From a Social Science background to becoming a Public Interest Technologist
By Alejandra Glía Sánchez G., Projects Assistant @ PIT Policy Lab
I graduated college three years ago with an International Studies major and an Economics minor. I worked in the nonprofit field for four years on projects that targeted different issues like child malnutrition, women’s empowerment, social entrepreneurship, economic development, female genital mutilation, and Hispanic women’s mental health. I have worked with communities from Mexico, Central America, the United States, and Africa. I learned so much from this experience, particularly from interacting with people from the communities and learning about their perspectives on the issues.
After four years, I realized that I needed a change of field. In general, nonprofits do an honorable job at improving the livelihoods of the populations they work with. Sometimes, however, the opinions and ideas of the people that projects are for can be disregarded for the sake of efficiency or the need to comply with grant requirements. Although this is not necessarily ill-intended, it can result in projects that generalize and try to use the same solutions for incredibly diverse populations, without taking into account the different cultures, needs, and values of each group.
The most important lesson I learned from my work with nonprofits was that the people who face a given problem know their needs better than anyone else, and they are the ones who can best create solutions. Sometimes, they just need the right tools to do it.
And so, after four years of working for nonprofit organizations, I found myself looking for a job during a global pandemic. That is how I learned about the PIT Policy Lab, a new social enterprise working at the intersection of Public Interest Technology and agile policy making. If I am honest, I had never heard of the concept of Public Interest Technology before. According to New America, Public Interest Technology “adopts best practices in human-centered design, process re-engineering, and data science to solve public problems in an inclusive, iterative manner—continuously learning, improving, and aiming to deliver better outcomes to the public”. In other words, Public Interest Technology is technology for the public good!
I instantly fell in love with this new field, but I struggled to understand how I, a social science major with work experience purely from nonprofits, could fit the profile of a Public Interest Technologist. I later learned that for the PIT Policy Lab, “Public Interest Technologists are part of a diverse community channeling their domain expertise into public interest activities, harnessing digital technologies as tools for change”.
Now, a little over three months after starting my position as Projects Assistant at the PIT Policy Lab, it has been inspiring to see how at the center of every project the priority are the people. In just three months I have been challenged with entirely new issues like open data, algorithmic bias, regulation of technology, Public Interest Technology focused on LATAM, among many others concepts. I get to see every day how my social science background adds something to the work I do. The PIT Policy Lab team is quite diverse too. I get to learn from internationalists, economists, policy specialists, and technologists every day.
The Public Interest Technology field is fairly new in Mexico and LATAM. It is such a versatile and rewarding field. This field becomes more and more relevant in a world with day-to-day technologic advances and innovation. There is a pressing need for people that work to make sure those technologies serve people in a just and inclusive way. So if you are passionate about technology and serving the public good, join the Public Interest Technology movement!