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SwitchPoint 2016: Day 1

The first day of SwitchPoint 2016 was one of intentional serendipity for hundreds of experts, entrepreneurs, and do-gooders from around the world.

“Never before in the history of humanity has there been such a strong call for leadership—but it’s a call for those who would lead differently,” said Pape Gaye today during SwitchPoint 2016. “You just have to watch the news every day to see it.”

Today a new wave of leaders in global health, development, and entrepreneurship gathered in Saxapahaw, North Carolina, for the annual SwitchPoint conference. Hosted by IntraHealth International, the two-day event brings together hundreds of participants from around the world to collaborate on some of today’s most pressing global problems.

It's part conference, part festival, part marathon of inspiration.

So what’s it like to be at SwitchPoint? Think part conference, part festival, part marathon of inspiration. One minute the crowd was whispering in excitement about a revolutionary new tool to diagnose sickle cell disease. The next, we were held rapt by an onstage dance wherein even the performers didn’t know what they would do next.

One thing that was on most speakers’ minds, though, was the future.

Our Humanitarian Future

“Life is not a straight line, ladies and gentlemen,” said keynote speaker Jessica Colaço, a digital humanitarian and cofounder of Brave Ventures Labs. “If you are an entrepreneur, life is all over the place. But I have created intentional serendipity for myself—through tools, people, and networks.”

Digital humanitarians like Colaço use the power of technology and serendipitous human connections to solve problems rapidly. And in her case, she’s doing it in Nairobi, bringing together coders and technologists to solve real-world problems across the African continent and starting the first venture builder (a company that helps build other companies) in East Africa.

Andrew Schroeder and his colleagues at WeRobotics are spawning new digital humanitarian efforts around the globe, too. They’re helping locals from Kathmandu to Kigali learn to create flying labs—that is, using drones to generate 3-D models and real-time maps of cities and terrain that could revolutionize emergency response when disasters (such as the 2015 earthquake in Nepal) strike.

Many of today’s SwitchPoint speakers are working hard to create a healthier future for their home countries. They’re part of a new, tech-savvy generation of innovators and entrepreneurs who are spreading their knowledge and creating more sophisticated, sustainable workforces around the world.

Intentional serendipity is about paving the way for partnerships you didn’t even know you were looking for. 

From Safe Water to White Savior Barbie

Speakers on the main stage brought new ideas on how we can and should—and shouldn’t—work to make the world a better place. They covered everything from serious games to solutions journalism, from fearonomics to fear of violence, and from safe water to White Savior Barbie.

SwitchPoint turns five this year. And, as Rebecca Kohler reminded us, a lot has happened since 2012.

“Since the first gathering, global temperatures continue to rise, leading to widespread ecological collapse,” she said. “The world population has grown by an additional 319 million people—roughly equal to the population of the United States. And conflict and war rage on. Luckily, at the same time, we have some new and in fact young heroes who are continuing to inspire us.”

Many of them were on stage today.

Intentional serendipity is about paving the way for partnerships you didn’t even know you were looking for. And that’s what SwitchPoint is all about—intentionally bringing together smart, passionate people from across sectors and continents, and opening a path for them to team up and lead differently for greater global good.

It’s a hell of an event. And we’re only halfway through.

Check out the full program for SwitchPoint 2016.

Also read: Time to Stack the Deck at SwitchPoint 2016 and Genius Ideas for Global Good