Santa Clara University

STS Nexus

Making the Circle Bigger- Technology and the Greater Good

James L. Koch
with an Overview of The Tech Laureates Venture Network by Howard Neff

Technology and the Special Problem of Poverty in our Networked World

Globalization has dramatically increased the flows of commerce, capital, technology, and people. It has also increased the importance of global infor­mation and communication networks as a means of coordinating complex systems of supply and distri­bution across open market economies. For organi­zations in the developed world, modern information and communications technology (ICT) and efficient global transportation networks have reduced trans­action costs, lowered production and distribution costs, and increased returns to scale. Entrepreneur­ial efforts in a number of developing economies have also benefited from our networked world through increases in the cross-cultural flow of knowledge and technology transfers.

Beyond the G-7 countries, a growing diaspora has catalyzed knowledge-sharing commu­nities that transcend global boundaries and yielded tremendous economic development benefits for Tai­wan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, India, and China.1 These countries have succeeded in transitioning from initial advantages in low cost pro­duction, to leveraging this advantage with the added benefit of access to the large and growing markets associated with rising per capita incomes, to com­bining these advantages with increasing know how in the development of world class technologies. Their economies, along with those of upstart examples like Ireland and Israel, have joined the G-7 countries on the world stage of nations that are benefiting from advances in science and acceleration in the commer­cialization of technology. They stand in marked con­trast to most of the broader global landscape.

In a May 2002 speech to mayors from devel­oped and developing nations, World Bank President James Wolfenshohn underscored the stark disparities that exist in our world.2

“We start, of course, with a world that is six billion people of whom five billion live in de­veloping countries. It is not an equal world. It is a world in which half of the population lives on under $2 a day, and in which one fifth of the population lives on under $1 a day. It is world in which the one billion people in the developed world have eighty percent of the income, and in which the five sixths of the world that lives in the poor coun­tries have 20 percent of the income. It is a world in which poor people are concerned about living; they are concerned about all the same things that everyone in this room is con­cerned about. They are concerned about liv­ing in safety. They are concerned about edu­cating their children. They are concerned if they are women about being beaten and about having opportunities. They are con­cerned about injustice and they are concerned about corruption.

We studied 60,000 poor people, and very few of them mention money. They mention a desire to have life, and few of them mention charity. The three billion people in the world that live on under $2 a day are not looking for charity, they are looking for an opportu­nity. They are not looking for someone to give them a handout, they are looking to try and help themselves to create a better life. This study moved me deeply because it meant for me that the place to solve the issues was, of course, with macroeconomic plans and giant programs, but most significantly to solve issues at the level of people . . .

In the next twenty-five years the world grows from six to eight billion people, and all but fifty million people go to developing coun­tries. So that on the twenty-fifth meeting of the Glocal Forum, someone will say—the world today has eight billion people. Seven billion of them live in developing countries and one billion of them live in developed countries. . . And what will they be saying about poverty? Will they be saying that the share of the wealth is now more proportion­ally distributed? Will they be saying that four billion people live on under $2 a day? If they are saying that, I can assure you there will not be peace in the world in which these people are living. . . The issue of poverty is really the issue of peace, and the way to deal with it is not in theoretical discussions, it is at the face of the provision of services and at the face of the creation of communities.”

As Wolfensohn’s comments on world poverty suggest, the urgent challenges of our world will grow in scale and complexity.  Intractable poverty, disease, and illiteracy, for example, can contribute to a “vi­cious cycle” by undermining the political stability of developing nations and their capacity to create viable foundations for sustainable growth. Similarly, in an interconnected world where hedge funds and other global financial instruments sprout like dandelions and high-speed networks facilitate herd-like instincts in electronic trading, unprecedented capital flows add volatility and uncertainty to economic development initiatives. These flows can threaten wider-scale con­tagion as they did in the 1997 Asian financial crisis and, in turn, trigger the macro-economic “prescrip­tions” of higher interest rates and fiscal austerity that have a disproportionately adverse impact on the poor. This further undermines the grass roots capacity build­ing that is essential to economic development (see, for example, Joseph Stiglitz, Globalization and Its Discontents3 ). So it is that the issue of poverty is inter­twined in a larger system that encompasses social and political stability, macroeconomic policy, cross-national institutional arrangements, and peace keeping in our interconnected world.

At the ground level of everyday living, the unmet challenges of poverty tear away at the fabric of a society—undermining human dignity, criminalizing youth, and—in some instances—fanning fundamen­talist hatreds of modernity (see, for example, Thomas L. Friedman, The Lexus and the Olive Tree4 ). Sep­tember 11, 2001 is an indelible reminder that technol­ogy can be appropriated for both good and evil, and that there are no impermeable boundaries in our in­terconnected world. The unmet challenges of poverty undermine peace, security, and freedom for all of hu­manity.  In many respects the Tech Museum Awards are like a clarion call. They celebrate the genius of those who are applying technology to the most urgent of concerns for all of humanity. They are working to make the circle bigger and more inclusive when it comes to utilizing technology to improve the quality of life for all of our brethren.

The Tech Museum Awards

Much like the oil that powers the industrial infrastructures of developed economies, the impact of science and technology on society varies for many rea­sons in different parts of the world and, within na­tions, for different segments of society.  The Tech Museum Awards are about the pioneering work of innovators who are developing and applying advances in science and technology to solve complex and ur­gent problems—in the areas of health, education, equality, economic development, and the environ-ment—wherever they exist in our world. Their work is distinguished by its focus on improving the lot of humankind and, in some instances, the dignity of life itself.

The Laureates for these awards include sci­entists and practitioners in a wide range of fields. They represent a special kind of innovation and entrepre­neurial endeavor. They are all concerned about tech­nology in use, and they envision a world in which the fundamental purpose of science and technology is to serve humanity. Some might be described as social benefit entrepreneurs. Their work has a “double bot­tom line”––a conventional one that seeks sustainable economic viability and success, and a social benefit bottom line. To paraphrase Dickens, mankind is the business of these social benefit innovators and entre­preneurs.

In addition to recognizing and celebrating these innovators, there is a great deal to be learned from their breakthrough thinking in adapting science and technology for the greater good. Theirs are foot­steps in a worthy journey. They bring fresh insights to the urgent concerns of humanity (see Some Lessons Learned From First Year Winners below). Their work is recognized for both its demonstrated impacts and its future promise. Because of the potential for replication or scalability, a Tech Laureates Venture Network program is being initiated this year to fos­ter continued support for promising innovations.

Millennium Summit Development Goals

At the Millennium Summit in September the year 2015. As Table 1 indicates, categories for the 2000––the largest ever gathering of world leaders eight over arching goals were adopted to direct humanitarian efforts of the United Nations throughthe year 2015. As Table 1 indicates, categories for theTech Museum Awards are closely aligned with the Mil-lennium Summit Development Goals.

Table 1 Millennium Summit Development Goals and Tech Musuem  Awards

Millennium Goals

Awards Category

Income Poverty: To decrease by 50 percent the proportion of people in extreme poverty by 2015. (Measures: Percent of population below national poverty line; percent of population below US $1 a day.)

Economic Development

Food Security and Nutrition: To decrease by 50 percent the proportion of people who suffer from hunger by 2015. (Measures: Percent of popula­tion below minimum level of dietary energy consumption [malnutrition]; percent of under­weight under age 5.)


Health and Mortality: To reduce the spread of HIV/ Aids by 2015; to reduce the under 5 mortality rate by two-thirds by 2015.


Reproductive Health: To reduce the maternal mortality rate by three-quarters by 2015; to achieve universal access to safe, reliable contra­ceptive methods by 2015.


Housing and Basic Household Amenities and Facilities: To decrease by 50 percent the propor­tion of people unable to reach or afford safe drinking water by 2015.


Education: To achieve universal access and completion of primary education by 2015.


Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: To eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education by 2005.


Environment: All countries to be implementing a current national strategy for sustainable development by 2005.


The five recognition categories for the Tech Museum Awards grew out of The Millennium Project 5 and its nodes of expert participants in both the devel-oped and developing worlds. This project raised prac-tical “how” questions regarding global challenges such as those highlighted in Table 1. As the examples be-low indicate, science and technology are potential points of leverage for several of these challenging ques-tions.

• How can everyone have sufficient safe water without conflict?

• How can population growth and re-sources be brought into balance?

• How can the threat of new and re-emerg-ing diseases and immune microorganisms be reduced?

• How can growing energy demand be met safely and efficiently?

• How can sustainable development be achieved for all?

• How can globalization and the conver-gence of information technology and communications work for everyone?

• How can scientific and technological breakthroughs be accelerated to improve the human condition?

The imaginative use of extant technologies, political will, and the commitment of individuals, gov­ernments, businesses, and civil society will be vital in marshalling local and global capacities to address ques­tions such as these. In addition, longer-term solutions may necessitate the greater channeling of future sci­entific and technological research in the direction of these vital concerns.

Some Lessons Learned From First Year Winners

A preliminary review of the 25 Tech Museum Award Laureates in 2001 (then called “Finalists”), five for each of the five award categories, provides intriguing clues on how science and technology might play a significantly greater future role in enhancing the quality of life for all. While the Santa Clara Uni­versity Center for Science, Technology, and Society intends to deepen this analysis, some highlights from the inaugural year suggest fruitful avenues for future research and some important guideposts for practice. In particular, the first year’s Laureates highlight the failure of normal market mechanisms to successfully bridge the potential of technology to meet the urgent needs of humanity. They illustrate the important roles of NGOs (Non-Government Organization), govern-ment-sponsored research, and philanthropic organi­zations. They also underscore the insight that can come from adopting alternative world views in rethinking the design of technology, the critical roles of social benefit entrepreneurs, and the need for local capacity building in making technology affordable and useful for those previously excluded from access.

Market Failure

Markets drive expensive science and they also shape the kinds of technology that are devel­oped and commercialized. The Tech Museum Awards recipients followed non-conventional paths. In many instances, they have made up for market failure.

Education: In Africa, the Freeplay Founda­tion overcame the constraints of extreme poverty, illiteracy, and the lack of electric­ity through a creative adaptation of the self-powered radio technology of its parent com­pany, the Freeplay Energy Group. It coupled rugged, simple to use wind-up radios with relevant content in local dialects on AIDS/ HIV, agriculture, current events, and edu­cation.

Economic Development: In Brazil, Fabio Luis de Oliveira Rosa and his colleagues at the Institute for Development of Natural En­ergy and Sustainability developed break­through technologies for generating and dis­tributing electricity to low-density rural ar­eas where poverty and the economics of normal market supply channels precluded electrification. In a nation where 25 million people have no access to electricity, the con­ventional wisdom was that poverty, envi­ronmental degradation, and brutishly harsh living conditions were simply an inevitabil­ity of daily life. Access to low cost electric­ity is key to changing this assumption and the economic viability of rural areas.

Environment: At the Audubon Center for Research on Endangered Species, Betsy Dresser and her colleagues overcame an im­portant obstacle to repopulating endangered species through the application of Assisted Reproduction Technology. Prior work has focused on restoring habitats, but Dresser is attacking the problem of species extinc­tion by applying advanced technology to preserve diverse gene pools and reduce re­productive stress through embryo transfer using in vitro fertilization and maturation. Reducing threats to species extinction is a public good. It is not an area in which pri­vate, commercial market mechanisms work. Fortunately, the Audubon Center for Re­search, with its public and philanthropic support, exists to partially fill the void left by this instance of market failure.

Health: The search for a cure for malaria is another example of market failure. Although this disease is a serious public health threat for 2.4 billion people in 90 countries, these are poor countries, and there has been little market incentive to encourage expensive sci­entific research to find a cure. In a world in which science follows markets, Professor Jo­seph DeRisi at University of California, San Francisco is a social benefit scientist and en­trepreneur. He is applying DNA micro-ar-ray technology to study thousands of genes simultaneously and disseminating informa­tion via the web to greatly reduce the cost and speed the search for new drug therapies for this global health problem. Here again, public and foundation funding is filling the void of market failure—in this instance where those in need of treatment have few if any “economic votes.”

Equality: For amputees, access to prosthetics is limited to those who can afford high cost custom socket designed limbs and regular access to primary health services to inspect for possible infection. For the 25 million people who do not have access to expensive prosthetic limbs, Chaz Holder of CZBioMed developed the Socketless Prosthetic Technol­ogy. These inexpensive, durable, high-qual-ity limbs eliminate the need for customized sockets and require minimal medical follow-up. Because of this they are deployable in poor nations like Sierra Leone, Vietnam, and Afghanistan, where hundreds have been fit­ted. They are improving the mobility and quality of life for men, women, and children with meager means. In this instance the domi­nant technology and economic considerations had previously excluded a large segment of humanity from this “market.” Chaz Holder redefined the market, and made the circle bigger and more inclusive when it came to access to the benefits of technology.

New Organizational Forms

The 25 Laureates reflect a diversity of orga­nizational actors and innovative organizational forms. Given the failure of conventional market-based mod­els, especially in instances where underserved popula­tions lack economic votes (e.g., African villagers) or services involve public goods (e.g., species survival, rural electrification in Brazil), it is not surprising that the private sector provided leadership for only 24 per­cent (6) of last year’s Laureates. The source of cre­ative imagination was much more likely to be found beyond the corporate sphere: in non-profit organiza­tions (8 Laureates, 32 percent of the total); in hybrid organizations (7 Laureates, 28 percent of the total) that included public-private partnerships (2) and a new type of NGO that combined technological innovation with advocacy (5). In addition, university based labs were the organizational locus for four (sixteen per­cent) of last year’s Laureates.

While it is beyond the scope of this article to provide a more refined analysis, the variety of organi­zational types represented amongst Laureates raises interesting questions about the kinds of settings in which technology is most likely to take root in ben­efiting previously unmet needs. In this regard, hybrid structures—public-private partnerships and NGOs that embrace technological innovation as a focal strat-egy—may be especially promising areas for explora­tion. In addition, universities are likely to play an increasingly important role in diffusing basic and ap­plied research, in challenging assumptions about tech­nology design, and in developing more imaginative business models for better serving the needs of all of humanity.6 Public-private partnerships may also be key to mobilizing global science and technology to address the economic development needs of poor na­tions, environmental degradation, illiteracy, demo­graphic stress, and betterment in the lives of those who suffer from human disease, inequality, and poverty. In addition, the important role of “social benefit en­trepreneurs” cannot be overstated.

Social Benefit Entrepreneurs

Many of the Laureates for these awards have labored for years at the ground level of humanity’s concerns. They have a deep understanding of social context and cultures in which problems are embed­ded. They are as likely to work backward from a societal or human concern to what is both technologically feasible and culturally appropriate, as they are to be guided by the frontiers of science. Much like corporations have specialists for penetrating ver­tical markets, Tech Award Laureates often have domain expertise that grows out of combining an ap­preciation of the social and cultural context of the problems with real genius in developing and applying solutions from a range of scientific, technological, and design possibilities. In the future we should seek bet­ter ways of incubating and supporting the efforts of these “social benefit entrepreneurs.”

Local Capacity Building

Technological imagination characterized all of the 2001 Laureates, but beyond their capacity for invention they were systems thinkers and local capac­ity builders. A “systems approach” is needed for the benefits of modern science and technology to have a sustainable impact on complex human and ecologi­cal needs. For technology to achieve its potential around the world, local needs, cultures, identities, and language must be respected. In addition, deploying technological tools may entail overcoming the formi­dable challenges of limited infrastructures, illiteracy, and extreme poverty. Great chasms may have to be crossed and reliable results are far from assured. Tech­nological and social innovation must evolve hand in hand if sustainable progress is to be realized. This happens in local places—in the schools, hospitals, neighborhoods, and cities where people gather, new tools are applied, and sense making occurs. It is im­portant to establish beachheads for technological in­novation and social/institutional learning and adap­tation in local places, including those that exist in the developing world. The Laureates from last year’s awards program have been conscious of the need to create a development dynamic that complements sci­entific and technological innovations with social learn­ing and institutional change. In this way, local prac­tice can, in an iterative manner, shape future innova­tions through a process that John Seely Brown refers to as “enacting the future.”7


Both inspiration and learning can be derived from the 2001 Tech Award Laureates. They are scien­tists, innovators and entrepreneurs whose contribu­tions benefit the common good in a significant way. They bring science to bear on problems where mar­kets have failed. They build capacity for the better­ment of human life in local places. Their creative imagi­nations respect local needs and often overcome oner­ous practical constraints. They may, in fact, possess the domain expertise that has been missing in efforts to diffuse the benefits of modern science and technol­ogy beyond the top of the pyramid to all of humanity. As evidenced in the articles that follow, this year’s Lau­reates continue the inspiration provided in the inau­gural year of the Awards. •

End Notes

1 AnnaLee Saxenian. “Networks of Immigrant Entre­preneurs,” The Silicon Valley Edge, Chong-Moon Lee, William Miller, Marguerite Hancock, Henry Rowen, eds., (Stanford California: Stanford University Press, 2000), 248-268.

2 Proceedings, First Glocalization Conference, May 11­13, 2002, Rome, Italy. See

3 Joseph Stiglitz, Globalization and Its Discontents, W.W. Norton and Company, New York, 2002.

4 Thomas L. Friedman, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York, 2000.

5 Jerome C. Glenn and Theodore J. Gordon, 2001 State of the Future, American Council for the United Nations University, The Millennium Project, 2001.

6 C.K. Prahalad and Stuart L. Hart. "The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid," Strategy + Business, First Quarter 2002.

7 John Seely Brown."Changing the Game of Corpo-rate Research: Learning to Thrive in the Fog of Real-ity," Technological Innovation—Oversights and Fore-sights. Raghu Garud, Praveen Rattan Nayyar, Zur Baruch Shapira, eds, (Cambridge, N.Y. Cambridge Uni-versity Press, 1997), 95-110.

Neff Overview

About the Author

         Jim Koch

James L. Koch is Director of the Center for Science, Technology, and Society, and Professor of Manage­ment at Santa Clara University. He re­ceived his MBA and Ph.D. from UCLA. From 1990-96 he served as Dean of the Leavey School of Business and Administration. Prior to that he founded and directed the Organiza­tion Planning and Development De­partment at PG&E (1981-1990). He began his university career at the Uni­versity of Oregon, where he also di­rected the MBA and Ph.D. programs. His research and consulting have fo­cused on socio-technical systems and high performance organizations. His current work examines information technology and organizational change, social capital and community in the workplace, and the deployability of technology in the developing world.

About the Author 
         Howard Neff

Howard Neff joined Applied Ma­terials in 1980, where he has held many operations and executive man­agement positions. His most recent assignment was as President of Etec Systems, Inc., an Applied Materials company.  Before coming to Applied Materials, Mr. Neff worked for 12 years at Johnson and Johnson in various manufacturing and management roles, including a two-year assignment in Europe. He received his B.A. in eco­nomics from Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH. Howard is also a Board Member of Invisible Ink, Inc., a mem­ber of the Board of Advisors for Dura­tion Software, Inc., a Senior Fellow of the American Leadership Forum-Sili-con Valley, and an Honorary Board Member for the non-profit PCA-CA, Prevention of Child Abuse-California.

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