PopTech Blog

Nominations for PopTech 2010 Social Innovation Fellows Open

Do you know someone with a big idea, a track record for high-impact results and a commitment to make the world a better place? If your answer is “yes,” then we would like to hear from you.

Nominations are now open for the 2010 PopTech Social Innovation Fellows Program.

In the coming months we will be selecting up to 20 Social Innovation Fellows from around the world who are incubating transformative solutions to the world’s most pressing social, economic and environmental challenges. Nominations are particularly encouraged in the fields of healthcare, energy, water, and the arts, as well as green materials, the environment and education. Fellows will be selected based on their proven track record and their potential to generate high-impact and sustainable solutions. Check out the 2010 Call for Nominations for eligibility criteria, and see our 2008 and 2009 Fellows for great examples of what we look for.

The Social Innovation Fellows Program exemplifies PopTech’s longstanding commitment to the field of social innovation and highlights the importance of this sector in developing breakthrough solutions to some of the world’s most urgent challenges. The centerpiece of the program is an intensive, multi-day, interactive curriculum taught by a world-class faculty with expertise in areas critical to the success of “big bet” social innovations. This experience is complemented by participation in PopTech 2010, the annual convening of prominent thought leaders, influencers and policy-makers (October 20-23, Camden, ME). Our ability to deeply integrate Fellows into the broader PopTech network provides a unique opportunity to showcase work and develop deep relationships with a corps of supporters who are committed to advancing their ideas, projects and collaborations.

We need your help as part of the PopTech network to identify the Class of 2010—please nominate candidates now through the online nomination form.

From the Archive: Jaron Lanier at PopTech 2002

Digital theorist Jaron Lanier has a new book out, You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto (find out more about the book in a recent WNYC interview), and he appeared at PopTech 2002 to discuss virtual reality (and play the piano!). Some excerpts from Jaron’s talk:

Reinventing Education in Kenya

If you need a clear sign that new ideas are needed to save public education in Kenya, look no further than Tuesday’s announcement by U.S. Ambassador Michael Ranneberger that the United States is suspending almost $7 million in aid to the Kenyan ministry of education until fraud in the Free Public Education program is addressed.

That seven-year-old program brought an influx of previously disenfranchised students into the national education system, but in the process created as many problems as it solved: class size rose, teacher recruitment stalled, and the program became dependent on outside donations from foreign governments and international organizations. That’s before you even reach the corruption that has siphoned off almost $1.5 million, or the program’s doubtful educational results.

A new venture called Bridge International Academies is reinventing the model for education in Kenya by taking a page from franchise-based corporations.

Bridge International Academies
Father dropping off a child at a Bridge International Academy school with a “barn” style roof for air ventilation, an innovation in an area where many buildings have no windows or air vents. Credit: Bridge International Academies.

Bridge is rigorously studying and evaluating how to deliver the best quality education to Kenyan primary-school students at the lowest possible cost, but the most innovative aspect of their program is that they are examining every aspect of opening and running a school with an eye toward replication, so that new schools can be opened, many at a time, of a consistently high quality.

“Everything we do is done with the plan to scale to thousands of schools,” one of Bridge’s founders, Shannon May, told me. “Like other successful, large-network or franchise-based corporations, we are resolutely data-driven and process-oriented in order to achieve our mission. … We know of no other organization that is putting together what we call the entire school-in-a-box: all the systems and processes, from land acquisition and construction, to curriculum development and teacher training, to educational performance monitoring and evaluation, to school management training and auditing, to financing and accounting systems.

Bridge was founded in 2007 by three Americans: Jay Kimmelman, the entrepreneur behind the software company EduSoft, which helps U.S. public schools analyze student-performance data; Phil Frei, a technologist whose last venture enabled Malawian farmers to reduce the amount of wood they consumed in curing tobacco (Malawi’s chief export), thus combating deforestation; and Shannon May, an anthropologist who specializes in sustainable development. Together they have assembled a social-enterprise project that borrows techniques from business and social science to create a network of high-quality schools that remain accountable to parents.

So far, the results are promising. Three weeks ago, Bridge opened five new schools at once (they opened their first two, one at a time, in 2009), and average enrollment is already 119—a sign that parents have found reason to prefer Bridge schools to the more established private schools in the area. Early testing shows that Bridge students are substantially outperforming their peers across Nairobi in core reading and math skills. According to May, these students are even closing the achievement gap in English reading performance with students of the same age in the United States.

Rigorous evaluation, which international development projects sometimes shortchange, is a central part of Bridge’s model. (For more about how social-science analysis can make development and anti-poverty efforts more effective, watch Esther Duflo’s 2009 PopTech talk.) To measure educational and financial success, Bridge sets ideal costs for buying land and building schools, costs and schedules for hiring and training teachers and school managers (who are also hired locally), standards for teaching and teacher oversight, and standards for student performance. Bridge uses “direct instruction” to maintain a rigorous and consistent education in independently administered schools, scripting each class carefully so that, according to May, “we know exactly what is being taught at any given minute in the classroom, and exactly how it is being taught.”

Bridge International Academies
Inside of a classroom with engaged students. Credit: Bridge International Academies.

To reduce corruption, Bridge runs what it calls a cashless school. All payments, incoming and outgoing, including payroll for all kinds of workers (teachers, school managers, construction workers), money for construction materials and school materials, and receipts of school fees, are made through the M-PESA mobile-phone payment system or Equity Bank. Signs in schools remind teachers and parents that Bridge employees should never ask for money, with a phone number for reporting violations. Off site, Bridge staff members use regular attendance reports to double-check that no student’s fees are diverted.

Can poor families afford these fees? A family pays 295 Kenyan shillings a month to send a child to a Bridge school. That’s less than $4, or about one day’s pay—usually the cheapest option, or among the cheapest ones, available in a given area. And relying on parents rather than outside organizations for funding makes the project more sustainable, reduces opportunities for corruption by shortening the path between funder and school, and above all, makes the schools accountable to parents above all others.

“By running [Bridge] as a for-profit, the target population is changed from a beneficiary to a customer, and in that change they gain all the power,” says May. “It is the customer that can keep us in or put us out of business. It is the customer, our parents, who are in charge, and that is exactly how we want it.”

Parents are willing to pay for their children to attend Bridge schools, says May, because just walking past the school they can see evidence of the quality of the enterprise. These signs of quality may seem modest by our standards, but they are significant: Children are in class during class time. Teachers are in class, too, and they are actively teaching. Lessons are interactive, with frequent responses from students. “From the parents’ perspective,” says May, “this means that there is never a time they walk by a classroom and see a teacher wondering what to write on the board, or confused about the correct answer to a problem, or sitting at their desk while the students ‘self-study.’”

In December, Omidyar Network gave Bridge International Academies a $1.8 million grant [updated February 1, 2010] equity investment (which will be repaid along with additional returns) to scale up its network of schools. Seven schools exist so far; in May, between five and ten more will open. After that, Bridge hopes to launch at least ten schools at a time and very quickly start launching 20 to 30 schools at a time. Within five to eight years, Bridge intends to open hundreds of schools annually and expand into other parts of Kenya and other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, with the goal of establishing 1,800 schools by 2015. Crystal Hutter, the investment lead for Omidyar Network, says that if the program succeeds, it could serve as a model for other parts of the world and other areas of social enterprise. -- Joshua J. Friedman is a writer in New York City. He is a former editor of The Atlantic and Boston Review.

Ending Poverty and Personal Genomics

This week, two talks from PopTech 2009 on the use of science to end poverty and to personalize medicine:

Esther Duflo, MIT economist and co-founder of the Poverty Action Lab, asks why the world’s poorest people tend to stay poor. Duflo’s pioneering research applies randomized trials, used extensively in drug discovery research, to development economics.

Geneticist George Church believes that genome sequencing can bring us closer to personalized medicine. Several years ago, Church launched the Personal Genome Project, a public database that connects genes to diseases as well as physical and biological characteristics. (100,000 volunteers are expected to contribute by 2010.)

What do you think about these talks?

Nicholas Felton's 2009 Annual Report Released

Nicholas Felton presented at PopTech 2009—video released in February—on “What We Are Saying,” produced with Ken Reisman and Rob Deeming. (You can see What We Are Saying online.)

Nicholas has just released his 2009 Annual Report:

The 2009 Feltron Annual Report

“Each day in 2009, I asked every person with whom I had a meaningful encounter to submit a record of this meeting through an online survey. These reports form the heart of the 2009 Annual Report. From parents to old friends, to people I met for the first time, to my dentist… any time I felt that someone had discerned enough of my personality and activities, they were given a card with a URL and unique number to record their experience.”

Two cards from the 2009 Annual Report are tacked onto a wall at the Brooklyn PopTech office, and we’re looking forward to our copy of the Report.

Two cards for the 2009 Annual Report live in the PopTech Brooklyn office.

You can order the letterpress version of the report too.

Find out more about Nicholas’s work and current interests on his blog, and check back in a few weeks when we’ll release the video of his talk.

Kris Krug Images of Streb RAW Flying Dancers in Vancouver

PopTech photographer and friend Kris Krug photographed Streb RAW, a group of dancers attempting to fly, this weekend.

The group is directed by ‘action specialist’ Elizabeth Streb, who spoke at PopTech 2007 on dancing in the sky. Below are Kris’s images from last Friday, and below that, Elizabeth’s talk at PopTech.

Find out the power of exploration, being lost, and staying in the present tense:

Congrats to the dancers performing in Vancouver; you can follow the Streb RAW tour here.

Help Count the Homeless Tonight in NYC

Editor’s note: Kat Johnson is Program Coordinator for the national team at Common Ground, an organization that works to end homelessness. This is an interesting volunteer opportunity to help take data for an important purpose.

cc Image by PopTech friend Ed Yourdon

Tonight at midnight, volunteers from across the five boroughs will hit the streets to survey homeless individuals for the Department of Homeless Services’ annual Homeless Outreach Population Estimate (“HOPE”) count. The count creates a census of those sleeping outside, helping the City to measure progress and better align resources to move people from the street into permanent housing.

Common Ground (commonground.org ) will be coordinating the count in midtown Mahnattan, and we could use your help. Many volunteers make light work, and help to ensure that the count is as accurate as possible. Each volunteer will be on a team with at least one experienced outreach worker, and will undergo training (with coffee and snacks) before heading out.

If you’d like to join us, please email Laura Borntraeger at lborntraeger [at] commonground [dot] org to sign up, and to make sure we haven’t filled all the volunteer spots.

Privacy Is Over. Here Comes Sociality.

As widely discussed by privacy advocates and blogs, Facebook recently changed some of its privacy settings. Users are no longer able to limit the viewing of their profile photos, home towns, and friends lists to only approved friends. Those are all public now by default. Moreover, Facebook’s new default settings “recommend” that dynamic content such as status messages and photos be made public.

While the blogosphere still closely scrutinizes these changes and is aghast at Mark Zuckerberg’s ‘privacy is over’ claims made at the Crunchies awards (he didn’t actually say it verbatim but his statements more or less implied it), I have to admit I was surprised that all this stirred such an uproar.

Facebook is only reacting to a larger social trend as it strives to become an asymmetrical and therefore a more growth-enabled network (or communications platform) – like Twitter. Privacy, at least a more traditional notion thereof, is the collateral damage of this strategic agenda.

With the value of reciprocity (narrowcasting) succumbing to the prospect of exponentiality (broadcasting), privacy is no longer commercially exploitable. “No one makes money off of creating private communities in an era of ‘free,’” writes social networking researcher danah boyd in a blog post in which she otherwise harshly criticizes Facebook’s move. The age of privacy as we know it might be over indeed. Is it worth fighting for?

Privacy (from the Latin ‘privatus,’ according to Wikipedia: “separated from the rest, deprived of something, especially office, participation in the government”), the “right to be let alone,” is considered a human right in most parts of the world, in spite of all cultural relativism. Historically speaking, privacy has undergone a remarkable evolution. Aristotle distinguished between the public sphere of politics and political activity, the polis, and the private or domestic sphere of the family, the oaks. If a citizen of Athens was a private man, then it meant he was stripped of any political office and therefore considered “inferior.” Later, in the enlightened civil societies of Europe, however, privacy became a hallmark of the bourgeoisie, a hard-earned privilege that marked the delineation between upper and working classes. The latter had work – if they were fortunate – the former “had a life,” because they could afford it. This life tended to be private, by definition.

In the emerging information economies of the 20th century, various theories described privacy as control over information about oneself (Parent, 1983), while others defended it as a broader concept crucial for human dignity (Bloustein, 1964), or emphasized the social aspect of it with regards to enabling intimacy (Gerstein, 1978; Inness, 1992).

Throughout their historical mutations, the public and private spheres needed one another like yin and yang. Having a life was a private act, but only if it was publicly earned and respected. This dialectic relationship will always remain. There is no privacy without publicy and vice versa. And yet, while privacy may never go away as a philosophical counterweight to publicy, today it is publicy that counts as the new privilege of the digital upper class. Privacy has been marginalized to the fringes of a society whose modus operandi is based on the very public mechanisms of social sharing. In the digital era, a private life does not exist. Google ergo sum.

The search engine’s recent public stance against the Chinese government, threatening to shut down all its China operations after Gmail accounts of Chinese activists had been hacked, highlights this new power structure and the evolving value of privacy in our ever-connected world. When the privacy of Google’s users was violated, the company decided to respond with a public statement, mounting public pressure to press on an essentially private matter. Good for a company that does not want be evil, many people applauded, but it bore a certain irony that Google acted as de facto digital state with its own foreign policy. Isn’t Google, after all, built on the very principle of making private data public? Isn’t it because of Google’s mission “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” that we have come to terms with the fact that our online lives and afterlives will never be private again and will be perpetually archived in the very public cloud?

In the case of Google vs. China, what was bemoaned as the loss of privacy was in fact the lack of publicy. Privacy is the most precious asset in more or less closed societies in which trust is a scarce resource and true publics don’t exist. But as we live our lives in the openness of the web, isn’t it publicy that we need to enable and protect? An ideal publicy that is so transparent and democratic that it doesn’t need privacy as refuge?

It’s complicated. Stowe Boyd has declared this to be the “Decade of Publicy,” in which he expects “the superimposition of publicy on top of, and partly obscuring, privacy:”

Publicy says that each self exists in a particular social context, and all such contracts are independent. (…) It’s as if we are gaining the ability to see into the ultraviolet and infrared ends of the social spectrum when we are online, and in some contexts we are dropping out yellows or reds. To those tied to the visible color spectrum we are habituated to, this new sort of vision will be ‘irreal.’ But ultraviolet has always existed: we just couldn’t see it before. (…) This will be a fracturing of the premises of privacy, and a slow rejection of the metaphors of shared space. The principles of publicy are derived from the intersection of infinite publics and our shared experience of time online, through media like Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. The innate capability we have to shift in a heartbeat from a given public, and our corresponding persona, to another, is now being accelerated by streaming social tools. This will be the decade when publicy displaces privacy, online and off.

As we struggle to maintain the traditional, monolithic privacy-publicy dichotomy, perhaps we must start using a different terminology altogether and embrace a new concept: sociality. In a hyper-individualized society, sociality is becoming the main object of desire for individuals. Or as Markus Albers puts it in his forthcoming book about what he coins the Meconomy:

The Meconomy does not entail a purely egoistic philosophy. On the contrary, it promotes a new culture of empathy and social engagement. As we increasingly decide for ourselves how, where, and with whom we work, the search for meaning gains more importance. The trend to combine economical with social engagement grows stronger. We want to do good, be happy, and make money. In the old patriarchal, hierarchical, and inflexible working world, these aims were often mutually exclusive. In the Meconomy, their combination is almost a precondition for success.”

The semantic coincidence is telling. “Me” desires “Meaning.” As much as publicy needs privacy and vice versa, the “Meconomy” needs the “Meaning Economy” – as its co-evolutionary, symbiotic partner. With meaning emerging as the core currency of all market interactions (because it is ultimately what consumers buy; and friends, fans, and followers buy into), people, organizations, and brands that provide meaning will be the power players of the new Me(aning) Economy – brands like Apple, conferences like TED, contests like the Olympic Games, sports clubs like FC Barcelona, media organizations like NPR, non-profits like UNICEF, and, yes, politicians like Obama.

Sociality may succeed privacy because it is a critical precondition for meaning. To be meaningful, meaning needs to be shared, and sharing can only occur in open social settings. Open social settings, however, by definition, compromise privacy, in all its four textbook modes (solitude, intimacy, anonymity, and reserve). Meaning means giving things a name, making sense of “Black Swans,” unexpected events. In other words: Only an event that becomes a story (which still is the most powerful social media of all times, a true evergreen on the social web!) is meaningful.

Thus, it makes sense to replace the strict privacy-publicy opposition with a multi-layered continuum along progressive levels of sociality. Sociality may turn out to be a much better variable for describing and regulating our digital lives. The question then no longer is how private we can be, but how social we want to be. Instead of privacy settings, we should speak of sociality settings: The maximum number of friends we want to have; and through which channels we want to ‘socialize’ our contents etc. Privacy understood as sociality (as an enabling and not a defensive right) grants us the ability to control who knows what about us and who has access to us, and thereby allows us to vary our social interactions with different people so that we can control our various social relationships at different levels of intimacy.

This new sociality is most visibly manifest in online social networks. It is worth noting that these not only mirror the mechanisms of offline social interactions but actually provide users with more control over their privacy (or sociality) than they would ever have in the physical world. On Facebook and other networks, you can pick and choose the people you want to meet and share ‘presence’ with; in a restaurant, bar, and other public spaces, you can’t. Exclusivity in the real world needs to be earned, whereas online it is a given.

Bill Thompson pledges we should embrace the new liberties that come with this new radical transparency:

The enlightenment idea of privacy is breaking apart under the strain of new technologies, social tools and the emergence of the database state. We cannot hold back the tide, but we can use it as an opportunity to rethink what we understand by ‘personality,’ how we engage and interact with others and where the boundaries can be put between the public and private. Those of us who are ahead of the curve when it comes to the adoption and use of technologies that undermine the old model of privacy have much to teach those who will come after us, and can offer advice and support to those who might be unhappy to have their movements, eating habits, friendships and patterns of media consumption made available to all. But every Twitterer, Tumblr, Dopplr or Brightkite user is sharing more data with more people than even the FBI under Hoover or the Stasi at the height of its powers could have dreamed of. And we do so willingly, hoping to benefit in unquantifiable ways from this unwarranted – in all senses – disclosure. I’ll argue that we are in the vanguard of creating not just new forms of social organisation but new ways of being human.

All this openly shared user data represents not only an enourmous amount of social capital but also a huge collective leap of faith. Whether the big digital platforms and ecosystems will honor this trust to maintain civic publics or if they will choose to exploit it for (private) economic reasons, at any price, will be one of the defining moments of this young decade and the most impactful decision it will have to make. Control (as the catalyst of privacy) is good, but trust (as the catalyst of sociality) is better. We can afford to lose our privacy, but we will not survive the loss of sociality.

[image: Geekologie]

Say What? Contest Opens Today

Editor’s note: Deb Levine is a 2009 PopTech Social Innovation Fellow (watch her PopTech talk) working on innovative tech solutions to sex education and disease prevention.

My organization, ISIS, Inc., just launched an awesome contest with Funny Or Die, SayNow, and MTV (special thanks to Jason Rzepka, PopTech Board member who works on MTV’s A Thin Line campaign, for the help).

Say What?!?!? is a contest where youth aged 15-21 call (310) 736-6760 and record the craziest (or most awesome) stuff adults are telling them about sex.

Sex Advice from Adults from SayWhat Contest


Have teens you know enter – they can win a walk-on part in a Funny Or Die video. (Ask them, they’ll know it’s cool.) They can check it out at saywhatcontest.org.

The short story is that young people want their sex information and education from trusted adults, but because adults are kinda embarrassed about the topic, they may ad lib a bit and not provide accurate, relevant sex information to our youth.

Pass along the video above and the widget below:

Official contest rules at saywhatcontest.org; winners announced February 12th and winning video premieres February 26th in San Francisco.

FLAP Bags to Haiti; Dr. Serena Koenig on Health Care in Haiti

Very soon, we will ask for your help as we send FLAP (Flexible Light And Power) portable light bags with a solar panel, an LED, and a USB charger to relief efforts in Haiti.

The FLAP bags are a prototype off-grid light solution (video below) that can be used in undeveloped areas and emergency situations:

If you are willing to help, please leave us a comment or send us an e-mail: hello [at] poptech [dot] org (Find out more about the bag in the FLAP FAQ and PopTech Hub FLAP group.)

At PopTech 2006, Director of Haiti programs for Partners in Health Dr. Serena Koenig told us why she believes equal lives deserve equal treatment. Her ideas for addressing global inequalities in health care are more relevant than ever.

Watch Serena Koenig at PopTech 2006 on Haiti and health care:

You can donate to PIH’s work in Haiti online.

For Haiti coverage, we continue to follow PopTech Social Innovation Fellows Erik Hersman and Ory Okolloh’s Ushahidi (crisis-mapping software) site: haiti.ushahidi.com

Ushahidi Hait

Expect more updates soon on the FLAP bags and how you can help.

Please leave us a comment if you have ideas for applications of the FLAP bag and ways to use them in Haiti or would like to be involved.