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Making the Circle Bigger- Technology and the Greater Good
James L. Koch
Table 1 Millennium Summit Development Goals and Tech Musuem Awards
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.)
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.
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. •
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 www.glocalforum.org.
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.