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Techmanitarianism 2013

  • by David Whitman on November 21, 2013
    All last week, The Tech’s international signature program was in full swing as people from every continent converged here in Silicon Valley for the Convergence, Summit, and 13th annual Gala of The Tech Awards: Technology Benefiting Humanity. 
    During the inspirational “mission moment” at The Tech Awards Gala, Tim Ritchie, the president of The Tech, said, “We believe that everyone has the capacity to solve problems in innovative ways. But we know that people generally lose their creative confidence. We learn to fear risk. We limit our aspirations. At The Tech, we believe it’s an avoidable loss when people do not become the creative problem solvers they were born to be.”
    Ten laureates were selected this year through an open-application process directed by The Tech and judged by independent panels convened by the Center for Science, Technology, and Society at Santa Clara University. 
    The Tech brought the laureates here from the East Coast, Chile, Kenya, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, and India to receive intensive networking, funding, and media opportunities that also included several days of specialized workshops conducted by past laureates and others—all of whom generously donated their services this year.
    One of the Convergence workshops provided a quintessential Silicon Valley experience for the laureates: they traveled to Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park —known around the world for its high-profile venture capital firms—where they presented to VCs who coached them.
    An annual highlight of the Convergence is The Tech Awards Summit, held in The Tech’s Hackworth IMAX Dome Theater on the eve of the Gala. This is an informal gathering for the community to interact with the laureates. This year’s keynote speaker was Elizabeth Hausler-Strand, Founding CEO of BuildChange, a 2008 laureate honored for designing earthquake-resistant construction materials for those who most need them.
    Our laureates now number 267. Many have achieved global success after being recognized by The Tech Awards. Since its inception 13 years ago, The Tech Awards program has given $3.85 million in unrestricted cash prizes to its laureates. During the sold-out awards ceremony held at the Santa Clara Convention Center last Thursday evening, we presented a total of $500,000 to this year’s laureates—$25,000 and $75,000 in each of the five award categories: Environment, Education, Young Innovator, Health, and Economic Development. 
    This year’s James C. Morgan Global Humanitarian Award, sponsored by Applied Materials, was presented to inventor Dean Kamen. Introducing Kamen, Applied Materials’ Executive Chairman Mike Splinter said, “Speaking on behalf of all the engineers in the room, I can tell you that Dean Kamen is the kind of guy we all hoped to be when we grew up. He produces really cool inventions, founded his own company, pilots a jet, and commutes to work by helicopter from the hanger in a house he designed himself. That is nerd nirvana.”
    To convey the laureates’ stories to the world, The Tech commissions original films about them. These brief films (2’ 30”) present special challenges to filmmakers. For one, the laureates are selected in mid-August and just three months later the films are premiered at the Gala. The time to create compelling films about the laureates is compressed, and many are based far from here. For the first time, our filmmakers traveled to many sites abroad to film the laureates on location.
    In addition to the films, photographs from more than 50 of the world’s greatest photojournalists (contributed pro bono for The Tech Awards Gala) were projected onto the huge screens at the Gala. Water was this year’s theme. For the fifth consecutive year, the images and texts were collected and curated by the legendary photography director Karen Mullarkey—and shown one night only.
    Richard Blanco was selected by President Barack Obama as the nation’s fifth inaugural poet, joining the ranks of such luminaries as Robert Frost and Maya Angelou. He captivated the nation with his inaugural poem, “One Today.” For The Tech Awards 2013, Blanco wrote and performed, for the first time, “Genius of Stars and Love.”
    Although Leonardo da Vinci personified the term “Renaissance man,” he was also a “modern man,” according to a new book by Fritjof Capra called “Learning from Leonardo: Decoding the Notebooks of a Genius.” The book was launched at The Tech as the opening event of The Tech Awards Convergence on Sunday, November 10. The author gave a fascinating talk about Leonardo and the nature of genius. At the Gala, Berrett-Koehler Publishers presented 1200 gift copies of Capra’s new book to the audience.
    The Tech Awards 2013 Convergence, Summit, and Gala showed international “techmanitarianism” at its best. To the thousands of contributors and participants, thank you, thank you.
    David Whitman is the vice president for The Tech Awards. Collaborating with cultural institutions in Italy in 2008–09, he coordinated The Tech's mega-exhibition on Leonardo da Vinci and other artist-engineers of the Renaissance. He is also an independent writer and award-winning photographer whose work has appeared in more than 100 publications and exhibitions. Whitman has called many places home, including California, Florida, Belgium, Brazil, and Saint Lucia, where he was a Peace Corps forester.