Online Public Lecture: Understanding People and Designing Technology for Sustainable Development

Date: 25 October 2019
Other languages: Русский язык |
October 25th 2019, 5:00-6:00 pm (GMT+6)
The University of Central Asia (UCA) is pleased to host a series of public lectures as one of the outcomes of the "Digital Transformation in Central Asia" conference, held in Bishkek and Naryn (Kyrgyzstan) on October 4-6, 2019. Organised by UCA, the State Committee for Information Technology and Communications, and the High Technology Park of the Kyrgyz Republic, this international conference was the first of its kind in the region. Falling within 2019, the Year of Regional Development and Country Digitization as declared by the President of the Kyrgyz Republic, the conference has been a springboard for galvanizing a strategy for digital transformation within Kyrgyzstan. For further information on the conference outcomes, please visit:

Dr. Syed Ishtiaque Ahmed
Assistant Professor of Computer Science
University of Toronto
Toronto, Canada

The top Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations, including poverty alleviation, literacy, and gender equality, are closely tied to the problem of exclusion from core economic, social, and cultural infrastructures. As a potential tool for sustainable development, technology has the responsibility to make these infrastructures more inclusive. However, to date, many of the world’s biggest technological advances have primarily benefited only a small fraction of the developed world. The goal of Dr. Ahmed's research is to leverage ethnographic methods to understand the underserved populations in low-income regions, and design and develop appropriate technologies to bring sustainable positive change in their lives.

The lecture will describe Dr. Ahmed’s general research approach that combines ethnography and design. He will focus on two projects to explain how understanding the communities through a deep ethnography can result in effective technologies. The first is “Suhrid”, an accessible mobile phone interface for a low-literate rickshaw driver community.  The second is “Protibadi”, a mobile phone application for women to combat public sexual harassment. Both projects will demonstrate a set of ethnographic tools and techniques for understanding different economic, social, and cultural values of a community and how those can play a crucial role in designing novel technologies. In addition, Dr. Ahmed will briefly discuss his ongoing work on privacy right, the refugee problem, technology repair, and e-waste to show how ethnographic studies have opened up novel spaces for design and other creative interactions mediated by computing technologies. Through these projects, he will also explain how “voice”, which he has defined by better access, visibility, and freedom, can empower marginalised communities to combat the problem of exclusion, and contribute towards sustainable development.

Dr. Syed Ishtiaque Ahmed is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at the University of Toronto in Canada. He leads the “Third Space” research group there. He conducts research in the intersection between Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and Information and Communication Technology and Development (ICTD). He received his PhD from Cornell University in 2017. His PhD research focused on the design challenges around ‘voice’ which he defines through access, autonomy, and accountability. Most of his early research was situated in Bangladesh and India, where he had conducted ethnography and design studies with many underprivileged communities including ready-made garments factory workers, evicted slum dwellers, rickshaw drivers, mobile phone repairers, and victims of sexual harassment. His current work has expanded from there and is also addressing pressing concerns of marginalization in Iran, Turkey, China, Canada, and the US. His work is often motivated by postcolonial computing, infrastructural politics, feminist HCI, and subaltern studies.

Dr. Ahmed established the first HCI research lab in Bangladesh in 2009. He also launched the first open-source digital map-making initiative in Bangladesh in 2010. Very recently, he and his colleagues founded an “Innovation Lab” in Bangladesh to promote grass-root level innovation in the country. Dr. Ahmed received the prestigious International Fulbright Science and Technology Fellowship in 2011. He also received the Intel Science and Technology Center for Social Computing graduate fellowship in 2015. In 2018, he has been awarded the Connaught Early Researcher Award from the University of Toronto. Very recently, he has been awarded the very prestigious “Centennial Fellowship” by the Government of the USA, as one of the four scholars selected worldwide.

He has also received multiple awards for his publications including Best Paper awards in ACM CHI and ICTD. Dr. Ahmed’s work has been supported by various national and international organizations including the National Science Foundation (NSF) of USA, National Institute of Health (NIH) of USA, Intel, Microsoft Research, IBM Research, Samsung Research, the World Bank, and National Institute of Mental Health of Bangladesh. His current research is being supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) of Canada, and the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI).

The lecture will be available through online video conferencing via Zoom:, and at the University of Central Asia Central Administration Office (138 Toktogul Street, Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic, 2nd Floor Seminar Room).

The lecture will be delivered in English.

Please confirm your participation by sending an e-mail to Ulanbek Sadybakasov:

Ideas presented in this lecture reflect the personal opinion of the speaker and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Central Asia and/or its employees.
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