TR: You grew up in Sri Lanka. Has your background influenced your work in this area?
BD: It was actually the primary motivation. I grew up with a very strong passion for technology. I really wanted to learn more about it because it seemed like any problem Sri Lanka faced when I was growing up, we used to fly in experts. They would come up with a solution, and often it didn’t really reflect our cultural needs or traditions. Often it failed, but we would spend all this money on it. I grew up with this feeling that we really needed Sri Lankan technologists and technology experts so we didn’t have to fly people in. Probably since I was about 10 years old, this idea has been formulating in my mind.
TR: How do you bring new technologies to a community in a way that’s comfortable for people unfamiliar with the technology?
BD: We were working at a school for the blind, where we designed a Braille tutor to help students learn to read and write Braille. There was a wire that connected the stylus to the rest of the tutor, and, when we got there, we found out that the kids were really scared of it. We learned that in India, blind children are taught to stay away from wires. One of our students working on the project took the stylus and rubbed it on her face with a child holding it, to show that it was safe. To communicate with different groups, you sometimes have to come up with very different approaches.
TR: Could you tell me one of TechBridgeWorld’s success stories?
BD: We went to Ghana two summers ago, and helped design and teach the first robotics course in that country at the university level. Last year, two of the students who took our course graduated and formed a startup company. They’re making intelligent wallets, which allow you to do financial transactions through your phone. They contacted us for additional references on certain topics. That is really exciting–empowering a whole new generation there to look at things through different eyes.
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