Technology and innovation in the service of humanity

By Susan Wu and Bronwen Clune


Above all Human is a Melbourne, Australia based conference started by Susan and Bronwen. These are the opening remarks from our 2nd conference held on January 29, 2016.

Hello everyone!

A little over a year ago, we stood on this stage and launched an experiment. As we look out and see over 1000 of you wonderful humans here with us today, I think you could say our experiment in bringing together the community in a new and heartfelt way was a success. Thank you for coming!

We started this conference to challenge all of us to be the best we can possibly be, to work together to build the most extraordinary startup ecosystem in the world.

Our goal was to unite the community in a shared big vision:

  • To be world leaders, not followers or mere consumers.
  • To define our own culture, and not just settle for an imitation of what has worked elsewhere.
  • To foster ideas that are bold and creative.
  • To put product excellence before hype.
  • To be as inclusive and diverse as the creators of technology, as those who use it.

To make the most of our privileged lives. By having lasting, positive impact on the world.

We want that, and more, from today. After all, what good is privilege if we don’t use it on behalf of others, and if we don’t take the big risks no one else can afford to?

2015 was a pivotal moment for Australian founders, designers, innovators, and builders. Us.

We saw investment capital flourish. In the last 12 months we’ve seen Australia-based venture funds raise $900 million to invest in local startups. We’ve gone from a relative capital drought to having an abundance of partners to choose from in growing our businesses. When super funds start investing in the startup ecosystem, you know that people are now taking us seriously.

All of these people want to invest in you.

Whether you’ve been eaking out an existence despite the absence of capital, or just been dabbling on the sidelines of our community — there’s never been a better opportunity to jump in.

We saw a number of Australian startups propel themselves into later stage success with big funding rounds from local AND overseas investors. And even more significantly, those that did such as Campaign Monitor, Invoice2Go, Culture Amp, and Canva, were able to do that and choose to keep their roots here.

We saw Atlassian go public, and ring in one of the most successful IPOs of the year.

We saw overseas technology juggernauts put a stake in the Australian market with Square, Slack, GoPro, and Hired.com joining companies like Stripe, Zendesk, Eventbrite and Etsy with offices here in Melbourne.

We saw Code Club Australia launch with 400 clubs across the country.

That’s enough 9–11 year olds coding in Australia to almost fill the Googleplex in Mountain View.

52% of their participants are girls and 45% of the clubs are operating in slow-economic growth, rural or regional areas. Meaning that just under half of those 14,000 Code Club members are kids in locations where economic growth is not traditionally digital.

We finally had the Government wake up to the fact that we’ve always been a nation of innovators, and that the tech industry is worth supporting. And today we’re honoured to have representatives, from both the Federal and Victorian Governments, here to listen. To learn.

Of course, we should celebrate these wins, but we have to be ruthlessly realistic about how much further we have to go, and how much we can still improve.

This is an historic moment in time for our country. We’re here at the moment of creation — the point in time where our collective hard work and bold vision ensure that Australia becomes a global innovation powerhouse.

10 or 20 years from now

  • when our STE(a)M graduates are universally regarded as the world’s best
  • when the media spends more time reporting on the technology sector than they do the mining sector or covering celebrities
  • when we’ve launched multiple Australian built products that reach audiences of over 1 billion people
  • when innovation drives more than 50% of Australia’s GDP
  • when our children have the freedom to define their own futures on their own terms
  • and when the world looks to us as a brilliant example of what’s possible

Each of us here in the room today will be able to say we were pioneers, there at the tipping point of Australia’s great innovation boom. How awesome is that?

So how do we get there? And what role can this conference play to make it happen?

  1. We want to challenge all of us to think big. We should set our standards high and aim for our companies, not just to be good enough for Australia, but to become the best in the world.
  2. We want to encourage us to build great products, and to be proud of our craft. We only live one life, and so whatever you do, do it the best you can.
  3. We want to unite our community and foster collaboration. Small teams — and small countries — can outpace larger ones by working effectively together.

We chose these incredible speakers because they will challenge us to think bigger and bolder. Each of them is a revolutionary leader in their own way, unafraid to break things to pave the way for a new future.

If we’re going to realize our vision for the next 20 years, we need each of you to jump in and help. We can’t afford for our startup community to plod and meander along — our goal is to jumpstart your brains, your creative spark, your excitement to get out there and build something big.

Hopefully, our speakers today will do just that.

We’ve deliberately chosen speakers that represent many different walks of life — we have an inter-sectionality of race, gender and socioeconomic status. Today we have speakers who are CEOs, VCs, designers, philosophers, astrophysicists, doctors, and comedians.

Why?

Because we need leaders and visionaries that reflect the actual composition of our community. The Internet is diverse, in the truest sense of the word: diverse in terms of thought, perspective, philosophy, and backgrounds.

For what it’s worth: it’s bullshit that so many other tech conferences claim it’s too hard to get to gender parity.

It wasn’t that hard for us at all. We did it in our first year of launch, and we’ve done it again this year. All the while growing our attendee base to over 1000 people on a modest budget. And without having to “lower any bars”.

But don’t laud us for this, don’t call us trailblazers. All we’re doing is reflecting the world as it is. That anyone considers a tech conference with 50% female speakers an achievement in 2016 is ludicrous.

There was no magic, just commitment and follow through.

After all, we want everyone here at “above all human” to lead by example. We have a code of conduct that we’ve published on our website, so please have a look and respect that.

We all have to live our values, otherwise we lose authenticity and credibility.

Finally, the spirit of our conference is fundamentally about technology and science in the service of humanity. We are, above all, human. So,

  • Let’s not just talk about tech for tech’s sake.
  • Let’s not protect the past from the future, but rather the future from the past.
  • Let’s create a world where technology enhances our virtues, and moderates the bad. Where we’re proud to be, at the core of everything, human.

Today, we ask that you not only open yourself to new ideas, but to the different experiences of others. It’s through empathy that we can truly reach our full human potential, it’s through humanity that we can truly make the best of technology — and not just, as some would have you believe, the other way round.

So, let’s have a great day, and get started.

Thank you.

Here are the opening remarks from our inaugural launch conference from December 2014: What are you going to do with your beautiful, fragile life?