PopTech Blog

Roberth Neuwirth: When the free market and the flea market collide

If you happen to be in London tomorrow, December 6, try to catch author, journalist and PopTech presenter (2005, 2011) Robert Neuwirth and his talk on Adapting to an Urban Future at the Royal Geographical Society.

And if you can’t make it, consider checking out his recent stage talk at PopTech that came on the heels of his recently published book, The Stealth of Nations: The rise of the informal economy, an examination of the often hidden world of the informal economy, or System D as French culture classifies it, around the world.

With 1.8 billion people, or half the working people of the world, involved in this system that has a combined value of $10 trillion, the “United Street Sellers Republic” or “Bazaaristan” as Neuwirth refers to it, is the second largest economy in the world. It will soon rival the largest, the United States, since by 2020, it will include 2/3 of the working people of the world.

As global businesses find their home in slums, shopping malls set up shop in squatter communities, and stores can be managed from small boats and makeshift stands, we’re seeing an informal, D.I.Y. economy that’s growing faster than the formal economy. The flea market is becoming the free market as Neuwirth explained:

We can emulate the flea market and the philosophy of the flea market…There are a lot of ways of adjusting the frame to accept that we have this vast economic system that is keeping half the workers of the world alive and employed and growing and we have to figure out how to work within it.

Why neuroscience may help save the oceans

Marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols believes we’re psychologically tethered to our primordial home, the ocean. Sound far-fetched? Then think for a moment about how you feel when you’re standing on a beach, looking out at the seemingly endless blue horizon, or when you pick up a seashell and “listen” to the sound of waves crashing ashore. There’s something about it, isn’t there? Nichols has termed this feeling "blue mind," he explained in a recent interview published in OnEarth, and he's enlisted the help of neuroscientists to study it.

Twice in the past year – once in June, then again a few weeks ago – he gathered those researchers, as well as environmentalists, conservation scientists and artists together, in California, at the BLUEMiND Summit, to start exploring this connection. Nichols said in the interview:

Sound, for example, affects our brain and influences our emotions. If I ask you to close your eyes and turn on a recording of the ocean, I can change your mood immediately. There’s a huge body of research on the science of music and the brain, but almost nothing on the sound of the ocean and the brain. That’s probably going to be the first study that comes out of the Blue Mind Summit....

His interest in the way our brains respond to the deep blue sea isn’t merely academic. He sees it as the foundation for a new kind of response to the environmental crisis facing the oceans: NeuroConservation. This 21st-century form of conservation would harness new discoveries about the brain and behavior, courtesy of advances in cognitive neuroscience, to help people become better environmental stewards. “Without a deeper understanding of our brains, we’re not going to ‘think our way out’ of the current biospheric crisis,” Nichols writes at Mindandocean.org.


This week in PopTech: Cloud forests, think tanks and live performances


There's always something brewing in the PopTech community. From the world-changing people, projects and ideas in our network, a handful of this week's highlights follows.

  • In last week's T MagazineAnthony Doerr (PopTech 2009) ventures to Ecuador to explore a cloud forest. For a ten minute vacation, click on through

If you'd like to receive a stream of these updates (and more) throughout the week in real time, follow us on TwitterTumblrFacebook, sign up for our newsletter, and subscribe to the PopTech blog.

Image: Lifeboat

It's Follow-Up Friday at PopTech!

You attended PopTech (this year, last year, or years ago!). You sat next to an incredible person at the opera house (or likely, quite a few) and were exhilarated by your conversation. You exchanged business cards, email addresses, Twitter handles. You meant to reach out, catch up, drop a note or grab a coffee, but days passed, things got hectic, and it just never happened. As that stack of business cards peers back at you from the corner of your desk, you feel like it might be a little awkward to contact to that person out of the blue.

Now we're giving you a free pass. December 2, 2011 is officially Follow-Up Friday at PopTech! Send that email you've been meaning to send. Meet up for coffee. Find him or her on Facebook. We'd be thrilled if you did, especially since part of what it means to attend PopTech is having an opportunity to develop ongoing relationships with all the folks in our network.

And let us know in the comments some of the PopTech connections you've made since you attended the conference.

Image: Thatcher Cook for PopTech

The David Wax Museum plays on

PopTech 2011 performers David Wax Museum have two shows coming up this weekend in Boston and New York. To get your feet tapping and your hands clapping in anticipation of these shows, enjoy a few of their songs from the PopTech stage.

Hear them play this Saturday, December 3, in Boston at the Arlington Street Church. Or, on Sunday, December 4, head to their show in New York City at Le Poisson Rouge.

Flashback: World AIDS Day special

On World AIDS Day, we're highlighting a few people and projects from within the PopTech community that are making inroads in the prevention of HIV/AIDS by building awareness, promoting HIV testing, and supporting people living with the disease.

2009 Social Innovation Fellow Deb Levine founded her organization, ISIS (Internet Sexuality Information Services), in 2001 to build better tools to promote sexual health and prevent disease. ISIS gives people private and convenient access to information on critical health issues like HIV prevention and unplanned pregnancies.

2010 Social Innovation Fellow Kel Sheppey and his organization, Wild4Life, are focused on leveraging preexisting organizations, and especially wildlife conservation NGOs, to promote HIV testing and awareness-building campaigns in remote communities.

“Sinikithemba” is Zulu for “give us hope” or “we give hope.” The Sinikithemba Choir is a group of HIV-positive Zulu men and women, who performed at PopTech 2006, that provide support to persons with HIV/AIDS at McCord Hospital in Durban, South Africa.

Unlocking the autism mystery with Alysson Muotri

2011 Science Fellow Alysson Muotri spends his days using stem cells to understand autism, a disorder that affects 1% of all U.S. children. By examining the brain cells of adult patients with Rett syndrome specifically, he's trying to determine if Autism Spectrum Disorder is permanent or if it's possible to treat those cells with chemicals, inducing them to revert back to normal conditions.

Shorts: eL Seed works his calligraffiti magic

On the Village Green in Camden, Maine, eL Seed took spray can to stretched canvas and worked his calligraffiti magic.  His goal while producing this piece at PopTech 2011 -- and the aim of his work in general -- has been to combine Arabic calligraphy and graffiti in order to break down stereotypes about the Arab world, and in light of the Arab Spring, to comment on a changing world order.

Check out this video to see him in action and watch his PopTech stage talk for more insight into his work.

For an in-person dose of eL Seed’s work, along with that of five other international multimedia artists, take a trip to Montreal, Canada for Arab Winter: Weathering the Storm After the Spring at Under Pressure’s Fresh Paint Gallery, which opens this Friday, December 2. In a press release describing the show, eL Seed explains, “This is not a regular exhibit. You will leave Montreal and be transported to the streets of Tunis, Damascus, Iraq and Cairo.”

6 questions with...Tyler Gage

An entrepreneurship class at Brown University focused on using international markets to promote social change drew a handful of classmates together to begin brainstorming a project. A few years later, the outcome of that brainstorm, Runa, is the world’s only dedicated supplier of Ecuadorian guayusa tea, which is sold throughout the U.S. Guayusa, a naturally caffeinated tea leaf, is native to Ecuadorian indigenous communities and is known for providing energy without the jittery drawbacks of coffee.

Runa’s business model is such that it works closely with the hundreds of farmers who cultivate the guayusa so that they -- and their families -- can benefit from their native crop. Additionally, Runa has created the world’s first guayusa factory and is working to build a market for guayusa in the United States.

What makes Runa particularly unique is how the company focuses its efforts on protecting the Amazonian rainforest through the cultivation of guayusa, working closely with the farmers throughout the process. To learn more, we checked in with one of Runa’s co-founder’s, Tyler Gage, via our 6 questions with…series.

If I had been a fly on the wall of your office/studio, what would I have seen you doing yesterday?
On calls with FairTrade USA to coordinate the certification of our supply chain, translating a Good Standing Certificate for our Ecuadorian company from Spanish to English in order to obtain a U.S. bank account for the company, processing POs and shipments, drinking a new guayusa blend that our client, The Art of Tea, just launched using our ingredient, planning for upcoming events, and shooting blowdarts at jaguar stuffed animals with our interns.

What’s the mark you’re hoping to leave on the world? Why is your work with Runa relevant at this point in time?
Proving that ancient indigenous traditions have relevancy in the globalized world and potential to evolve and continue supporting native peoples in new ways is our shtick.  While the word Runa means “fully living human being” and is a symbol of power for the indigenous Kichwa people, in most parts of Ecuador it is used to mean “worthless” or “stray dog” (aka “not of pure Spanish heritage), representing the incredible racism and disrespect shown to indigenous families. We have to find a way for the wisdom of all people to contribute to our collective well- being as a global community.

What do you wish you had known when you began working on Runa?
How absolutely important it is to manage expectation. It’s my job. Especially working in Ecuador where the idea of communicating openly and transparently about issues and conflicts is as rare as a good Internet connection. We’ve had to learn that setting clear goals, reviewing those goals, reviewing the strategy to achieve those goals, and reviewing both the positive and negative consequences of achieving or not achieving those goals is instrumental in our success. Getting buy-in from all stakeholders, and communicating the rapid changes and evolutions of our organization with them, gives us an ability to grow quickly and cohesively.


Image-wise: The many modes of moss graffiti

Image via Inhabit

Take a few clumps of moss, de-dirted. Stir together with a couple cups of buttermilk (or a can of beer works, too) and a pinch of sugar. In the blender, mix into a paint-like consistency. Grab your paintbrush and find a damp or shady wall because with this concoction, you’ve got what you need to make some moss graffiti masterpieces.

More eco-friendly than the toxic chemicals used in spray paint, moss ‘paint’ has been embraced of late as a green alternative. A spin off of gorilla gardening, this living, breathing art form takes tagging to a whole new level. A few of our favorites:

Image via wndrng