why” is big enough, you can accomplish anything. […] You're a great demonstration for a purpose of good. And I want to thank you for joining us.

Janice:

[17:22] Thank you for having me.

Robert:

[17:48] Hey, this is Robert Christiansen with the HPE tech talk. […] I want to say super thank you to Janice for joining us this week… and all her passion in the tech for good that she brings to the world. As you can see with all these HPE tech talks, we engage and go deep, and we talk about things that are meaningful and matter both on the technology side and on the world as a whole. Please join us next week as we go into another great topic. And we'll talk to you... with you then bye bye.

 


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