News Releases
Tech4Society: Notes from the field, day three
February 13, 2010

After a fun and informative three days, Tech4Society has come to a close. The event, which brought together pioneers on the cutting edge of innovation in solar energy, clean water, mobile technology, science education, agriculture and healthcare, was sponsored by Ashoka and The Lemelson Foundation (with generous support from Microsoft). Here are some notes from The Lemelson Foundation staff after day three:

  • Jill Tucker, Senior Program Officer, on the keynote address by Ashoka founder Bill Drayton: "Bill Drayton talked about how the rate of change and complexity in society is increasing rapidly. The old organizational forms won’t do. The idea that people who went to Business School are going to tell everyone else what to do won’t work anymore. 'It’s a walking dead dinosaur.' This mentality still dominates the earth, but can’t possibly work in the future. Likewise, the two cultures of science on the one hand and everyone else on the other, also can’t continue. We need to end the divisions that are rooted in history. We can figure out how to meld these two cultures, and the group of people convened in Hyderabad are the future as they are figuring out how to do this."
  • Abigail Sarmac, Program Officer, also on the keynote: "During Bill’s speech, I was struck by this thought: Social entrepreneurs are mutants. Think about evolution. The success of a species depends on genes of individuals of that species to mutate, innovate and adapt appropriately to its environment. Social entrepreneurs are our species’ mutant genes. Then they make that change happen to better our world. If how we live doesn’t evolve, we will perish as a species. Social entrepreneurs, though rare, are critical to our species’ survival."
  • Erin Tochen, Associate Program Officer, on the panel discussion, The Ever Green Revolution: Trends in Agriculture: "There were differing opinions among the panelists regarding what is the most pressing issue in agriculture now. Amitabha Sandangi (of IDE India) believes access to water is the most critical issue. Water gets used up in a particular area and that resource may get exhausted leaving farmers with land that can’t be cultivated. Joseph Sekiku from Tanzania said that there is a tremendous food crisis and food security is the most important issue related to agriculture and small scale farming. Sekiku followed up by saying that small scale farmers in his country are being taken over by other forces including climate change, land exhaustion, labor constraints, and bigger farms forcing them out. It is hard for small farmers to survive. His solutions is to connect farmers together through his radio programs to learn about technologies they can purchase to help them farm better and to solicit feedback from them on their issues and challenges. Collins Apuoyo from Kenya (not on the panel, but commented from the audience) said that one of the most effective ways in Kenya for small scale farmers to compete against large farms that push them out is to farm forgotten vegetables that bigger farms won’t bother with. This gives them the opportunity to sell their unique produce in markets along with the big farms. He says it’s a solution that works in Kenya."
  • Jill Tucker, on the education panel, Cultivating the Next Generation of Leaders: Innovations in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Education: "In this session for educators from different countries talked about new approaches to teaching science education, primarily education for low-income students in rural areas. Balaji Sampath of AidIndia knew he had his work cut out for himself when he observed a science teacher talking to his students about the solar system. The teacher asked them: 'Do you think people can go to the moon?' Before they could fully respond the teacher answered the question himself: 'You and I cannot go to the moon, but there are people who go to the moon and they are called scientists.' What did the kids learn, asked Balaji? 'They learned that they can’t be scientists and that scientists are people who are different from them.' 

"Balaji then proceeded to demonstrate to the audience his own pedagogical methods by using the materials readily on hand in the auditorium – pieces of paper and a book – to teach simple science concepts to the audience. In just a few minutes Balaji had taught the audience about air resistance, demonstrating how in any situation you can start with materials that everyone has available and use these to teach students about the world around them. (His program’s materials cost only $1/month per school -- not per student). Balaji emphasized that the most important objective is not even to teach science content but to build the students’ confidence. Over time, said Balaji, the kids start believing in themselves and believing that they can do science.

"Ramji Raghavan of the Agastya International Foundation pointed out that science education needs to be fun. 'Fun can’t be overemphasized' he said.

"Balaji agreed: 'Usually we have the opposite problem. We need to convince the students that what they are doing as fun also has meaning. They don’t believe that what they are doing for fun is also science.' "

  • Abigail Sarmac, on an insightful conversation about the mission and practice of social entrepreneurship: "A Fellow was asked by a university student, 'What message would you provide to youth to be a social entrepreneur?' This particular student felt much pressure to live a certain life – college, a 'good' job. Social entrepreneurship, though of interest to the student, was not deemed suitable by his parents.

Kalyan Paul’s response: '[Just do it.] What your parents say begins and ends there, because soon you will become a parent, and see that what you tell your children begins and ends there. At the end of the day, this is a profession. There’s no big hoopla about it. This person is a doctor, this person is a nurse. I am a social entrepreneur.'

Douglas Racionzer’s response: 'Actually, [you’ve] framed it [incorrectly]. Social entrepreneurship is not a career or a profession. Social entrepreneurship is a disaster as a career. This is a way of life. We do this because we can’t NOT do it. If you think you can be happy doing something else, then, please, do something else.' "

If you haven't already, be sure to check our staff's notes from day one and day two. For more information about Tech4Society, visit the AshokaTECH website as well as on Twitter, the hashtag #Tech4Soc. A complete list of online destinations for Tech4Society video, photos and news is available here.