PopTech Blog

Collaboration alert: Lauren Abramson and Peter Durand sketch out their time together

This past fall, Peter Durand’s graphic facilitation expertise was in full effect as he trained PopTech Social Innovation Fellows to more efficiently convey their organizations' missions.  He particularly struck a chord with Community Conferencing Center Founder and 2010 Social Innovation Fellow Lauren Abramson, who could see the potential value of his particular communication style in relation to her work with the Community Conference Center (CCC), a conflict transformation and community justice organization.  So, recently Abramson invited Durand to Baltimore to graphically record her organization’s 20-hour Facilitator Training.  What came out of their meeting was so much more than either could have anticipated. In a conversation between Abramson and Durand with PopTech sticking its nose in occasionally, we got a first-hand account.

PopTech: Lauren, what were your goals when you asked Peter to join you in Baltimore?

Lauren Abramson: The original goal was to have Peter do his wonderful graphic recording during our 20-hour Community Conferencing Facilitator Training. That way we would have some engaging artwork that documented the concepts we convey during the training.  We figured we could then use that artwork in our training manuals, our ongoing skill-building work, and possibly for a “Community Conferencing Guidebook” that I’m working on writing.


Image-wise: Agricultural patterns from space

Agricultural fields near Perdizes, Minas Gerais, Brazil, are photographed by an Expedition 26 crew member on the International Space Station in February 2011

via The Telegraph

Image: NASA/SPL/Barcroft Media

The future of the book: Authors as Tamagotchis

Author James Warner's darkly humorous prediction of the future of books, publishing, authors and all things literary, which was foretold on McSweeney's last week, is one perspective on The World Rebalancing theme that'll be discussed at PopTech 2011. In 2040, he suggests that authors will become reminiscent of Tamagotchis:

Having determined that what readers want is a "sense of connection," publishers will organize adopt-an-author promotions, repackaging writers along the lines of Webkinz and other imaginary pets. "Feeding" your favorite authors by buying their books will make their online avatars grow less pale and grouchy. If they starve to death on your watch you will lose social networking points.

For more, read Warner's six-decade projection.

Image: Imeleven

Ecomaterials Lab: A fake leaf with real potential

Artificial leaf

PopTech's weekly Ecomaterials Labs series is part of our ongoing, focused look at next-generation sustainable materials innovation.

It was announced yesterday that researchers from MIT’s Nocera Lab, led by 2009 PopTech speaker Dr. Daniel Nocera, had created an "artificial leaf," an advanced solar cell the size of a playing card that mimics photosynthesis, the process plants use to convert sunlight and water into energy.

Made from silicon, electronics, catalysts and substances that accelerate chemical reactions, the device uses sunlight to break water into hydrogen and oxygen that can then be used to create electricity in a separate fuel cell.  Placed in a gallon of water and left in the sun, Nocera said that these “artificial leaves” could provide a home in the developing world with enough basic electricity for a day.

In a press release from the American Chemical Society, Nocera said:

A practical artificial leaf has been one of the Holy Grails of science for decades. We believe we have done it. The artificial leaf shows particular promise as an inexpensive source of electricity for homes of the poor in developing countries. Our goal is to make each home its own power station. One can envision villages in India and Africa not long from now purchasing an affordable basic power system based on this technology.


This week in PopTech: Burning questions and documenting journeys

Burning Questions on Friendfactor

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.

  • Founder of Friendfactor, Brian Elliot (Social Innovation Fellow 2010) uses friendship to accelerate legal freedoms for LGBT people. A new Friendfactor feature, called Burning Questions, makes it easy to ask difficult questions when a friend or family member comes out. 
  • Gidon Eshel, (Science Fellow 2010) a statistician with a focus on food, is featured in the documentary Planeat, the story of three men’s search for a diet that's good for their health, good for the environment and good for the future of the planet.
  • In more photo related news, our 2010 photo manager, Morrigan McCarthy, is spearheading a new project called The Geography of Youth. It's a worldwide bike journey and documentary photography project exploring what it means to be a 20-something today.

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

Image: Friendfactor

Collaboration alert: Photographers journey to Midway

Photographer Chris Jordan (PopTech 2007, 2009) has returned to Midway, a remote island island in the middle of the Pacific, where he first began documenting, in 2009, the heart-wrenching scenes of countless birds killed by ingesting plastic. The project has since evolved into a feature film.

Following Chris Jordan’s expeditions to Midway and the lifecycle of the Albatross, “Midway” is more than just a documentary or a film about wildlife at risk. “Midway” brings us an opportunity for us to look at our world in close-up, to see how our lives are impacting the planet, and to find new approaches to moving forward.

Jordan’s crew includes Kris Krug, one of our official PopTech photographers, who is documenting the behind the scenes aspects of the trip.

Follow the Midway journey by blog or on Twitter.

The World Rebalancing: A Nigerian pop star in China

In keeping with the spirit of our conference theme for 2011, The World Rebalancing, we present, courtesy of the New York Times, Hao Ge.

A rather remarkable rebalancing act in his own right, Hao, also known as Emmanuel Uwechue, is a Nigerian who sings in Mandarin and is the first African-born entertainer to become a legitimate pop sensation in China. After moving to China in 2002, Uwechue quickly learned Chinese and now writes all of own songs in his adopted language.

Uwechue has undoubtedly achieved success because he is a captivating performer blessed with a great voice. However, in some respects, his success is also representative of the significant and complex relationship that has developed between Nigeria and China over the years.

From the Times:

Among nations with close Sino-African ties, Nigeria in particular has benefited from Chinese capital. China has invested more than $7 billion in energy, communications and infrastructure in the country, which exports some $4.7 billion in crude oil to China each year, according to a recent statement by Li Yizhung, China’s minister of industry and information technology.

“This is not just about Hao Ge,” said Long Hu, 38, a music producer and talent scout in Beijing who cultivates young musical talent. “It’s about China and Africa.”

Interview: Ned Breslin on World Water Day and long-term water solutions

To celebrate World Water Day, PopTech caught up with Water For People CEO and PopTech speaker Ned Breslin, who was awarded the 2011 Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship by the Skoll Foundation this past week.

Water For People (WFP) helps people in developing countries improve quality of life by supporting the development of locally sustainable, long-lasting drinking water resources and sanitation facilities. The organization’s main tenets focus on following through and following up after the water systems have been built; no more abandoned wells and broken water pumps. Breslin framed the mission of WFP’s work during his PopTech talk by asking, "What happens when we leave? What happens when that system has to run for a while? Are the children still smiling? Are the girls back in school? Is water flowing?"

We wanted to see what was on tap (excuse the pun!) for WFP on WWD, how this day can help redefine aid, and what accountability measures WFP holds itself to in developing sustainable water practices.

PopTech: What is Water For People doing for World Water Day?
Ned Breslin: Probably the most significant push we are making on World Water Day is a session in Washington DC on learning and improving programmatic performance [featuring Kate Fogelberg and Susan Davis, Water For People; Marc Manara, Acumen Fund; Marla Smith-Nilson, Water1st; moderated by Jon Sawyer, Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting].  We have been part of a series of meetings over the past seven months that are designed to reinforce solid programmatic work around the world while addressing weaknesses we see on the ground in new ways.  This work has been done in collaboration with the IRC in Holland, GWC and others.  The learning session in DC is a further step along this important path of building on strength and addressing challenges.  A number of organizations will present on their actual experiences so that we can all sit back and see ways in which we can all improve our work.  It should be very exciting.


Ecomaterials Lab: Recycling Pepsi's new "green" bottle

PopTech's weekly Ecomaterials Labs series is part of our ongoing, focused look at next-generation sustainable materials innovation.

The new 100 percent plant-based bottle PepsiCo announced last week is also going to be 100 percent recyclable. As in just-like-your-PET-water-bottle recyclable – in fact, they will even be able to go into the same recycling bin. This from PepsiCo:

Because the new 100 percent plant-based bottles are PET (identical to existing PET bottles, just plant-based versus petroleum-based), there will be no contamination of the recycling stream, and we strongly encourage consumers to recycle them in a Dream Machine or through another existing recycling program to help increase the U.S. beverage container recycling rate.

This is good news for recyclers who might worry about recycling stream contamination a la PLA, the plant-based plastic made primarily from cornstarch or sugarcane, which is toxic to PET streams. It's also welcome news for conscientious consumers who might fret about what exactly they should do with the new bottles when Pepsi rolls them out in 2012.

But, how green is the new bottle really?  The company claims that: "Combining biological and chemical processes, PepsiCo has identified methods to create a molecular structure that is identical to petroleum-based PET (polyethylene terephthalate), which results in a bottle that looks, feels and protects its product identically to existing PET beverage containers."

So, what exactly are those chemical processes? That's what recycling advocates like Susan Collins, Executive Director of the Container Recycling Institute, would like to know.

"What is the life cycle analysis for the new bottle?  What are the inputs to the process?" Collins said on a call late Monday afternoon. Absent a complete analysis of the production process, it's hard to make a call on how ecologically benign the production process of the new bottle actually is.  "At this point, we don't know." Read more...

When failure looks like success: Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy explain

The global effort to bring clean water to Bangladesh appeared to be a huge success—twice. But each time, the success contained the seeds of epic failure. The overarching message? Success requires ongoing vigilance. Don’t assume the mission is accomplished.

In the April 2011 Harvard Business Review article, Vision Statement: When Failure Looks Like Success, PopTech's Andrew Zolli along with Ann Marie Healy unpack the mirage of success associated with a 30+ year project to bring clean water to Bangledesh. In a nutshell: A lack of potable water led to a massive well-building project initiated by UNICEF in the early 1970s - followed by the discovery, in the early 80s, that the water from the wells was causing arsenic poisoning.  A multimillion dollar attempt to fix the wells and educate the public was deemed a success until villagers were unintentionally stigmatized. What can be learned from this utter and repeated failure? Take a closer look at the visualization to get the whole story. 

Image: Harvard Business Review