EHF Fellow: Elie Losleben Calhoun – Info Entrepreneurship

Leveraging Technology for Global Equity and Empowerment

When she was growing up in Nairobi, Elie Calhoun lived adjacent to a sprawling slum that, months before the country’s first multiparty election, the Kenyan Government demolished citing security concerns. Overnight, thousands of people who had next to nothing, suddenly had even less. Elie remembers classes at her elite international school being canceled the next day so that the students could load supplies on buses and help the city’s relief efforts.

Seeing the stark vulnerability and violence of poverty up close had a permanent impact on Elie, who has dedicated her life to social and financial empowerment and equity. For over a decade, Elie has created platforms that leverage the power of exponential technology to scale social change where it’s needed most. Now she’s coming to New Zealand to join the Edmund Hillary Fellowship to explore how she can apply her learnings here and further scale her efforts.

As a global citizen who claims Kenya, Egypt and Montana, USA as home, Elie’s work is driven by the knowledge that human-driven systems create poverty. At UNICEF for many years, she worked on digital media advocacy for children confronted by chronic emergencies and saw the power of technology to mobilise people as agents of positive change.

Elie left UNICEF to work with her partner and Code Innovation founder, Nathaniel Calhoun, and together they traveled to post-conflict Liberia to leverage technology for impact at scale. As co-directors of Code Innovation, the couple partnered with governments and international NGOs in education and health projects in nearly a dozen countries across sub-Saharan Africa. Code Innovation’s impact work attracted the attention of Singularity University, a think-tank and educational venture in Silicon Valley, where Elie joined the faculty to teach on the subjects of technology, change-making and global impact at their programmes around the world.

Living and working in Africa, Elie saw firsthand how technology, particularly mobile, is changing access to information and opportunities.

“Every year, the cost of a mobile phone decreases and so does the cost of connectivity. I see access to information technology democratising and decentralising how people do things, both qualities of a resilient system. In a world that is facing immense uncertainty, this is a very good thing.”
– Elie Losleben Calhoun

Elie speaks to Self Help Group Members using digital technology in central Tanzania. Photo: Jessica Charles.

In her work at Code Innovation, Elie is focused on creating impact where it’s needed most. The company’s free and open source platforms digitise evidence-based solutions to large-scale problems. The Self Help Group platform they host supports non-profit organisations in more than a dozen countries to facilitate a community-based microfinance process that helps the poorest of the poor. Elie is also hard at work launching a Rape Crisis Counselling platform later this year, that will provide in-hand support to sexual assault survivors and their advocates as they navigate getting emergency medical care.

Viewing the ability of digital technology to rapidly scale solutions to our biggest challenges, Elie explains that these challenges are a massive opportunity. Our ability to open source the solutions we need as a planet gives her massive hope. It is at this intersection where Elie is keenly focused.

“My goal is to use technology to disrupt poverty. Inequity is a function of our current systems, which we can transform to work for everyone, period. We have networks and tools that can connect us like never before. The rate of collaboration and open innovation is rising and together, I see us coming together to create an equitable and abundant future. That’s what I’m a part of. That’s what I’m helping to create.” 
– Elie Losleben Calhoun

Elie and Nathaniel have visited New Zealand a few times in recent years, and have fallen in love with the Far North district. An avid advocate for localised solutions, Elie has already started to learn Te Reo Māori and embed herself in the local community during her visits. The pair have been in conversation with a number of leaders in the region to explore how they can best support the local community through their work. Future plans for the two include mentoring indigenous local youth in social , continuing the work of Code Innovation to empower communities with technology, and to create a home base for new ventures as they emerge.

Elie Losleben Calhoun hears from Self Help Group facilitators using mobile technology in Tanzania. Photo: Jessica Charles.

In New Zealand, Elie has found great alignment with the widely held value of kaitiakitanga (loosely translated, stewardship or guardianship over the land), and appreciates the way that the nation is increasingly acknowledging its past and the harms of colonisation, making genuine attempts at reconciliation and compensation. It is this foundation and willingness to move forward together that she believes make it a fantastic place to build solutions for a better future.

She brings to an understanding of how to work with marginalised communities, and how to use tech to scale solutions. In particular she brings strongly aligned impact-networks across Africa, and in the Silicon Valley area. She is looking forward to settling into New Zealand life and learning how startup communities and collectives like the Enspiral network are transforming innovation.

“I feel like I’m stepping into a new family because I know the calibre and value of the communities the Fellows represent. It is a privilege to be in the first cohort of Edmund Hillary Fellows and I hope to make New Zealand proud. My intention is to honour the people who have invited me to their beautiful country. ”
– Elie Losleben Calhoun

Article Prepared by Ollala Corp

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