VR for Women’s Empowerment: KAGIDER (Women Entrepreneurs Association of Turkey) Luncheon Speech

I had the honor and pleasure of attending a luncheon, hosted by Burcu Mirza, with board members of KAGIDER (Women Entrepreneurs Association of Turkey) who were in town for meetings at the UN. KAGIDER has an amazing mentorship program where they coach select young, low-income, high-potential women seeking employment and entrepreneurship. Their graduates change their (and their community’s) destiny by either starting their own businesses or becoming successful at firms they join. KAGIDER leaders cited research pointing to millions of young women of employment age in emerging countries, who are neither able to pursue education, nor find employment. KAGIDER’s work is to address this problem. Below is what I shared as my point of view on emerging technology and communication trends, which lead to a dynamic discussion on how these technologies can be used in educating and giving employment skills to young women.

Whatever the technology label might be, we have transcended into post-reality era.
A time when we believe what technology tells us more so than what we see in front of us. For instance, believing our GPS more than the traffic coming towards us on a one-lane street. Or, when children say good bye to Google Home when leaving the apartment.  

There are a few technologies that are driving our post-reality vision as ‘under currents’:
1.       With technologies such as VR and AR, this post-reality vision becomes more immersive and believable. And truth/experiences vary by each viewer not the director or the editor. Before we were told stories by movie directors, news anchors, journalists… Today viewers can look ever which way when immersed in a VR story. We choose the angle in which we’ll take that story – being our own editors.  
2.       Voice activation (e.g., Alexa, Echo, Siri, Adobe’s voice based photo editing technology) humanizes automation, IoT and other connected devices. They induce emotion and forge relations between humans and AI. (Students in a NY State University hacked Alexa to break up with it… some classmates who heard about the break up expressed concern. Post reality experience in this case is heightened by voice and emotion.)

Some companies are taking advantage of this technology in creative ways: eBay is offering VR experience in shops, Google is partnering with BMW and Gap on AR shopping experiences. Adobe is launching voice-based photo editing technology.

VR/AR are poised to generate significant dollars for technology and content makers. Deloitte called it the billion dollar niche in 2016. Some sources, such as Digi-Capital, make bolder predictions, forecasting over 100 billion dollars by 2020, disrupting mobile.

As these emerging technologies edge their way to become mainstream, gender and generational gaps appear. Nielsen study on VR technology (2016) shows a typical early adoption story on VR: Male and younger audiences are more likely to adopt. Women not as likely to be interested or aware! 

VR can fundamentally change the way we communicate in arts and politics. And if women are typically the storytellers, where does that put the female voice in arts, news, commerce and politics? If shopping is gamified in ways that suit men, will women – who are responsible for grand majority of household purchases– buy more?