Casa Weekly

Monday, November 20, 2006

Tech Awards Week

Last week was the week!

After six years devoting our energy to building Catalytic Communities, winning one of this year's 25 Tech Awards was the first major public recognition of our effort and it was exhilarating.

Before going into the details of the week, I want to thank everyone who's helped get us this far. From the hundreds of people who've helped fund our work to date, to the Omidyar Network that nominated us, and André Urani and Greg Murray who provided recommendations -- this victory was a group effort. This is a true turning point and we expect development to pick up speed and our network to grow in important ways as a result!

The Tech Museum of Innovation is a unique museum in San Jose, CA, where kids of all ages explore innovation and creativity using technology. From strolling around on a segway to making 3D images of one's own head...

Every year The Tech delivers 25 Tech Awards to the "best of the best" initiatives using technology to benefit humanity. Panels of experts from local universities like Stanford and Santa Clara help select each year's winners. This year, out of over 900 projects nominated, Catalytic Communities was one of five winners in the Equality category.

As a result of this honor, we were invited to San Jose for 4 days of events surrounding the award.

On Monday, November 20th, a welcome meeting allowed us to briefly meet other laureates and learn what to expect in the coming days. This was followed by a category dinner, in our case sponsored by the Swanson Foundation which funded the Equality category. The dinner was held at the Silicon Valley Club in downtown San Jose. This was our opportunity to meet our fellow category laureates and learn about their projects, as well as get to know Judy Swanson and her friends. This year's Equality award was in honor of Katherine Swanson, Judy's daughter, who, before passing away a year ago (in her early 20s), shared with her mother her wish to dedicate her life to reducing inequality. It was an absolute honor to receive an award associated with a human being who planned to dedicate her life to a noble cause. It was also refreshing to receive the award from this admirable woman two nights later...

Tuesday was focused on developing our skills and preparing us for what would come: Jack Franchetti of Franchetti Communications offered a workshop to help develop our "elevator pitches" -- what we'd say if we had a short elevator ride with someone we wanted to "pitch" our work to. It was incredible to watch the transformation of fellow Laureate Peter Hansen's (of PointCare Technologies) pitch during this session. PointCare has developed the means to do HIV monitoring in remote areas so as to improve the effectiveness of HIV treatment around the world. People with HIV no longer have to travel distances to large cities to be monitored on expensive equipment.

In the afternoon we saw the videos The Tech had prepared of our individual projects. I was rushing out in intervals to nurse my new daughter, but caught 90% of these. They were fabulous. The Tech counts on help from Mediatrope Interactive Studio to develop these compelling 1-minute videos. I can't wait until ours is available online to share with everyone! When the Catalytic Communities video came on, I was so busy looking at the images and missing the community leaders and our staff depicted, that I didn't even hear the description they gave of our work! Ha! Fortunately we saw the video once again at the Gala...

Tuesday night was our opportunity to practice our pitches during a funder's reception where we met people from other organizations and potential funders interested in Tech laureates' work. It was great to hear about the World Bank Development Marketplace from folks met there, and to share ideas with fellow laureate Wayan Vota of IESC Geekcorps, that developed a rugged computer for use in remote areas of Africa.

Finally the big day arrived - Wednesday the 15th. We spent the morning sharing our work in a Showcase to 125 visitors at The Tech who had signed up to learn more about our efforts. The Tech provided a booth with visual equipment and backdrop. Laureates brought computers and materials for distribution. Some 50 stopped by our booth, from a group of women associated with the Global Women's Leadership Network, to Charity Focus and Stanford's Digital Vision Fellows. At the showcase journalists from both local newspaper and radio interviewed me. The night before I'd been interviewed for a European podcast.

That afternoon we had rehearsals for the big night, and then it arrived: the Gala. This mega black-tie event brought together 1500 people, the first full-house at a Tech Awards Gala. Individual tickets were available at $500 and tables of 10 for $5000-15,000. The evening began with the Global Humanitarian Award being presented to Bill Gates, who'd also stopped by the Showcase in the morning to meet with health projects (including Gustavo Junqueira and Álvaro Eiras of Ecovec, fellow Brazilians developing the means to use GPS mapping to halt the spread of dengue fever).

After dinner, the awards were called out. Category by category, each group of laureates was invited onstage following the showing of each project's 1-minute video. Within each category, one laureate received a cash prize of $50,000. In our Equality category, the winner was Daniel K. Davies of AbleLink Technologies. Daniel started off his acceptance speech by saying "This feels alot like the Oscars. Except at the Oscars people only pretend to do great things." That was a great speech to end a fabulous evening. At the end of the evening, the Skoll Foundation's Social Edge's Global X met up with me, which he mentions in his weekly blog.

The week came to an end on Thursday with speaking engagements planned. Eleven of us were invited to the Silicon Valley Challenge Summit at Santa Clara University -- specifically those of us working internationally. There we ran booths describing our work and participated in some fabulous discussions. During the opening ceremony, Geoffrey Bowker, the head of Santa Clara University's Center for Science, Technology and Society, talked of the importance of the work of several Tech laureates. When he described CatComm's approach, he added an "I love this!" We were thrilled with the news!

Once Friday came around, my daughter and I were back on the plane, prepared for an 18-hour journey back to Rio and the faces that brought on the tears in the video...

Once again, thank you to everyone who brought this amazing opportunity about. We hope to make good on the promise and exposure, and grow in incredible ways in 2007!