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Sally Eaves on building the future with ethical tech

Professor Sally Eaves, an emerging-tech leader and international advocate for opening access to opportunity, shares her thoughts on STEAM education, the importance of mentoring, and the pyramids.

This Q&A series spotlights people who have done something extraordinary in their career and have pushed the envelope in their field. It provides a glimpse into their motivations and what inspires them.

Spotlight on: Professor Sally Eaves, founder and CEO of Aspirational Futures; Forbes Technology Council member; CTO of Emergent Technology; global strategy adviser on blockchain, AI, and fintech; leader on the social impact of emerging tech; keynote speaker and author

Sally Eaves keeps a rigorous schedule. When she's not speaking on ethical tech, she's consulting on the application of disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, and fintech with top-level organizations including the United Nations, the Forbes Technology Council, and the U.K. Government Blockchain Association.

Her background includes roles as CTO, CEO, a professorship in advanced technologies, and a global strategic advisership, with a degree from the CIO Academy at Oxford University.

Eaves' passion for STEAM education, tech for good, and social impact at scale is clear in all of her projects, but especially in her role as founder and CEO of Aspirational Futures. The organization focuses on empowering youth, people in underrepresented groups, and those transitioning their careers through interdisciplinary skills building and training in emerging tech. Two of its current projects are a hackathon in partnership with UNESCO ​that focuses on skills development, including a data application for good (COVID-19 focus), and repurposing archived data for training and development.

In this one-on-one, Eaves talks about projects that bring her joy, her hopes for STEAM learning, and how she stays motivated.

What are you most passionate about, and why?

I am loving scaling up Aspirational Futures, which brings together tech for good, STEAM learning, and social impact. It's time to change the narrative of what we can achieve with technology alongside education and to democratize access to these opportunities. This is global and there are many ways to get involved, so anyone reading this who wants to join in—as participant, mentor, or partner—feel free to reach out.

I am also involved in some wonderfully positive and collaborative responses to the COVID-19 situation, including the 3D printing of a healthcare kit, hackathons for students to develop new skills, and research-industry partnerships to dive deep into the data using high-performance computing power and capacity.

And on a more personal note, I am passionate about music … and so you may see me with guitar in hand soon!

How do you push through plateaus or difficult times?

Always hold on to your passion, have a clear goal beyond the short term in mind, and be sure to track your progress. You will be able to see what you have achieved, and when you feel stuck, you can reflect on the steps you have taken. This will help put what you have done into context.

In addition, cultivate great relationships. The people around you matter! Energy, empathy, and positivity are contagious, and such a circle is a wonderful reciprocal gift to help lift and mentor one another at difficult moments and equally to share the moments of joy when you push through.

What would you like to see happen that would be the most impactful for STEM/STEAM learning?

The time is now to change the narrative about what a tech career is. This is something I am very active in through Aspirational Futures and mentoring. For STEM/STEAM learning to become embedded within career paths of choice across all groups, we need to showcase the variety of roles these skills contribute to and the incredible projects you can be part of. So bringing purpose to the fore really matters alongside visibility—young people need to be able to see and to access role models across a diversity of experience and characteristics so they can feel, "This could be me. I want to be part of that!"

I believe a stronger focus beyond STEM to STEAM education is key. And this is more than just a naming change. It is putting the value of arts, creativity, and the very skills that make us human, such as emotional intelligence and empathy, onto an equal stage with the technology skills that can help us build a future we will all be proud to be part of.

What is something or someone that inspires you, and why?

An artifact from Egypt evoking the pyramids and belonging to my late dad from his first trip abroad at school—his signature is still visible underneath. The word pyramid comes from pyre, meaning fire, and I believe in catalyzing passion and energy into action and meaningful positive change.

I am curious by design and believe in pursuing big challenges, as encapsulated in the [Sustainable Development Goals] and metaphorically represented by the pyramids. With the link to my dad, especially being able to feel his words … it also represents strength of foundations, connection, inspiration, ascendance, and legacy.

Do you have a personal motto? If so, what is it, and what does it mean to you?

I often find myself saying "smiles go miles" especially when doing mentoring—and I do very much believe that. Doing something you love and doing it with passion, you can never manufacture that and should not be afraid to share it in your own authentic way. And that can be contagious and inspire others too.

How do you stay motivated?

Through active learning and active inspiration. The acts of doing—creating new things, applying new ideas to goals, combining knowledge from one area into another, and of course at times making mistakes along the way—I believe that's how we discover who we are and what is truly important to us.

The best inspiration is through application or learning by doing, and with a holistic frame of reference, this means you are constantly seeing new perspectives, continually learning and unlearning, and so this keeps things very fresh. Sharing this with others through mentoring is also really rewarding and motivational.

What do you do to take a break, find more energy, and recharge?

Both playing music (guitar and piano) and listening to it. I have eclectic taste, so all genres appeal and you can always find something for the right moment—whether to relax, reflect, or recharge. Thinking about what has happened this year with COVID-19, I think the power of music to give voice, share joy, and inspire community has been very evident. I even brought an instrument onto a recent video chat with a team I have been mentoring on a hackathon. I cannot sing, though!

What question are you surprised people never or rarely ask?

What immediately springs to mind is, "Do you have a quote that resonates with you?" And the answer would be two: "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us," by J.R.R. Tolkien, and "How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world," by Anne Frank.

In different ways, these both emphasize that whatever the context, we all have agency to affect meaningful change. And especially with Anne, the power of positive internal thought really comes to the fore. To say "inspiring" feels inadequate as a descriptor.

This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.