On March 6, the Kapor Center for Social Impact hosted the first Latin@s in Tech Conference as a pre-conference to the SXSW in Austin, Texas. I was excited to be invited to the inaugural conference that brought together some of the most accomplished Latino/a tech leaders in the country. The expertise in the room was astounding, ranging from software programmers and designers to social entrepreneurs to social justice activist to investors. The conference provided a platform for Latinos to engage in dialogue about the existing gap of Latinos presence in the technology sphere and in conferences like SXSW Interactive.
The one-day conference kicked off with a panel led by Maria Hinojosa, lead anchor and executive producer of her show Latino USA on NPR, and Ben Jealous, former President and CEO of the NAACP and now Venture Partner at the Kapor Center. The conversation quickly dove into the importance of Latino presence and representation in the technology and media fields. With structural barriers, such as access to wealth and educational opportunities, presenting a challenge for Latinos, and other minority groups, it is clear that now is the time to own the issue and together be proactive in creating change.
The conference hosted a number of workshops on topics including social entrepreneurship, investing, social justice, and mobile technology. While the workshops touched upon different areas of technology, the same theme resonated across the board: the need to “disrupt for a reason.” The social entrepreneurship workshop hosted a panel of emerging Latino startup leaders whose startups aimed to resolve social issues. The panelists are creating apps that make it easier for non-profits and funders to connect, help people find jobs using their cell phones, and tackle literacy issues. All gave first-hand experiences about the success and pitfalls of launching their startup, narrowing in on the need to take risks, maintain passion for the idea, and work towards successes regardless of the barriers.
Among my favorites was the workshop on the future of mobile technology and its significance to the Latino community. Perhaps it was my desire to learn more about mobile apps, given my recent work with our CitizenshipWorks mobile app (iOS, Android), but I was fascinated by panelists’ breadth of expertise. Their years of experience in the mobile arena and lively imagination for what could become, allowed for a lively discussion about how startups could leverage mobile technology to not only reach the Latino population, but also to create social change. It was reassuring to know that apps like CitizenshipWorks can truly serve as a platform for social change.
Also among the notable speakers of the day was Kapor Center’s Co-founder, Mitch Kapor, founder of Lotus and investor of social impact startups, who spoke candidly about the successes, expectations, risks, and failures of launching startups. Participants were eager to hear and soak in Kapor’s insights. While he encouraged the group to learn the “game,” not be afraid to take a risk, and really understand one’s own idea, he acknowledged that Silicon Valley is not an even playing field, but instead tends to have a narrow idea of what success should look like. Our challenge as a community is to change this perception with a focus on fixing the education system and assuring that students have access to enriching technology programs that will prepare them to tackle and succeed in the technology world.
This year’s Latin@s in Tech was only the start; a catalyst for further dialogue and action. With such an energized group of “creators, innovators, [and] investors” ready to revolutionize and disrupt the tech world as we know it, I can’t help but be excited for the future of technology.