Mon. May 29th, 2023

THE co-founder of a social-impact tech startup has warned the government against overregulating technology in the country.

“A lot of us are worried about overregulation,” Connected Women Chief Executive Officer Gina Romero said in an interview on “Business and Politics,” a weekly program hosted by The Manila Times Chairman Dante “Klink” Ang 2nd, and aired on SMNI Saturday evening.

“Because this is a booming opportunity for the country, overregulating will potentially cause it to contract. We do not want to lose our potential there.”

Romero, a 2022 TOWNS (The Outstanding Women in Nation’s Service) Awardee in Women Empowerment through ICT, emphasized that “technology allows us to impact more people and create more scale.”

When it comes to the technology space, Romero stressed that the challenge is building trust and relevance at all levels.

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“People are nervous about technology, especially new technology like AI (artificial intelligence),” she said. “There is a lot of different conversations, so it is really important that people who are making decisions really talk to the experts a lot.”

Romero, who has been an advocate of women empowerment for 17 years, noted that the Philippines has “some really top world-class data scientists” that have looked at the technological challenges all over world and have a very intrinsic understanding of its potentials and its dangers.

“We have so many innovative brains in the Philippines. We really need to consult with them and make sure they are included,” she said. “There is a lot of conversations that need to happen to build that trust and relevance, otherwise we are at risk of making decisions that have a negative impact on huge groups of people.”

Romero said the government can start by talking with organizations like Connected Women.

She said her group focuses on people not getting left behind.

Romero said that although people are now looking at the Philippines as a potential hub for technology, it can only happen if both the government and the private sector continue to improve skills and support social-impact organizations like Connected Women.

“We [social-impact organizations and entrepreneurs] need to be taken seriously like start-up organizations because the potential for both commercial and impact returns are huge,” she said.

Romero lamented that it has been very difficult for them to find the funding to scale up and develop skills.

Social impact enterprise is a relatively new concept, particularly in Asia, she said.

“The model of social enterprise is that you can make money but you can also embed doing good into your business,” Romero said.

She said there is a lot of social impact entrepreneurs in the country but a lot them tend to veer away from technology.

“That is really a shame. We need to encourage more entrepreneurs to leverage technology because they can scale the impact and help more people,” said Romero.

This is why education is also very important, particularly in developing technology skills as early as possible, she said.

“I do not think that it is a good idea to make any knee-jerk reactions around this topic because we have an opportunity now to really look at what we are teaching the kids,” said Romero.

“Let us remember that the jobs for the future, we do not know that yet. We cannot rely on our education now providing all the talent and skills that we need for the future,” she said.

“There is a big opportunity to look at how technology can support education and how it can support the future of work,” she said. “We need a lot of different people getting involved in the conversation, because if we just have the educators working on education, up until now we are not going to be able to build for the future.”

Romero also considers it important to “keep pushing the digital infrastructure” in the country.

Amid the “many layers of complexities even in countries outside of the Philippines that are very big and dispersed,” Romero noted that “it is amazing that we are making the progress that we are making.”

“I was actually pleasantly surprised when I came back. I thought it would be a lot worse from what I heard, but the connectivity is not so bad,” said Romero, who has been residing in the United Kingdom since she was 6 months old and returning to the Philippines only recently to establish Connected Women.

Launched in 2010, the group offers online skills training, development and remote work opportunities to women in the Philippines.

Its flagship program, Elevate AIDA (Artificial Intelligence Data Annotation), aims to equip women from grassroots communities with market-aligned data annotation skills for the AI industry.

The skills include tagging, classification, and processing text and images for AI applications.

Connected Women’s clients and partners include Meta, PLDT, Union Bank, ScaleHub, Aboitiz and Smart.

“Many women come to us without any educational background or experience in technology or AI. After they graduate from our training, we give them access to remote and flexible work, and make sure they are paid a decent wage and have opportunities to upskill,” said Romero, whose mother was one of the pioneering domestic workers who went to the UK in the 1970s.

She said she wants to erase the misconception that social enterprises are poor, small and charity-kind of scale.

“A social enterprise does good because that good is built in the business model, but it does not mean that it cannot be profitable… There should be a shift in thinking,” said Romero.

She said that in terms of developing future skills, Connected Women is a showcase project not just for the Philippines but globally.

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