Features & Columns

Annual Tech Awards inspire Yet Again in Troublesome Times

It's safe to assume that hundreds of people left the 16th annual Tech Awards
motivated to use technology for the greater global good
Past laureates honored last week include (front row, from left): Amitabha Sadanghi of IDE-India; Ben Donahue of Souktel; Lesley Marincola of Angaza; Flaviano Bianchini of Source International; Krista Donaldson of D-Rev; Steve Davis of PATH; and Ronni Goldfarb of Equal Access International.Photo by Jeff Gire

It's safe to assume that hundreds of people left the 16th annual Tech Awards motivated to use technology for the greater global good. In these dark times, the event was a rock-solid reminder that hope is not an illusion.

As such, the Tech Awards gala tends to be one of the more uplifting events of Silicon Valley, highlighting and supporting individuals who work in various international humanitarian projects. People who understand the global picture. People doing their part to fight world poverty, improve the global environment, empower the underprivileged and make the planet healthier. Laureates receive unrestricted prizes—usually $50,000—for their work in health projects, world hunger, sustainable energy, economic development, education and more.

This year, the event was somewhat different in that only alumni laureates took the stage, with seven previous award-winners talking about progress they've made since first being honored. To cite one example, Source International founder and director Flaviano Bianchini was one of the rock stars of the night. After becoming a laureate in 2014, Bianchini returned to discuss his work fighting human rights abuses suffered by Central and South American villages at the hands of corrupt mining companies. The companies were polluting soil and water with no accountability whatsoever, resulting in diseases and miscarriages. None of the villagers living near the drilling sites had the tools to prove the amounts of contaminants present, so Source International developed a suite of scientifically validated testing technologies enabling the communities to examine their water, air, and soil for a variety of chemical contaminants, and it trained the villagers how to use the resulting data to go after the mining company. At the gala last week, Bianchini spoke to how Source International is now involved in 21 cities in 11 countries on five continents.

In other cases, Angaza CEO Lesley Marincola updated the crowd with details on her company's project to enable 250,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa with pay-as-you-go solar power, while Ronni Goldfarb of Equal Access International talked about her company's endeavors at bringing interactive multimedia broadcasts to underprivileged parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Historically speaking, the first Tech Awards gala took place in 2001, but it was almost cancelled due to the attacks of September 11. Thankfully, the organizers carried on and made it happen. From there, the event only grew and grew. As of now, almost 300 laureates have received more than $5 million in awards over the last 15 years to collectively improve the lives of more than 2 billion people around the world.

The gala event itself is an inspiring evening to witness. One gets to sit in the same room with many of the donors, upper-echelon technologists, physicians, engineers and social entrepreneurs actually using their wealth to support projects for the global good—projects that really do bring disparate people together rather than raise slimy advertising money from losers spreading fake news.

In addition to the laureates, Tim Ritchie, president and CEO of the Tech Museum, also revealed how the museum is now pivoting to include a year-round program that permanently develops a cadre of young Silicon Valley innovators who wish to likewise focus on technology for greater humane causes. Aptly titled The Tech for Global Good, the program, among other things, will involve exhibits and events at the museum, where anyone, year-round, can drop by and see inspiring work being done by the next generation of globally minded humanitarians, inventors, engineers and scientists. In other words, instead of just a privileged few hundred people getting to attend a gala once a year, now everyone can visit the museum and see what's going on with these and other related projects, as well as future efforts.

This, in turn, will undoubtedly inspire a whole new pipeline of younger people who want to use technology for the betterment of global society. It's a great idea.

As always, the Tech Awards provide uplifting vibes amid otherwise darker times. There is hope.