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In Your Network: Ross Smith FRSA

1)Please give a brief explanation of what it is you do and why

Working to break down language barriers and enable humans to communicate in real time regardless of mother tongue. We can think back on 10,000 years of human history and identify a handful of advances in human communication: cave paintings, the Rosetta Stone, hieroglyphs, papyrus, Renaissance art and sculpture, movable type, Marconi, Morse, Alexander Graham Bell, Edison, the internet, mobile phones – and now, in my role as a Director of Engineering for Skype Translator at Microsoft - real time language translation in Skype.

Through this work, I am honoured to participate in a variety of activities to make a difference in the world. From disaster relief efforts to leverage Skype, Skype in the Classroom to encourage young people to consider technology, women in STEM, generational diversity, and a variety of efforts – Anita Borg Institute, iUrbanTeen, Moving Worlds and Spreeha to name a few.

2)Why did you join the RSA?

To connect with amazing people who are making a difference. While the tools we use to collaborate, discover, and engage with one another, and to communicate have changed dramatically through the centuries, the RSA’s commitment to build community has remained steadfast since its founding. The wealth of ideas and opportunities that being part of this group entails offers unlimited potential and is incredibly inspiring. Connecting with others to question, explore, and discover.    

3)What are you passionate about?

Improving the “lives of the managed” I want to work where I can have an immediate impact and where I can learn and grow. There are tremendous opportunities in leveraging what I’ve learned as a manager and applying them to organizations working to improve the lives of the underprivileged, disaster-stricken, disabled, and under-represented. I am confident that the lessons I learn will apply more broadly over time, but right now I’m passionate about learning about how to make a diverse team of people work together on a small team in hopes that it will scale.

4)What makes you angry?

I am so grateful for all that I have and the opportunities I have to improve things that it’s hard to say I am angry about anything. Yes, I am disappointed by our collective shortcomings as humans – the lack of better programs in place to address climate change, racial/gender/age equity, programs for peace, better education – there is a lot of work to do – and I believe if everyone were to look in the mirror and challenge themselves to make one positive move towards making the world a better place, it will happen.

Honestly, I think we’re making progress – there has been a shift in the mind-set of the millennials to think more broadly and take action. It is inspiring to see each generation improve upon the learnings of the previous and accelerate our progress as a society.

5)What would you change in society given the chance?

Wow, what a great – and difficult - question! I think I would have to choose education and youth programs. Our ills will not cure themselves overnight. If we are to build a better future, we need to start with kids. As technological advances make knowledge more pervasive, digital literacy becomes paramount, and the role of humans and our development will change.

It’s hard to pick a single measurement of progress, but let’s say “happiness and well-being” – then if we review the World Happiness Report and Gallup’s study, we see that jobs, exercise, marriage, community involvement, health, peace, safety, and security – all play a factor. This is not to say we should pursue personal happiness at the expense of others, but to pick a single measure of progress, societal well-being might be a good start. How can we influence all of those areas with a single change? I believe it is through the education of our next generation. We need to teach our children the value, techniques, and the risks of putting effort towards making the world a better place. We can create change by teaching the value of these behaviours to future generations. Scientific and technological advances, MOOC’s, and digital literacy will make a big difference, and we need to honour the role of nurturing human teachers, particularly in the early years and the impact they can have on lifelong learning.

6)What is the most important lesson you’ve ever learnt?

Be humble and empathetic in all you do.

Offer practical advice to those above you and a helping hand to those below you.

Never get too good at things you don’t like to do.

7)What recent bit of news have you heard which inspires you?

Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) advances helping the disabled, the elderly and the disadvantaged. There are hundreds of stories every day about how research and development in STEM fields are helping humanity. Technology put to use to improve the human condition is inspirational.

8)Tell us about another interesting Fellow you have spoken to.

Jonathan Winter – Jonathan and I met many years back at a conference at the London School of Business. We recently got together in Oxford and he really inspired me to be a part of the RSA. His work in management and culture, and more recently in health care, always challenges me to think more broadly.

9)What would you like to connect with Fellows about? 

I have been researching the influence of diversity on creativity and innovation – the strength of weak ties. In learning more, I’ve been trying to meet and help across a diverse group – from inner city young men to women in STEM fields. From transportation in Washington DC to education in Bangladesh to Native American connectivity. So technically, I’m up for talking with anyone about anything - but my focus is on management and leadership skills – and how to build diverse organisations through better management and improving the lives of the managed.