BUSINESS
01/25/2016 05:27 pm ET Updated Jan 25, 2017

Technology and Equity: Transforming Our Students' Future

The other day, a colleague was telling me about Sanga Moses, founder of Eco Fuel Africa. He quit a good job as an accountant in Uganda when he saw that his sister had to miss school to gather firewood for cooking, which is what women had to do in his village. People thought he was crazy, but with just $500, Sanga found a way to turn waste from sugar cane into a clean cooking fuel, allowing girls to attend school. Because I don't know what life is like in rural Uganda, I could not have thought up this solution.

Imagine the possibilities of applying technology to solve problems. Imagine that young men and women with no previous experience start creating mobile apps to impact some of their community's most pressing social problems. Imagine turning young women who have developed confidence in STEM skills loose on a massive challenge like decarbonizing our planet?

All this is already happening: what's happening next is whatever you can possibly imagine.

Steve Jobs famously said that "people don't know what they want until you show it to them," so he had his designers design for themselves. While it worked for Jobs, this can't be a blanket approach to problem solving. If you only have designers who share a similar set of life experiences, they can't possibly imagine solutions to problems outside that experience.

How do we expand opportunities for equitable creativity? First, there MUST be equal access to technology. Then, we need training to show young designers how they can be more than just a user of technology, but also a maker. Only then will we be fully able to tap into the potential and perspective of our whole society, unlocking what students from all backgrounds have to offer.

One program in which I'm involved has shown a way forward. Under our CSR mantle, we give every student and teacher participating in the Verizon Innovative Learning Schools program their own mobile tablet and data plan, which give them 24-7 access to the Internet.

Students are taught how to use these powerful tools responsibly and teachers are trained to effectively promote hands-on learning experiences that help students build skills such as creativity, critical thinking and collaboration. And, in these schools the initial results are positive; teachers report that students are more engaged, they work more collaboratively and they are more interested in STEM.

If you give students the opportunities, they can achieve breakthroughs. I've seen it. Middle school students create apps to help blind classmates navigate their schools, provide lab experiences for students at schools without facilities, and identify fellow students who might be experiencing emotional problems and who need help.

If you're in the technology business, you know that finding qualified people is hard. There's just not enough talent to fill the available jobs. Women and minorities are conspicuously absent from this field, and that means we're all missing out. How do we find "new blood" and fresh thinking?

Mobile access and education programs work. They help us foster next generation workers and innovators who create exciting new ideas. It's absolutely critical that those of us in the business community bring our expertise, CSR resources, and innovation to students in underserved communities to bridge the digital divide, in and out of the classroom.

We are building a movement to ignite every student's entrepreneurial spirit, delivering the promise that the digital world holds for them - the promise of a brighter future. This is extraordinarily exciting for me because I know that technology is a very potent fuel for the flame of creativity and the spirit of innovation, and I know how much we need this next generation's ideas and energy. We are at a moment that allows our children to transform themselves - and their world - into whatever each of them can possibly imagine.

For the second conversation in our Purpose@Work series -- a discussion designed to explore how we can infuse a deep sense of purpose into our work -- we're going to focus on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the theme of this year's World Economic Forum in Davos.

How are you using technology to elevate purpose in your organization, community, or project? Let us know at PurposePlusProfit@huffingtonpost.com or by tweeting with #PurposeAtWork.