From Wired Magazine:
SAN JOSE, California -- A South African foundation and a Brazilian engineer joined three Americans Thursday as recipients of the first Tech Museum of Innovation Awards.
The awards, established by San Jose's Tech Museum, in conjunction with Applied Materials and Santa Clara University, are intended to reward technological innovation that specifically benefits poor and underdeveloped pockets of humanity.
The five winners each received a prize of $50,000.
Freeplay Foundation, a 3-year-old South African organization, won in the Education category for its work in using wind-up and solar-powered radios to help Africans gain access to educational information.
The other winners were Brazil's Fabio de Oliveira Rosa, the founder of IDEAAS (Economic Development); Joseph DeRisi, a UC San Francisco biochemistry professor (Health); Dr. Betsy Dresser, director of the Audubon Nature Institute in Louisiana (Environment); and Chaz Holder, president of CZBioMed in North Carolina (Equality).
"I was genuinely surprised and absolutely delighted," said Kristine Pearson, director of the Freeplay Foundation. "I think (the awards are) fantastic and very well put together.
"Most of the world lives in poverty. Technology has to benefit humanity at large," she said.
That's the idea, according to Peter Giles, president of the Tech Museum. To motivate the innovators to innovate for reasons other than making a buck or two. "Technology benefiting humanity" is the award program's slogan.
"Our goal was to recognize ways in which technology was being used to help in these areas (of the five categories) and other areas, so that we would encourage more people to address the important problems facing humanity," Giles said.
The Tech awards were inspired by The Millennium Project of the American Council for the United Nations University, and its sponsors hope that they will come to be recognized globally.
"We want to build a strong foundation, so that years from now, these awards will start to become like the Nobel Prize," said Giles. "We want to see it develop to the point where it could stimulate people from all over the world to use technology in a way that will address humanity’s greatest challenges.
"This awards program focuses on the application of technology to important human problems. The award finalists have to actually have demonstrated and done significant benefits to humanity," Giles said. "Secondly, we are not aware of the another award program that looks globally to the role of technology."
Fabio de Oliveira Rosa's project would certainly fit Giles' criteria of applying technology to solve a human problem. His low-cost electrification project, IDEAAS, has helped people in rural Brazil turn barren landscape into arable land.
"These awards and all the programs are very important," de Oliveira Rosa said. "I'm very fond of technology and it's very exciting to see how technology can be applied and integrated with science in helping humankind."
He said he plans to use the money to help raise funds to fight poverty in other Third World countries.
Likewise, DeRisi's Health prize will be used to expand microarray technology research that makes the under-funded malaria treatment throughout Africa more available.
"I didn't expect to win," DeRisi said. "My main goal was to raise an awareness of malaria and reach the public eye. Being the winner is just added bonus."
Despite being in its first year, the Tech Museum competition drew 390 applications from 50 countries. From that group, 25 finalists were selected.
"I think it just turned out to be terrific. It turned out to be more than what we expected," said Jim Morgan, CEO of Applied Materials. "One of our purposes is to help provide information to everyone. By publicizing these ideas, they will spread quickly, and it will help more people around the world faster."
The number of competitors challenged the jury.
"The nominees were very inspiring as a group, and there's tremendous diversity of the ideas in innovations," said Jim Koch, director of the Santa Clara University's Center of Science, Technology and Society. "So, the process was a very arduous one and took a great deal of time."
Koch said that the judging focused on the urgency of the problem addressed by the technology and how replicable or inspiring it is to others.
"It wasn't about technology per se. It's about the linkage between urgent human social problems and technology, and the ability to deploy it," Koch said. "We're very enthusiastic about this. It's a transition to look at how technology benefits humanity rather than how it creates wealth, which I think is very important."
To ensure impartiality, the judging panel was formed by a group of Santa Clara University professors as well as people outside the university.
"We assure that we have a diversity in expertise, operate independently and share common rubrics," said Koch.
Those who did not receive the awards were still happy to be part of the event.
"It's wonderful just being here and meeting with these people," said Geoffrey Pawlicki, a representative of the Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation. "Most people think technology like the Internet will isolate them from others, but we can see here that it brings people together."