PopTech and the Rockefeller Foundation are partners on a joint Fellows program that brings together small, interdisciplinary groups of five to six hand-selected designers, economists, technologists, artists and social innovators for a two-week immersion at the Rockefeller Foundation’s renowned Bellagio Center on the shores of Lake Como, Italy.

The Bellagio/PopTech Fellows program is designed to be a unique incubator of unconventional, cross-disciplinary collaboration around critical topics relevant to the lives of poor and vulnerable populations, and also serves as a laboratory for the study of the nature of collaboration itself as a profound tool for creative problem-solving and solution development.

Fellows receive travel, lodging and facilitated support on-site as they work together to imagine new approaches to complex challenges. A short documentary is produced to highlight their work and process.

The 2014 program will take place August 18-29, and will be followed by a joint presentation at the PopTech conference in Camden, Maine, from October 23-25, 2014.

2014 Program Focus: Rethinking Livelihoods

The second year of the Bellagio/PopTech Fellows program will focus on rethinking livelihoods, from the inside out and from the outside in.

A multitude of new trends, new ideas and forces of change are reshaping possibilities for livelihoods, creating the opportunity – and urgent need – for a new conversation.

Around the world, lower- and middle-income societies are contending with a series of unbuffered and accelerating challenges. While there is no one single narrative, there are many interconnected themes, including:

  • Demographic shifts, including a shift from rural to urban population centers, changing family structure, evolving roles for women, the greying of society and/or a youth bulge.
  • Environmental stressors and climate changes which make some traditional livelihoods, like agriculture, less predictable.
  • Unrestrained financial capital flows, which surge around the globe, connecting societies to global markets while exposing them to global competition.
  • Emerging technological change, which connects individuals, enterprises and stakeholders to opportunities around the world, even as automation and new manufacturing tools eliminate some jobs and create others.
  • Changing economic growth patterns and labor markets, which shift opportunities across and within countries and communities.

These forces – and many others – shape the possibilities and strategies for creating and sustaining livelihoods in a society. They are mirrored by a set of questions, tensions and dilemmas within the livelihoods frame:

  • Can the positive and negative disruptive impacts of technology be amplified, channeled, managed and/or softened as needed?
  • Does the developmental paradigm, which puts an emphasis on societies’ transition to consumer-driven market economies, need to be rethought in an era of environmental stresses and resource constraints?
  • What’s the goal of a livelihoods strategy? Full employment? Poverty alleviation? Entrepreneurship? Innovation? Growth? Stability? Social coherence? Economic inclusion?
  • What should be the locus of effort? The formal sector? The informal sector?

At the 2014 Bellagio/PopTech Fellows program, we’ll take an “outside-in” look at the externalities and forces that are reshaping the livelihoods discussion and an “inside-out” look at exemplars of livelihoods success. Then, we’ll work to articulate and refine complementary principles that can inform and drive future efforts to improve livelihoods.

Meet the 2013 Fellows

The Bellagio/PopTech Fellows Class of 2013 includes key innovators in the fields of data and computer science, the arts, and the humanitarian and ecological spheres. The Fellows have released a white paper on Big Data, Communities and Ethical Resilience: A Framework for Action, and are carrying forward their explorations of the program’s 2013 theme: how big data and related technology can be used to enhance psychological, social and systemic resilience worldwide.

The 2013 Fellows also benefited from visits by several “catalysts” who helped further spur their thinking.


Nominations for the 2014 Bellagio/PopTech Fellows program have closed. Please check here in December for next year’s nomination process and dates.