Interview with Iris Lapinski
Iris Lapinski is the Founder and CEO of Apps for Good. A non-profit organisation that provides courses in schools that help young people make their future with new technology. Their goal is to produce more able, self-confident, collaborative young people, who ready to make a difference in their world. Most children are consumers of technology; Apps for Good want them to become makers using technology.
What is Apps for Good's vision?
The vision of Apps for Good is that we believe that technology is an extremely powerful tool to enable people anywhere in the world to improve their communities and change their lives. What we want to do is to grow a new generation of young people who are problem solvers and makers, both boys and girls. They can create products that will help their family and friends in the community around them. We do this by partnering with schools and educators who use the course frameworks that include app development, IoT and soon on machine learning so that they can create products to solve problems that they are passionate about and that really impact their lives so they're real-world problems and not just imaginary problems. We also bring in industry experts who come in as volunteers and that share advice/feedback for those students and teachers. We also run events and competitions so that they can get recognition. We really think that technology is evolving so we moved from apps to IoT to machine learning and we think that will continue but the skills and competencies around it and a lot of the frameworks actually don't. We think problem-solving is a key skill that any child should learn in the 21st century.
Do you think that programming should be a mandatory subject?
Yes and no. Yes, if you define it as a much broader thing around technology education and that includes: media literacy, data literacy and thinking how you navigate your life through technology. It does include programming but also making things like electronics. However, no, if you clearly define it as coding, low-level coding, because everyone knows that this type of coding will be automated through machine learning in the future. Learning it today in school will be useless in 10 - 15 years time. Also if that subject is implemented in the same way that chemistry is implemented, it's not real-world driven, but you basically learn and memorise formulas. Then no, it shouldn't be a subject in schools because it won't inspire and it won't encourage young people to move into tech. So I think the answer is yes and no to this. The devil lies in the detail with how you implement this and how you inspire teachers to do a good job on that subject.
You offer your programme for free to schools. How do you fund your work?
We're offering course frameworks to schools and educators and as a result, students get it for free. So how do we make money and fund this? Well we are registered as a non-profit, we get funds from trusts and foundations, we get money from corporate foundations like Google.org, Salesforce.org, AOL Foundation and many others, and corporate partners people like SAP, in the in the past people like Dell, also LEGO who give us money because they think that investing in young people's future is the right thing to do.
How did you come up with the idea for Apps for Good?
Well, it's roots come from Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil, in the mid-1990s when Rodrigo Baggio came up with an organisation called CDI and the focus what on bringing technology to the favelas so that young people could focus on problems that they were passionate about. It was basic ICT skills, like browsing the internet in the late 1990s but also using PowerPoint, Word and Excel. With Apps for Good, we give a platform that students can solve problems their passionate about too, which is app creation. The truth is Apps for Good is no longer just about apps we have a framework on IoT and will be launching a new framework this summer on machine learning, too. So technology keeps changing but the pedagogy and the inspiration that Rodrigo used has not changed. And that is that people learn best when they solve problems that impact them and that are real-life based. So there's no unique idea but building on the experiences of other people and that has been building over the years. So just it's connecting the dots but in a slightly different way.
Can students who go through Apps for Good independently create a good enough app to then set up a start-up?
Yes and no. Some of them create very simple prototypes, like wireframes and very simple IoT products and others create much more sophisticated products that they then reiterate with users and improve. The reality is that most of the students are 13 to 17 years old and are full-time in school. They won't even attempt to create a start-up but they can learn lots of very valuable experiences and skills whilst they build networks that will serve them well in the future. For example, one of our teams in Poland won a start-up competition in Berlin last November called Data Natives and they won meetings with VCs. For them, the goal wasn't to talk to VCs and ask them for money because legally they can't even accept that money nor can the VCs give it to them but they can get advice from them and get them as mentors to help them to make their product better. By the time they leave school they all have knowledge, skills and networks that most other young people won't have. But full-time startups for young teenagers: probably not.