Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The First Time

I got into San Jose today. Will be attending several events related to the TechAwards tomorrow and Thursday. The theme of this program is "Technology Benefitting Humanity." More specifically, "innovators using technology to make the world safer and healthier, more prosperous and just." The idea is to recognize, and help fund, promissing organizations who are developing technology that makes a difference.

It kind of makes me nostalgic for the "first time." When Envirofit was a laureate in 2005, it was the first recognition of what we were doing. Intel was sponsoring the prize, and though we didn't win, we met some great people, including Harish Hande of SELCO, who was so helpful with our stoves work last year in India. And David Green, who's work has inspired me,and who continues to work behind the scenes for large scale change. For a picture, click here. (That's our co-founder, Bryan Willson, front and center, and Harish over his right shoulder. David is hiding up in back, I think. I am the guy with the crooked tie.)

Attending the awards two years ago was a great learning experience. I was once told "you can learn something from everyone you meet." A good way to approach the world. But particularly awesome when you are with 24 leading social entrepreneurs and get to learn from them. Find out what they are doing. At the time, I thought (and still do) that the adjustable eyeglasses that Josh Silver did were the coolest innovation.

The other thing that struck me, however, was that, even with all their passion, most of the laureates were thinking about solving a particular problem in a particular region. They weren't thinking of how to scale and replicate. They were, consciously or unconsciously, limiting their ideas. While focusing on innovation, the awards were really more about invention (which lacks the wide scale dissemination that gives us innovation). This got me thinking, and I'm not done yet. To me, this is the biggest challenge of social entrepreneurship. While I don't have an answer yet, I think part of the answer is designing an organization to scale-up/replicate from the start. Build it in. Make replication part of the original DNA. Hire accordingly.

Tomorrow, there is a Showcase featuring the laureates and their work. I can't wait to meet them and hear them talk about what they are doing. And you can now watch online (that strikes me as kind of weird, it is, afterall, just bunch of people in costumes having dinner).

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