[written morning of 2/3] It's only the morning of the first full day of Rio+2.0 at Stanford U, but already it's been worth it ... for ideas, information, new contacts, and especially inspiration.
My first encounter with other attendees was awaiting the shuttle to the Stanford campus. The other two women were from the USDA and from an international NGO, kicking off the sub theme of partnership between government, civil society and private industry right from the start. My dinner discussion on Big Data's role in sustainable development (topics included analyses of groundwater as well as water acquisition in India, climate change and adaptation, healthcare, pandemic prediction, challenges from acquisition of data, politics, and cultural barriers) added a good dose of academia to the mix.
Diversity spawns innovation, and not only do the participants come from every sector (I won't say "attendees" as that word implies passivity and this conference is anything but passive so far!), but also from every corner of the world. Lest you had any doubt of the global nature of sustainable development (how could you?), you should have been in the discussions I had with government, NGO, and private industry representatives from Uraguay, Liberia, Finland, Palestine, and many, many more.
The event started with opening remarks by Nancy Sutley (Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality) and Alec Ross (Senior Advisor for Innovation, US Dept of State). Nancy spoke of themes of the upcoming Rio+20, and Alec of recognizing how citizens have become key players in policy development and the importance of role ICT to drive sustainable development. He also pointed out that "connection technologies", the theme of the conference, really includes that which we are connecting and includes not only networking technology, but the broader cloud computing, and especially data.
Then they introduced Noel Dickover as "Chief of New Social Media in the e-Diplomacy Office" to kick off the "Speed Geeking" event (I love that title!). For this, we were organized into groups that spent five minute each at 10 of the nearly 30 stations hosted by leaders from for-profit and non-profit organizations, each explaining a real-world application of technology that is having an effect in the real world. From a group dynamics perspective, it was a brilliant way to break the ice and get people talking to one another right from the get-go.
But oh, my - there is so much innovation in technology having a real impact to real people around the world! Just a few examples include:
- Solar Sisters, making entrepreneurs of women in Africa while supplying non-toxic, inexpensive lighting and energy.
- Souktel, using inexpensive texting to match job seekers and employers in Ramala.
- Nexleaf Analytics, which has come up with creative sensor technologies for monitoring conditions on the ground, such as air quality impacts of clean cooking stoves.
- NetHope bringing together NGOs and private industries to match problems with technology solutions.
- The better-known Kiva and Grameen foundation on personal and mobile micro financing, respectively.
In the shuttle this morning, we were all chatting about the importance of seeing that people and technology truly can have an impact. And we agreed... it's all too easy to become jaded when stuck in numbing policy negotiations. But this event has already renewed our belief in the power to make change!