Interview with Fareeda Lakhani


 

Hi there! My name is Fareeda Lakhani and I recently joined SOSCIP as a Programs Officer. My role will be to focus on providing project management and research administration expertise to support the success of industry-academic collaborative research projects. I will also be supporting the implementation of SOSCIP’s EDI strategy in order to create and maintain an equitable, diverse, and inclusive innovation environment through our policies, programs, practices, partnerships, and platforms.

 


 

Q: What drives you in your personal and professional life?

A: I believe strongly in working towards something bigger than myself – both personally and professionally. I grew up very community-oriented and understood early that we all have a responsibility to uplift and take care of one another. That conviction is something I carry with me in everything I do, including my work. I want to use my knowledge, expertise, and time to support work that will benefit people and positively impact the communities we live in. This is a big part of what I love about SOSCIP and the innovation ecosystem – there is so much potential and capability to dream up an entirely new and more equitable world and bring it to fruition.

 


 

Q: What do you see as the future of EDI in technology?

A: EDI is critical in terms of re-imagining the communities we are building through technological advancement. Technology is not developed outside the sphere of human influence. We must go through the design and development processes with a more just and ethical social consciousness. Systemic and structural injustices still exist in our communities today in various forms. If we ignore them as we have in the past, those issues will only become more deeply entrenched by technological progress. Many studies show racial and gender bias are consistently embedded into machine learning or that data sciences and AI tools are often used to infringe on people’s privacy, especially in racialized communities that are disproportionately surveilled, policed and criminalized. Increasingly, labour and service jobs are being replaced by technology, which affects mostly women, racialized people and poor people. We also must look at the implications of technology on climate change. As technology advances, so does its impact on the environment. It is very often poor and marginalized people who are the first and most heavily impacted by the climate crisis.

In the development of new technology, equity-seeking groups’ experiences are largely ignored with dangerous and far-reaching consequences. A robust EDI framework should lead us first to acknowledge how the issues of race, gender, and socio-economic status, among others, intersect with technology and innovation. Once we recognize and understand how structural systems of oppression operate in the innovation ecosystem, we can choose to create a value system for innovation. This values-based approach should prioritize designing and developing technology that enables the growth of sustainable and empowered communities and centers the voices and experiences of marginalized and underrepresented groups. This is how we build a more equitable, just and kind future for everyone.

 


 

Q: How can EDI be successful in organizations and throughout the innovation ecosystem?

A: I think there are a number of key elements to implementing a strong EDI strategy. The first thing is to recognize that this is long term work and an ongoing process rather than an end goal. It is a framework through which we should evaluate every part of an organization’s operations. This approach allows for structural and systemic issues to be addressed directly rather than just specific instances of inequality – addressing the cause rather than the symptom.

It’s also critical to centre those who are the most impacted by structural and systemic oppression. Take the lead from people who face those barriers in their everyday lives, and then involve the people needed to support and facilitate change. Lastly, I would say that it’s vital for organizations to act in accordance with their values. It may seem obvious, but many organizations talk about the importance of EDI, yet they find it challenging to integrate these values into their work and operations. An EDI strategy will only be meaningful when accompanied by policies and actions rooted in dismantling barriers to access and creating room for opportunity and empowerment for marginalized groups.

 


 

Q: What inspires you?

A: Ms. Toni Morrison said ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.’ This is what inspires and motivates me – being able to open the door of opportunity not just for myself but for others around me and those who will come after me.