Friday, July 16, 2010

Activate 2010 - Changing the world though the internet

On July 1st of this year, the Guardian hosted Activate 2010. Activate 2010 was a one day conference on how technology is changing the world. The event hosted a wide variety of speakers from different backgrounds. 

A copy of the talks can be downloaded on iTunes and are also becoming available on

The Guardian, in association with Thomson Reuters, has also developed Information Power. Information Power is a collection of articles and stories on on the role of technology in overseas development. The articles cover stories pertaining to disaster relief, democracy, social responsibility, and healthcare. 

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Spark to Market - Cleantech in NYC

Yesterday, the Pratt Center for Community Development hosted "Spark to Market". The event was part of the Pratt Center's Energy Matter's campaign and was designed to connect New York area enertech and cleantech entrepreneurs with resources to help them bring their products and ideas to market.

The morning started out with speakers from the Ashoka discussing social innovation. Ashoka is a global association of social entrepreneurs — men and women with system changing solutions for the world’s most urgent social problems. Their global community develops models for collaboration and design infrastructure needed to advance the field of social entrepreneurship and the citizen sector.

Stuart Yasgur introduced Ashoka's fellowship programs and some examples of social entrepreneurship that Ashoka has sponsored in the past including sustainable forest exploration in Indonesia and Cows to Kilowatts in Nigeria.

The keynote of the morning was Rich Lechner, VP of Energy and Environment at IBM. Rich discusses IBM's focus on optimizing all aspects of an organization and discussing sustainability in terms of economic sustainability, operational sustainability, and environmental sustainability. He gave examples of smart grid, smart water, and smart traffic systems that IBM has helped instigate. An interesting statistic that he put forth was that 85% of CEOs believe sustainability will optimize business and lower costs; however, only 35% of companies actively measure sustainability. Although Rich's understanding of sustainability was questionable at times - I felt he was replacing optimization with sustainability - he did provide some interesting examples of optimization around the globe.  Rich's powerpoint is available on the Pratt Center's website -

The morning finished with the "Making Sparks" panel. Micah Kotch, Director of Operations at NYC ACRE moderated the panel made up of

The panel was asked what they thought was needed for cleantech and enertech to pick up in New York. The key themes they came up with were more talent, more finance, greater demand, more resources, and community mentorship.

Arrun Kapoor recommended the book Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling Technology Products to Mainstream Customers for any new start up.

He also recommended Shawn Lesser's article, "Top 10 Cleantech Cluster Organizations in 2010".  Cleantech cluster organization are economic development organization aimed at growing jobs in a specific geographic region. Among a cleantech cluster’s main goals are to promote innovation and investment. For a cluster to exist,  the right circumstances must be present: A thriving technology base, abundant entrepreneurial and management talent, access to capital, and a proactive environmental public policy.

Overall, Spark to Market was an interesting introduction to the cleantech market in NYC. 

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Blood Chocolate

Do you know where your chocolate comes from?

Since 2001, the U.N., the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) and other human rights groups have worked to address the rampant exploitation and slavery of workers, typically children of the Ivory Coast and Ghana, which produce about 60 percent of the world's chocolate. But despite nobel efforts, the groups' agreements have done little to improve conditions. About 3.6 million West African children work on cocoa farms, many of whom make very little to no pay while under horrific conditions. This dire situation has led some to refer to cocoa produced in these regions as "blood chocolate."

So why has nothing changed? Blame chocolate and agricultural companies like Mars and Cargill, who process 400,000 tons of cocoa each year and demand that prices stay low. Chocolate companies "have been able to control initiatives meant to eliminate forced, child and trafficked labor in West Africa’s cocoa industry." Companies purchase cocoa through small farmers at a very low cost, refusing to pay prices that comply with Fair Trade practices.

However, European Union members and several other countries of the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) (not including the United States) signed a new agreement last week at a United Nations conference. The agreement reestablishes countries' commitments to making the $10 billion abuse-ridden cocoa industry more sustainable and fair to workers, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). But this move will only help improve conditions so much. Things can't really get significantly better until the world's largest consumer of cocoa, the U.S., finally decides to take the cocoa high road.

The U.S. ambassador to Ghana recently announced that since January, the U.S. has been importing much more cocoa than ever thanks to two new processing facilities built by ADM and Cargill, one of the top five global processors of cocoa beans. U.S. cocoa imports are expected to increase, too, as American businesses are busting down the door asking for new contracts in the impoverished country. In the past year, there's been 100-to-200 percent more requests from Americans seeking to do business in Ghana, the second-largest producer of cocoa after the Ivory Coast.

This means small farmers in Ghana and the Ivory Coast will be pushed to produce more cocoa. Unless they are protected under Fair Trade contracts, rampant exploitation and slavery of workers will most likely continue. has a petition that you can sign to Tell Big Chocolate CEOS You Want Fair Trade Cocoa!

Democracy Now! also has a video up on YouTube from their "Chocolate’s Bittersweet Economy": Cocoa Industry Accused of Greed, Neglect for Labor Practices in Ivory Coast story describing the chocolate industry in Western Africa:

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Cooper-Hewitt Explores Urban Sustainability

The following video is from the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum and hosts David Own, author of Green Metropolis.  David Owen is joined in conversation during the video by Andrea Lipps, curatorial assistant of Cooper-Hewitt's exhibits, National Design Triennial: Why Design Now? and upcoming exhibition, Critical Mass.

New York City is widely considered an ecological nightmare, a wasteland of concrete and high-rises, diesel fumes and traffic jams, garbage and pollution. But in the groundbreaking work of contrarian environmental thinking that is Green Metropolis, David Owen declares New York City as the greenest community in America. In Green Metropolis, David Owen conceives a new environmentalism, turning what we think we know about the environment on its head and re-envisioning a sustainable future that looks less like Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond and more like the populous megacities of Hong Kong or New York.

The exhibition "Critical Mass," will examine the complex issues arising from the unprecedented rate of urban growth projected to take place over the next 20 years, primarily in the informal settlements of the global south.

The National Design Triennial: Why Design Now? exhibition explores themes of Energy, Mobility, Community, Materials, Prosperity, Health, Communication, and Simplicity

Friday, July 2, 2010

July 1 - 7, Dirty Energy FREE

Take the Pledge. Show your solidarity. Spread the word.

This week, as the US celebrates Independence Day - when the country stood against the most powerful empire of the time and declared freedom.

But the oil bleeding into the Gulf of Mexico reminds us that America is not yet truly free. The USA must still win our independence from the dirty, deadly fossil fuels that are polluting the country and costing Americans their livelihood.

The oil spill's destruction of the Gulf of Mexico is a devastating reminder that the price of our fossil fuel dependence is far too high. Don't let history repeat itself. Visit to pledge your independence away from dirty energy and commitment towards clean technologies.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Fundraising and Community Organizing through Social Media

On Tuesday I had the opportunity to attend a panel discussion on Fundraising and Community Organizing through Social Media.

The panelists included Laura Kozien of ACCION USA (@accion_usa), Danielle Silber of the International Rescue Committee (@theIRC), and Angela Jackson with the Global Language Project (@GlobalLang). The panel was moderated by Ben Jervey, "The New Ideal" columnist at GOOD Magazine (@GOOD).

Each of the panelists had taken part in an online fundraising contest. For example, Sam's Club Giving Made Simple grant challenge, American Express Members Project, and the Pepsi Refresh Project.

The panel discussed ways in which to evaluate whether an organization should enter a contest, ways to get your donors and networks on board to support the contest, and ideas on how to follow up with supporters once the contest has finished.

When it comes to engaging social media for support, one of the main questions that comes up is how much contact is too much contact. Determining how often you should reach out to your social media contacts is always difficult. Too often may seem nagging and needy. Not enough looks like you're not engaged. While this varies from organization to organization, there are number of tools available for social media which will allow you to program how often you contact your online connections. However, one of the main fears that I've come across is that too much automation removes the personal aspect of social media.

One of the participants recommended the book Share This!: How You Will Change the World with Social Networking by Deanna Zandt. The book discusses how Social Networks can be powerful tools for mobilizing communities to rally behind causes. 

 Share This!: How You Will Change the World with Social Networking

In addition to the panelists and moderator, the event was put together by a number of people and companies including TBWA/Chiat/Day, Edelman, and the Pepsi Refresh Project.