As Andrew Zolli points out in his introduction to speaker Michael Blum, you cannot talk about failure in 2010 without talking about the Gulf oil spill. Blum, a professor of ecology at Tulane, was at the frontlines of both the spill and the clean-up efforts. For better or worse, so were 47,000 other people. Lacking a clear leader, the volunteers, BP suits, contractors and federal workers were often at odds with how best to handle the situation.
Blum gave a measured breakdown of the failures that caused the accident: operational failure (inappropriate drilling practices); organizational failure (lack of clear management); and technical failure (the fail-safes failed and set the stage for additional failure.) The response effort was using methodologies that had been used in previous oil spills, which were unsuccessful because all of the previous spills had been shallow water spills. The Deepwater Horizon leak was over a mile beneath the sea.
The true failure, in Blum’s opinion, is that of separating the “built” world from the “natural” world. The interconnectedness of these two environments, often regarded as disparate, has been a running theme at PopTech this year. Blum suggests that in order to better handle these types of events, our response needs to couple these two worlds, not contrast them.
New Orleans culture, offers Blum, is one of resilience. The city exists at the delta of the Mississippi river and as such, its fate is intricately intertwined with that of the natural world. “Whether its future is one of decline or of celebration,” said Blum, “is entirely up to us.”
(Photo credit: Kris Krüg)
“It was irresistible,” he said of the “Poop!Tech” logo on the screen behind him. Natch. Smith, after all, is co-founder and chief technical officer of Micromidas, Inc., a biotech company that uses an innovative microbial process to convert raw sewage into high quality disposable plastics.
The plastics made by Micromidas’ sewage-eating bacteria are completely bio-degradable and the implications of the technology are obvious. A non-petroleum plastic made from organic waste that completely degrades in six months to a year? What’s not to love?
“It’s a really elegant solution,” Smith said. “It’s not just what we’re making but how we’re making it. The extractive economy we’ve relied on for the last 100 years is not sustainable. It’s time to find better solutions and we hope we’re one of them.”
(Photo credit: Kris Krüg)
The story of Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton is one of forgiveness and liberation. In 1984, Jennifer Thompson-Cannino was completing her college degree in North Carolina, working a couple of jobs, and dating the man she would later marry. Her life was full. Then she was raped that summer.
When she was assaulted, she did everything she could to remember the details of her attacker — his clothes, his height, his haircut — so that she could identify him later. She testified that Ronald Cotton was the man who raped her. He was found guilty and sentenced to multiple life sentences in prison.
“You can say what you say. I know I’m an innocent man.”
As part of its ongoing commitment to fostering breakthrough social innovation and collaboration, PopTech unveiled Friday a new Accelerator initiative, PeaceTXT — a multidisciplinary project to explore the potential of mobile technology to amplify a proven approach to reducing violence.
A collaborative effort among CeaseFire, FrontlineSMS: Medic, and Ushahidi, PeaceTXT is seeking to use mobile mapping and cellular technology to provide CeaseFire team members with valuable new tools in their campaign against urban violence.
“It’s part of our mission to facilitate and orchestrate these kinds of collaborations,” PopTech Accelerator Director Leetha Filderman said. “We believe this has the potential to have a very big impact.”
More children are receiving an education around the world than ever before. There’s been a surge in human potential. At the same time, employment isn’t readily available to match that potential. Therefore many impoverished youth are going jobless. They don’t want charity. They want a job to help improve their lives.
With the advent of the inexpensive technology, including $65 netbooks, it has become easier for people to work remotely no matter if they’re in the U.S., Haiti or Africa. Social Innovation Fellow Leila Janah founded Samasource to fuse that increased digital connectivity with people living in poverty to provide computer-based microwork via the Internet. Her philosophy: “Handouts are not going to end global poverty, but work — real work — just might.”
(Photo credit: Kris Krüg)
As the founder of the Community Conferencing Center (CCC), Social Innovation Fellow Lauren Abramson works to alter how society typically responds to crime and conflict — changing the focus from punishment to accountability, healing, and learning.
Abramson shares a story about two kids in Baltimore who were arrested for stealing a car. Instead of heading to court, the CCC took the case. The kids and their families, along with the man whose car had been stolen, were brought together to discuss three points: 1) What happened? 2) How have you been affected by what happened? and 3) What do you want to do to make it better and prevent it from happening again?
One of the kids brought his grandfather, who had been raising him, to the reconciliatory meeting. He communicated to his grandson his disappointment at the young man’s behavior. Moved by this reaction, the man whose car was stolen expressed his desire to resolve the incident. The kid not only offered a genuine apology during the session, but also committed to pay the man’s insurance deductible. The kid’s grandfather hired them to work at his church for six weeks to earn the necessary money. All parties involved met again, exchanged handshakes, and the kids paid for the costs associated with the stolen car. In turn, the man then donated those funds back to the grandfather’s church.
This is one success story among the 8,000 people who have convened cases in Baltimore using the CCC, 95% of which have been resolved.
(Photo credit: Kris Krüg)
What has the power to stop a careening, kinetic child in his tracks and cause him to gently bend, enraptured, toward a flower? As PopTech Science Fellow and naturalist Yasser Ansari witnessed first-hand, it’s a bee. As children, we all possess a wonderment and curiosity about nature. We have a human need to connect with our planet. Or, as said child put it, “BZZZZ!”
Ansari’s effort, Project Noah (Networked Organisms and Habitats), strives to be what he calls “a field guide for every organism.” Inspired by Darwin’s Field Guide, bio-instruments, and a little bit of steam punk, the platform encourages citizen scientists to step into the world, eyes open, and begin documenting what they find.
“You live in Zimbabwe, you have AIDS, and the nearest clinic is 70 miles away,” he said. “Most of the AIDS-infected people in Zimbabwe live in conditions just like these.”
As a way to combat the spread of AIDS, Sheppey came up with Wild4Life, an AIDS awareness and testing organization that collaborates with wildlife conservation groups, reaching remote communities and educating them about the importance of AIDS testing and education.
“Everything starts with testing,” he said. “When we began the program, we shot for about 45 percent of the first group being tested. What happened was that 85 percent got tested, and by the third group it was close to 100 percent. If you want people to test, test them in groups.”
The group model’s success led to more revelations about the importance of community awareness and relationships in stopping the spread of AIDS in rural areas. “Working in groups in these communities removes the stigma of testing and encourages healthy behavior,” he said.
Sheppey said the goal for Wild4Life is to create a menu of programs tailored to specific communities. By partnering with other organizations, using conservation groups as an extended network, Sheppey hopes to completely stop the spread of AIDS by leveraging influence within communities.
“We have to imagine what could happen if we got all of this right.”
2010 Science and Public Leadership Fellow Ben Dubin-Thaler drives a bus. Dubin-Thaler, a biologist and founder of Cell Motion Laboratories Inc., drives the BioBus, a repurposed transit bus outfitted with a high-tech science lab that serves as a mobile laboratory to get kids interested in science.
“Students get on the bus and get exposure to real hands-on science,” Dubin-Thaler says. “It’s a great opportunity for them to see what real science looks like.”
What makes for a happy marriage?
Stephanie Coontz, director of research and public education for the Council on Contemporary Families and the author of Marriage, A History: How Love Conquered Marriage, says the answer lies in understanding that marrying for love is a radical idea.
Coontz notes that little interactions between couples are important indicators of a successful marriage. It reveals how much interest and respect a couple has for each other.
What also counts in a marriage, say Coontz, is how well a couple can manage household duties together. Here, it should come as no surprise that men and women have different understandings of marital satisfaction.
The best predictors for marital satisfaction among men? The answer, perhaps not surprisingly, is how little criticism and how much sex he gets. According to Coontz, that has not changed since the 1960s. What has changed is how he gets it. A modern-day marriage, says Coontz, requires much more give and take—and much more help around the house. One of the predictors of a woman’s happiness in a marriage directly relates to how much a spouse contributes to household and childcare tasks.
Coontz concludes with a win-win situation scenario for each sex: The more that household and childcare duties are split between a couple, the less criticism and more sex that the man is likely to get, and the happier the woman is likely to be.
(Photo credit: Kris Krüg)
How do other people feel? It’s a simple question, but for graphic designer Orlagh O’Brien, an important one.
“At first, the question seemed flaky,” she said from the conference stage Friday. “But I had this sense that people feel emotions in their bodies, and I wanted to see what would happen if I asked such a really open-ended question.”
O’Brien gave a simple test to a group of 250 people over the course of a month. Asking respondents to describe five emotions – anger, joy, fear, sadness, and love – in drawings, colors, and words, O’Brien ended up with a set of media she used to create Emotionally}Vague, an online graphic interpretation of the project’s results.Read more...