IEEE-USA in Action

IEEE Global Humanitarian Technology Conference Explores Technology for the Benefit of Humanity

By Soon Wan

Technology can play a key role to solve the world’s most pressing humanitarian and development challenges.

“Hunger is a technological problem. Poverty is a technological problem. And being that they are technological problems, they will have technological solutions,” said Byron Reese, chief innovation officer of Demand Media. Reese delivered his keynote speech, Big Data and the Coming Golden Age of Humanity, at the IEEE GOLD (Graduates of the Last Decade) session on the first day of IEEE’s Global Humanitarian Technology Conference (GHTC), 21 October in Seattle, Washington.

The 2nd annual IEEE GHTC attracted more than 250 participants to Seattle, 21-24 October, bringing together individuals from 20 countries to promote the role engineering, science and technology could play in fostering positive and meaningful solutions to major challenges facing billions of disadvantaged people around the world.

Held at the Renaissance Seattle Hotel, the conference featured numerous plenary speakers, including former IEEE President Gordon Day, Gretchen Kalonji from UNESCO, Knut Aanstad from the United Nations, Gertjian van Stam from LinkNet Zambia, and Krista Bauer from the GE Foundation.

IEEE President Gordon Day opened the conference by calling all engineers to participate in addressing many of the developing world’s challenges. At the opening plenary, Gretchen Kalonji spoke about the importance of global collaboration in science and technology for the benefit of humankind. She concluded that UNESCO has formally established partnership with IEEE to focus on engineering education in Africa.

Knut Aanstad introduced the United Nation’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative. He called for a global effort to address the opportunities in energy access, renewable energy and energy efficiency to make sustainable energy for all by 2030 an achievable goal. On Monday evening, Bob Freling, of the Solar Electric Light Fund, provided examples of his organization’s work in bringing solar power to communities, and the impact this effort can have on schools and businesses.

Gertjian van Stam asked attendees: Is technology the solution to the world’s major social challenges? Before he answered that question, he shared his observations of the rural region in Zambia, Africa. He said that IEEE is ideally positioned to play a leading role in engendering that social innovation, but that technology might not be the solution to all social problems. Van Stam added that technology is a tool to help people. “We need not just invest in technologies but also in relationships, he said, “So, we can achieve sustainability.”


On the 3rd day, GHTC hosted the Hoover Medal Award Ceremony, honoring N.R. Narayana Murthy, who founded Infosys: “For establishing a foundation that forges outstanding improvements in healthcare, social rehabilitation, rural uplift and education–following his formation of Infosys, an innovative company that provides business consulting, technology, and engineering services in over 30 countries.” The Hoover Medal was established in 1929, and recognizes the civic and humanitarian achievements of engineers.

On the conference’s last day, Krista Bauer spoke about technology application in the developing world, emphasizing the need to think local. She led a panel discussion that further explored this topic, and provided project examples.

Jim Fructerman and Peter Steacker gave the closing speeches. Steacker discussed the current activities that IEEE is involved in, and called on the attendees to continue their contributions to improving the world.  Fructerman talked about his evolution from rocket scientist to social entrepreneur.

In addition to more than 85 technical papers, the conference held four tutorials on such topics as “Village Energy Systems” and “Building Affordable Wireless Networks”; and eleven panels on such topics as “Designing for Sustainability,” “Societal Impacts and Benefits,” and “What Works and What Doesn’t.”  oHo   hHjjjjj jjkkf

GHTC offers humanitarian workers and technologists across the globe an opportunity to connect, interact, learn and collaborate to build a community that can create more efficient and effective humanitarian efforts. More than 35 different organizations supported the conference, including IEEE-USA.

The program is available at


More than 1200 photos of the conference are available at GHTC Facebook:

Soon Wan is an IEEE Senior Member, and 2012 GHTC Publicity Chair.


Guest Contributor

IEEE-USA is an organizational unit of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE), created in 1973 to support the career and public policy interests of IEEE’s U.S. members. IEEE-USA is primarily supported by an annual assessment paid by U.S. IEEE Members.

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