PopTech Blog

World AIDS Day 2009: An Update on PopTech's Project Masiluleke

Editor’s note: Leetha Filderman is the Director of the PopTech Accelerator. For World AIDS day today, she gives an update on Project Masiluleke, the collaborative PopTech mobile health project. More details in these Project Masiluleke videos and look for more updates on this blog in coming months.

Project Masiluleke, a signature program of the PopTech Accelerator, has been sending HIV/AIDS awareness messaging in South Africa since October 1, 2008. Designed as a large-scale mobile health initiative, the project has been making steady strides since its launch at PopTech 2008.

Today, and every day, the project sends about 1 million Please Call Messages (PCMs) throughout South Africa, directing citizens to the National AIDS Helpline for advice, support, counseling and referral to HIV/AIDS services in their community.

Project Masiluleke

In partnership with African-based mobile service provider, MTN, Project Masiluleke has tagged 329,362,518 PCMs since its launch at PopTech 2008. These PCMs have been instrumental in driving over 1.2 Million calls to the National Aids Helpline over the past 13 months.

In addition to the “call to action” PCM phase of Project Masiluleke, we are expanding TxtAlert, a text message-based appointment reminder system that reminds patients of clinic appointments and other types of treatment reminders. Based on the early success of pilot projects using Txt Alert, Edendale Hospital – one of the largest public hospitals in South Africa – will implement TxtAlert in the HIV Antiretroviral and TB clinics in the early part of next year.

While mass messaging and treatment reminders have made an impact, the AIDS epidemic continues to cause enormous suffering and premature loss of life throughout South Africa and many other parts of the world. Globally, the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS prevents millions from learning their HIV status or connecting to treatment early in the course of infection.

In the coming year, project partners will continue to actively explore and test a breakthrough distributed diagnostics model: low cost HIV self-testing backed by mobile counseling support. The concept of self-testing has been greeted with enthusiasm by the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health, the South African HIV Clinicians Society, and other leaders in global healthcare. And the most important endorsement of our work comes from those facing the realities and challenges of AIDS on a daily basis. Feedback from focus groups of high-risk men consistently confirm that individuals are eager to have access to HIV self-test kits, prefer mobile interactions over face-to-face counseling and feel empowered by the ability to test privately. We will keep all of you posted as this work progresses!

The work of Project Masiluleke exemplifies PopTech’s commitment to creating impact through highly collaborative, cross-sector partnerships. For over three years our core partners – iTeach, Praekelt Foundation and frog design – have worked with us to explore and create innovative approaches in response to the challenges of HIV/AIDS and TB. We are also grateful for the support of MTN South Africa for extending their commitment to the Project Masiluleke for a second year.

To learn more about Project Masiluleke please visit the Project Masiluleke section of the PopTech site.

PopTech 2009: Ashley Merryman: Stop praising kids and put them to bed

Editor’s note: In all the excitement of liveblogging PopTech 2009, this post was written and wasn’t published. We apologize for the oversight, and extend our congratulations to Ashley and Po on their book, Nurtureshock: New Thinking About Children, being included on SEED Magazine’s “Books to Read (and Give) Now” list published today. Below is Ethan’s liveblogging of Ashley’s PopTech talk; video of her talk will be available in 2010.

Ashley Merryman

has been a litigation attorney, a speechwriter for the Clinton administration and director of a school tutoring project. And she’s a journalist, with work in the Washington Post and the National Catholic Reporter. Two years ago, she began collaborating with journalist Po Bronson on an award-winning series of articles, blogposts and a book titled
Nurture Shock. The series challenges thinking about the best ways to raise and nurture children, challenging preconceptions with emerging science. Andrew Zolli discovered her work through an influential article in New York Magazine.

Merryman tells us that the article she and Po were supposed to write for New York Magazine was on ambition. Interviewing architects and other overachievers, they told her, “I’ve always known I was ambitious – I had two part time jobs when I was two years old!” They embraced the folklore version of ambition.

She wondered, what if they were right? What’s the key to motivating a kid? Her breakthrough was finding, and sharing with Po, a study by Carol Dweck, a social scientist then based at Columbia on the effects of praise and motivation on kids. The study examined a group of randomly assigned fifth graders. They were given an intelligence test. At the end of the test, half were told they’d done really well and were told " you must be really smart." The other set were praised and told, “you must have worked really hard.”

Then the kids were given a choice between two puzzles – an easy and a hard one. The majority of the kids praised for intelligence picked the easy one, while the majority of the ones praised for effort chose the hard one, the one they were told they’d learn from. Kids were then given a hard test, one designed for seventh graders. The kids who had been praised for intelligence were sweating and anxious as they bombed it, while the kids praised for hard work also bombed, but enjoyed the experience. A final test was the same difficulty as the initial test. The kids praised for intelligence had their scores drop 20% from the initial exam. Kids praised for hard work had a 30% increase. This effect was clearly demonstrated and linked to a single sentence of feedback.

Merryman wasn’t excited when she read this study. She was “terrified and angry”. The study was published in 1988. “If I’d known this, I would have done some things differently.” Merryman has been tutoring kids in LA for years, and “knew” that the right thing to do was to praise and reward these kids who’d have tough lives.

Parents believe it’s important to praise children for intelligence. California developed a task force on self-esteem, believing that we can “boost self-esteem and the confidence and intelligence will come along for the ride.” But the academic research is weak. A researcher examined may of the 15,000 studies on self esteem and intelligence conducted since the 1970s. He concluded that only 200 represented real science – the rest had interviewed people with high self estreem, who were happy to tell researchers that they were great people. The other studies asked their roommates and friends. And they concluded that self-esteem does not encourage achievement – it may retard it, because if you tell someone they’re great, they don’t improve.

“Kids wrapped in bubble wrap of praise and support.” But this isn’t always the right thing to do. Kids want people to care about them, not always to praise them.

What can we do? Merryman suggests we focus on a different, but related problem: sleep. 60% of high school students report extreme daytime sleepiness. One third of kids admit to sleeping in class once a week. Technology and media have an effect, but so does school busing – we send kids long distances to school on the 7am bus. As a result, 5% of kids get 8 hours of sleep. And growing teens need 9.25 hours. Below 8 hours of sleep, kids suffer double the mean level of clinical depression. And they perform more poorly – a study that asked kids to get half an hour of sleep less for three nights showed that sixth graders performed as fourth graders based on that very modest change in sleep schedules. On the average, A students get 15 minutes more sleep than B students – “every fifteen minutes counts”.

A study that encouraged college kids to go without sleep discovered that sleep is directly connected to emotion. Sleep deprived kids remembered 80% of depressing words in a list of words to memorize and only 30% of neutral ones. Sleep deprivation hits the memory more heavily than the parts of the brain that govern fight or flight – teen moodiness may actually be sleep deprivation.

Letting kids sleep more can work. Edina, MN moved its start time an hour later – the top 10% of graduating class went up 200 SAT points on a 1600 point scale. Furthermore, students reported that their quality of life improved. In Kentucky, a similar effort led to a major reduction in car accidents. “Sleep is a health issue. We can change kids’ lives – do we have the political force to make it happen?”

An Ohio Thanksgiving: Food Needs as Opportunities

Mark Rembert and Taylor Stuckert are 2009 PopTech Social Innovation Fellows working on the Energize Clinton County project. You can watch their PopTech presentation video here; donate to the Grow Food, Grow Hope project detailed below and follow their work on Twitter @growfoodandhope.

Mark Rembert and Taylor Stuckert
Authors of this post, Fellows Mark Rembert and Taylor Stuckert, speaking at PopTech 2009.

As we celebrated our first Thanksgiving in Clinton County since the departure of DHL, the community was brought together around a deep sense of gratitude for each other and this place we call home. Thanksgiving also brought with it a reminder of the fragility of our community and economy. With the unemployment rate in Clinton County reaching 15% this month, and with winter approaching, the community’s focus has been fixed on confronting the unfamiliar challenges of serving victims of a severe economic downturn.

There is little doubt that these difficulties will persist locally, and across the country, as the economic downturn worsens in communities of all shapes and sizes. Aside from the obvious economic redevelopment challenges, the deepness of this recession has brought forth deep questions about our pre-conceived notions of us as people, families, and a community.

The most challenging of these questions—which we now confront regularly—are those related to our ability to meet basic needs. For most, providing food for one’s family has always been a given, but as the face of economic distress dramatically shifts, we increasingly encounter individuals and families who must weigh difficult decisions between keeping up with rent or mortgage payments, paying bills, and eating.

This weekend, the New York Times published an extensive article on the rising rate of food stamp use across the country, told from Martinsville, Ohio—a small village, just minutes down the road from Wilmington in Clinton County. The story, written by Jason DeParle with photographs by Robert Gebeloff, features our stark reality: nearly one in eight Americans and one in four children— 36 million Americans, in total— rely on the federal benefits to put food on their table, and that number continues to balloon. An unprecedented number of Americans— about 20,000 — become eligible every day for the benefits.

What the story did not tell is that the challenge of increasing access to food to those under economic distress in Clinton County has been embraced as an opportunity. As Michael Pollan so powerfully shared last month at PopTech in Camden, we are in desperate need of rethinking our relationship to food. In Clinton County, we have heeded this call by making the most of our rich agricultural heritage to reshape the way we think about food while meeting local needs.

Earlier this year, Wilmington College—a Quaker, liberal arts college in Wilmington—launched a program with AmeriCorps VISTA to increase access to fresh, local food for low-income families and individuals. The program—Grow Food, Grow Hope—has, in its very short history, asserted itself as a shining model for meeting food needs while building capacity for local food development.

Grow Food, Grow Hope

Last summer, the initiative hosted 20 small-plot gardens for economically distressed families, and provided mentoring and education on growing and cooking fresh produce. The college also grew more than 10,000 lbs of produce on its college farm which was delivered to local food pantries.

Grow Food, Grow Hope

In the coming year, our friends at Grow Food, Grow Hope will continue working to bring Electronic Benefit Transfers (EBT) to the Clinton County Farmers’ Market, increase the scale of its community garden project, and develop home gardens through a backyard gardening program.

Grow Food, Grow Hope

There is little doubt that the statistics that draw the outline of poverty in our community will continue to worsen. Yet, as we have already experienced in Clinton County, these challenges provide us with new opportunities to think about innovative solutions that meet our most basic human needs and lay a foundation for a new economic future.

Support the PopTech Social Innovation Fellows

In the U.S., today is known as “Black Friday,” a day of shopping. Many are also spending time today supporting projects and organizations doing important work.

We hope you will consider supporting the amazing PopTech Social Innovation Fellows this season.

Ways to support their projects are below, and leave us a comment if you have questions—we’ll help you find ways to help the Fellows!

2009 PopTech Fellows
2009 PopTech Social Innovation Fellows, cc photo by whiteafrican.

Hope Phones

HopePhones.org supporters can donate via the Web site and request phone drive supplies.


For those who’d like to be involved in FrontlineSMS:Medic (e.g. software development, hardware, funding), please use their site contact page.

Catapult Design

Catapult Design is running a “Startup Campaign” for seed funding.

And, Catapult has just received a matching grant from ASME/Engineering For Change for contributions received — so donations will be doubled! (Start here.)

Also, Catapult has two private events in the Bay Area in December for individuals who’d like to play a role in building Catapult. For more information on those, contact Heather directly heather [at] catapultdesign [dot] org.


Vittana’s lending page has in-depth student profiles.

You can purchase student loans as gifts for friends and family during the holiday season.

You can donate directly using the links below:

Donate to I-MAK

Donate to Project H Design

Donate to Komaza

Donate to Energize Clinton County

To be involved with Movirtu, send an email to info [at] movirtu [dot[ com.

To be involved with Re:char, use their contact form.

Let us know if you have questions in the comments.

Thanks for supporting the excellent work of the 2008 and 2009 PopTech Social Innovation Fellows.

Contagious Gratitude: What are you thankful for?

Editor’s note: This guest post was originally scheduled to be posted yesterday—we are thankful for Frank’s post below, and hope everyone celebrating Thanksgiving had a lovely holiday. Read more below about ways we, as a community, can create ripples of thanks.

With Thanksgiving and the holiday season fast approaching, it is a time for reflection and gratitude for many. If this year was tougher than usual due to illness, physical or mental pain or financial struggle, it’s even more important to focus on what you have.

thankful for

Studies by thought leaders Robert Emmons at University of California Davis and Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami have shown that gratitude is the “forgotten factor” in happiness. Through highly focused studies they shed some scientific light on the nature of gratitude, its causes, and its potential consequences for human health and well-being.

As a co-founder of Shiny Heart Ventures, I recently launched Thankfulfor.com, a social online gratitude journal providing a forum for expressing gratitude routinely as a foundation for happiness and well-being. People come to the site and post what they are thankful for to their personal journal of thanks. People can also choose to send each Thankfulfor post to their social network on Twitter, extending the good vibes far and wide.

We believe that through the use of social networks we can help spread more positive feelings and in some way, help improve many people’s daily lives. This approach has been validated by 2009 PopTech speaker James Fowler, professor at University of California San Diego, who studies the intersection of social and natural sciences and referred to this phenomena as “emotional stampedes”.

Emotional states like happy, unhappy and neutral spread through online networks despite location. For instance, an overseas friend who shares their thanks for a delicious home cooked meal can inspire you to experience similar feelings of joy after reading their post and reflect on things in your own life. Through Thankfulfor.com and its growing community, we hope to inspire waves of contagious gratitude moving through people’s personal networks.

For the holiday months of November and December, Thankfulfor.com is hosting a Gratitude Challenge inviting everyone to try Thankfulfor routinely and then report back with stories of how the experience may have impacted their lives. We’ve already received this thoughtful story of the use of Thankfulfor in a preschool by a teacher in Boca Raton, Florida.

We invite you to give it a try and send us your unique experiences of Thankfulfor in your life.

Movember: Growing Mustaches for a Good Cause

You may have noticed certain avatars around the Internet looking a bit more hirsute than usual. While it’s true that winter’s coming and folks tend to get a little scruffier to stay warm, there’s actually a method to this mustache madness, or at least a good reason for the facial hair season.


We’re in the midst of “Movember”, an international effort to draw attention to men’s health issues, specifically prostate and testicular cancer by encouraging folks to grow mustaches. Movember participants are encouraged to register, then grow and photograph their mustaches as they unfurl. The ability to form teams adds a competitive edge, and women are encourage to join in the fun as “Mo Sistas” (that’s my company BatchBlue’s team BatchStash up there and yes, we are looking good!)

Started in Australian in 2003, Movember had nearly 180,000 participants last year. They’ve partnered with the Prostate Cancer Foundation and Live Strong (Lance Armstrong’s foundation), who split the funds evenly at the conclusion of the event.

So how does sporting big, beautiful mustaches help with fundraising? Well, just the sight of a mustache on a ordinarily nude lip can spark a conversation with friends and co-workers. From the Movember website:

“As an organization, we have a goal to change the attitude men hold toward their health. The moustache is the symbol by which we generate the necessary awareness and funds in order to be able to achieve this goal. It is a simple and effective way to achieve our number one objective – awareness.  The appearance of a new moustache opens up conversations, making the Movember participants a walking billboard, promoting men’s health for the whole month.” 

The rise in popularity of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have helped give the project even more exposure. You can follow the hashtag or official Movember account on Twitter, join their Facebook group, or check out their Flickr stream showcasing mustaches from past years’ events.

But it’s not all fun and facial fur. So far this month, Movember’s raised over 20 million dollars internationally — that’s a lot of mustache wax!   

If you or someone you know has been affected by prostate or testicular cancer, please consider donating to this cause. If you just want to come out in support of mustaches, there will be Movember Gala Parties taking place across the globe in early December.

Remember: sometimes a mustache isn’t just a mustache. It’s an attractive facial hair embellishment that can save lives.

VIDEO: Anthony Doerr and Robert Guest on America and Migrations

Three new videos this week, two from writer Anthony Doerr (you can find his books on Powell’s Books) and one from Robert Guest, the Lexington columnist for The Economist.

Fiction writer and memoirist Anthony Doerr is the author of The Shell Collector, About Grace, and Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World. Here’s “Am I Still Here?”, about how networked technologies can alienate us from nature and the things that matter most. Read the text on the Orion site.

And in his beautiful “Butterflies on a Wheel,” Doerr’s narrator recounts having “traveled the great unspooling latticework of American interstates,” leading to a chance encounter between migrants in western Wyoming.

“What if the torrents of animals migrating past us every year left behind traces of their roots?…The skies above our fields would become a loom, the continents would be bundled in thread.”


Anthony has essays in McSweeney’s #32 and the upcoming #33, a full color newspaper.

Locate his upcoming appearances on his personal site.

Next summer, Scribner will publish his fourth book, Memory Wall, a collection of six stories.

Robert Guest covers American politics and culture as the Lexington columnist for The Economist. Despite some predictions otherwise, Guest suggests that America is uniquely positioned to be the world’s next hyperpower because the country has an unparalleled ability to attract immigrants from all over the world.

“America’s greatest strength, in my view, is that people want to live here.”


Learn about talent clustering through the CEOs for Cities Talent Dividend Tour.

Contribute to better cities with the just-announced Code For America.

Read Robert’s “Coming Out of the Dark” essay from The Economist The World in 2010 print edition.

What do you think about these videos? Let us know in the comments.

PopTech Part of White House "Educate to Innovate" Campaign

This morning, President Obama announced Educate to Innovate:

“… a campaign to improve the participation and performance of America’s students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). This campaign will include efforts not only from the Federal Government but also from leading companies, foundations, non-profits, and science and engineering societies to work with young people across America to excel in science and math.”

The “Educate to Innovate” campaign page lists the goals:

- Increase STEM literacy so that all students can learn deeply and think critically in science, math, engineering, and technology.
- Move American students from the middle of the pack to top in the next decade.
- Expand STEM education and career opportunities for underrepresented groups, including women and girls.

The President also announced partnerships with private companies, non-profits, universities, and foundations, citing an initial private sector investment of $260 million, which he expects to grow.

PopTech is partnering with Time Warner Cable (TWC) as part of the “Educate to Innovate” campaign for TWC’s “Connect a Million Minds” initiative.

We are excited to have PopTech’s video archive used to promote STEM skills with a younger audience, and this effort joins our work on the new PopTech Science Fellows program (you can nominate a Science Fellow).

What PopTech videos in science, technology, engineering, and math would you recommend we include in our offering? Let us know in the comments.

Crowdsourcing Government Listening

The federal government is just beginning to use social media to talk to citizens. What’s needed now, says Web entrepreneur Anil Dash, is a way for government to use social media to listen.

Anil Dash at Web 2.0 Expo
Anil Dash at Web 2.0 Expo, photo by James Duncan Davidson and courtesy O’Reilly Media and TechWeb.

Expert Labs—one of the more intriguing ideas to emerge from this past week’s Web 2.0 Expo in Manhattan—is a new nonprofit that will seek to bridge that gap. Its mission is to use the Web and expert online communities to crowdsource solutions to social problems that state or federal lawmakers either cannot or will not devise by themselves: Dash, a co-founder of Six Apart, was tapped to lead the new effort, a joint project of The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the MacArthur Foundation.

Dash says he sees Expert Labs as a way to make sure the smartest people (whether or not they’ve been elected) are always, at least virtually, in the room. “If we can bring the right resources to bear and sufficient numbers of the right experts to help solve our social problems, there really is an order of magnitude increase in the types of problems we’re going to be able to solve,” Dash told Web 2.0 conferees while unveiling the project during a keynote address.

Dash says he is clear that more brains are required in Washington. “No matter how smart the policymakers are in our government—there are many brilliant, passionate people in government—there’s always going to be more experts outside the Beltway,” Dash said. He also says he’s seeking to crowdsource innovation because in Washington, there’s often a lack of quality deliberation. “The tactics [government has used so far] have been holding a closed-door meeting with a half-dozen people for an hour and saying, ‘Well, we’ve talked to the industry experts and now we know how to make good policy,’” Dash said. “But you and I know the Web has changed the way that works. If I can ask my friends on Twitter what pair of headphones I should buy; if I can ask as a business person on Facebook, ‘What’s your response as a consumer of our product?’ then why shouldn’t the government be able to ask those same kinds of questions when shaping policy?”

Since it was unveiled November 18, the project has been getting mixed reviews, the most favorable from the Gov 2.0 crowd, which sees Expert Labs as a way to invite more input into the governmental process. But “smarter” doesn’t always mean inclusive. And if Dash’s effort is mostly aimed at tapping AAAS’s 2,000-plus members, what about the wisdom of the larger crowd? If the expertise being tapped by Expert Labs is limited to the 161-year-old AAAS, what’s to differentiate Expert Labs from any other higher-profile, closed-loop lobbying group in Washington trying to use social media to boost the clout of its members on Capitol Hill?

Further, crowdsourcing headphone recommendations is hardly the same as asking your company’s expert policy group or private engineering create-your-own-social-network service Ning for detailed solutions to the nation’s failing healthcare system, or for the best ways to wind down the war in Afghanistan without creating whole new sets of security threats and political minefields at home and abroad. Indeed, governing is inherently more complex than product innovation; smart isn’t always fact-based, nor wise—nor governable. And to be sure, scientific expertise can inform policy but leadership has always been far more of an art than a science.

Indeed, what’s most intriguing about Dash’s initiative is that it’s an ambitious, well-intentioned effort, one of many, that is seeking to invent new ways to use the Web to boost citizen participation, chiefly from highly specialized communities that haven’t always been tapped for their knowledge. Viva the experiment; after the last eight years, Washington can do with a more enlightened government. But beware the Web’s power, at least in these early days of Gov 2.0, to reward meritocracy and technological prowess at the risk of overlooking those without or less wired. Democracy has always, in theory, sought to raise all boats. Here’s hoping Dash’s experiment—and others like it using social media—also will raise tough questions about elitism and exclusivity, the kind that all of us living in democratic societies will, at some point, have to resolve.

FLAP Bag Update: Mozambique, Kenya, and Haiti

Editor’s note: PopTech staff Coco Rojas gives an update on the FLAP (Flexible Light And Power) solar bag project and who is helping us test it right now below—FLAP is a collaborative effort from PopTech, Timbuk2, and Portable Light Project. You can find out more about the project’s history and field work on the FLAP FAQ page (including how to order the bag) and join the FLAP project on our community site, the Hub.

FLAP received a tremendous response at the PopTech 2009 conference, and we are incredibly grateful to all the PopTech’ers who offered to help field test the bag. (Let us know in the comments or tweet @poptech if you would like to help too.)

You may have read Linda Raftree’s post last week on her FLAP testing in Mozambique. We were thrilled to hear yesterday that her FLAP bag helped her finish Bryan Mealer’s latest: (See tweet below.)

@meowtree tweet

Our partners at Timbuk2 were instrumental in getting FLAPs to Daraja Academy, the first free secondary school in East Africa.

Thanks to Laura Stachel from WECARE Solar for connecting us with Maison de Naissance a birthing home in Haiti. This week six FLAPs made their way to Haiti to be tested by mobile healthcare workers.

We will continue to post findings and footage on this blog and on our Web site. For those of you would like to get more involved in the project, you can visit PopTech’s FLAP project page on the PopTech Hub, our social network and collaboration space.

I’ll see you there!