Supporting the Community Geoffrey C. Bowker
of Tech Awards Laureates
Think about this question: “what do a company that produces solar powered LED lights, another that produces safe and efficient indoor cook-stoves, and a third that remediates waste from farmed salmon have in common?” They all use technology to benefit humanity; they are all 2007 Tech Awards Laureates; and they are all part of the ever-expanding international community of Laureates past and present––with the 2007 cohort they will number 175.
“Community” is a difficult word here. When people talk about the Internet community they do not mean quite the same thing as when they talk about community life in a village—there is no sharing of food, succor, and physical intimacy on the Internet. Despite these caveats, it makes sense to use the word “community” about the Tech Awards Laureates. They share a core set of values. First and most important, they are people who want to use their technological skills and knowledge to make a difference in the world, not one customer at a time but one issue at a time. Our Tech Awards community works tirelessly to address that issue, whether it is one of health or equality, education, or the environment. Second, our Laureates share a vision of empowerment: they provide tools and skills to local groups who can then use them to become stronger, more economically viable. Third, they share a selfless commitment to their work, because whether or not they seek to be money-making, this is never the driving cause. Fourth, they share a rich experience of Silicon Valley, where they meet with and learn from some of the leading entrepreneurs and technology drivers in the world. They are uniformly inspired by what they know has been accomplished here.
And yet while these commonalities describe very well a community of interest, they do not yet describe a robust community of practice: people bound by a common mission who work together, help each other, purposefully exchanging knowledge. With the generous support of Applied Materials, the Center for Science, Technology, and Society is creating “KnowledeX”––a platform for turning shared vision into practical action, for linking projects from around the world with each other and with people in Silicon Valley (in academia, industry, philanthropic organizations, and civil society), and providing the sets of tools to work constructively with each other. The core vision of KnowledeX is to create a community of Tech Awards Laureates and supporters who can work together to advance faster toward their goals and grow in ways that ensure their long-term viability and sustainability—to move from a night at the Gala to a lifetime of achievement.
Two of the major challenges to be faced in developing KnowledeX are:
CHALLENGE 1 – Connectivity
Broadband access is largely unavailable in Africa (only 12% penetration) and even where computers are on hand they can be too expensive to run because of the cost of electricity and too expensive to print from because of the cost of paper. Cell phone penetration is much higher, but is again patchy. Sometimes old-fashion mail is the best way to go. We will design a platform that works across multiple media, delivering content as appropriate so it can reach the people who need it most.
CHALLENGE 2 – Value Proposition
There are thousands of Web sites that offer support for social benefit enterprises. Many of them are about one link deep. Many have sophisticated interactive capabilities (wikis, meeting spaces and so forth) lying largely fallow. Solution: We will design a set of services that will match skills we are uniquely able to provide with the recognized needs of our emerging community of Laureates.
Through the generosity of Applied Materials, we stand ready to mobilize the community of Tech Award Laureates and their supporters. It is a great challenge, but also a great opportunity.