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The Tech Museum Awards: Innovation, Impact, and Inspiration Around the World
Edward W. Barnholt
When we first dreamed of a Tech Museum Awards program, we dreamed big. We wanted to spread The Tech Museum of Innovation’s mission—to inspire the innovator in everyone—beyond Silicon Valley into every part of the world. We knew that technology was so much more than gadgets or profits, and that everyday, in our neighborhoods and in places many thousands of miles away, people were using technology to address some of humanity’s most pressing problems. We wanted to highlight the impact of these innovations, and to inspire more of them.
Now in the fourth year, The Tech Museum Awards continues to expand and fulfill its mission. We’ve honored 100 individuals and organizations whose work serves as models of how to use technology to make the world a better place. We’ve also instituted a program to help support innovators by connecting them with each other, and with philanthropists, and business and non-profit leaders to encourage the spread of ideas, advice, and resources.
And each year our reach has grown, too. Last year we received nominations from 59 countries around the world. This year the number jumped to 80—a small piece of evidence that our program is touching technology innovators around the globe, and that important, life-changing technology is happening everywhere. This global reach also reminds us that some of the most beneficial uses of technology develop on a local level, when innovators understand day-to-day needs and respect local cultures, values, and economies. Thus technology isn’t simply something the haves bestow upon the have-nots; rather, it develops out of on-the-ground experience, in partnership with the people it benefits. When technology is woven into the fabric of daily life in such integral ways, it has the greatest power to change the world for the better.
Beginning with the very first group of Laureates in 2001, we have been invigorated and humbled by the tremendous power of human creativity to solve problems as diverse and far-reaching as lack of access to healthcare, communication technology, or light to read by at night, to lack of safe drinking water and blood supplies, plentiful crops, or solid building materials. The ingenuity of Laureates has sometimes been in the invention of something new, such as the system designed by Oviemo Ovadje (a 2002 Laureate), which allows doctors to transfuse blood directly back into an injured patient, thereby avoiding unsafe local blood supplies. And sometimes the innovation has been a re-thinking of the potential of a technology many of us take for granted, as in the case of WITNESS (a 2003 Laureate) which gives human rights workers video cameras and training so that they can document, and thereby help end, human rights violations.
Again this year we are awed by the work of our 25 Laureates. They come to us from Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, Guatemala, India, Nepal, Nigeria, Singapore, Uruguay, and six U.S. states. Through their work, they teach us that technologies many of us see everyday, such as phones, PDAs, and crop irrigation systems, can make the difference between life and death in many parts of the world. And they open our eyes to problems shared by people in many places, such as the need for earthquake safety education, sustainable farming practices, and resources for schools. You will find the stories of each of this year’s Laureates in the pages of this issue of STS NEXUS.
We are deeply indebted to Applied Materials for their unwavering support of The Tech Museum Awards vision and program, and to Accenture, Microsoft, Intel, and Agilent for their generous sponsorship, which helps today’s innovators to continue their work, and inspires others to follow in their footsteps. We also could not have a Tech Museum Awards program without the guidance and hard work of the team at Santa Clara University’s Center for Science, Technology, and Society, which brings a wealth of knowledge to the task of selecting 25 Laureates out of hundreds of submissions each year.
We are all used to hearing that technology is making the world feel smaller and more connected, but at this moment world events also give us the sense that we are more divided, with more reasons to fear each other than ever before. We hope that as you learn about the Laureates you will feel as we do—humbled, enlightened, and inspired by the creativity and genius of people who are using technology to make the world better for all of us. In getting to know our Laureates, we have become more deeply aware of the broad range of challenges people face, and also more connected to a global community in which we all share hopes for a safe, healthy, prosperous, and more just world.