Saturday, March 31, 2007

The 2007 Skoll Awards for Social Entrepreneurship

The big celebration was also in the Sheldonian: the 2007 Awards for Social Entrepreneurship. And it was exciting!

Below, I have picked a few select photos: the rest are on my Flickr page.

Salman Ahmed got the crowd pumping as before, and then we met our four rockstar presenters (well, at least one is literally a rock star, and the other three have a pretty good claim to the status): Jeff Skoll, Peter Gabriel, Sally Osberg and Muhammad Yunus.
Jeff Skoll

Peter Gabriel

Muhammad Yunus and Sally Osberg

The ten new Skoll award winners got their moment in the sun (well, the klieg lights). For social entrepreneurs (except Jeff) this is the Academy Awards, and the smiles were beaming.

I picked Dan Viederman of Verite out as a good example. Do you have any doubt we are looking at a guy who has slogged through a lot of tough stuff and is celebrating the moment with zeal?

Award ceremony

8th Gathering of Social Enterprise Alliance

I just an email noting that online registration for the Gathering closes tomorrow. I'm already registered (well, I am on the board), but thought I'd remind my buddies who are planning on attending to register now. Maybe I'll see you in Long Beach!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Just arrived in Oxford in time for the opening Monday night dinner of the Skoll Forum. The Skoll social entrepreneurs get a day together before the big opening on Tuesday afternoon. The location is Exeter College, whose dining hall was the prototype for Hogwarts in the Harry Potter film.
Exeter dining room

It was a time to meet old friends and new social entrepreneurs. There are a handful of new Skoll staffers so this was a time to meet the team. It was also a chance to meet Jeff Skoll in person.
Jeff Skoll (in the middle) and guests at Exeter College, Oxford

Each of the new social entrepreneurs spoke for several minutes about what drew them to do this work. The funniest guy as usual was Joe Madiath. Long-time Beneblog followers know Joe as the guy who didn't fully recognize Al Gore when he bumped into him at Davos. Joe talked about organizing his father's workers while a teenagers and getting elected president of the union (he was quickly bundled off to boarding school!).

Joe Madiath in the wood paneled Exeter College dining room.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Hadley China

Content access on the internet is a constant area of fascination to me. Hadley School, the main distance education school for blind people in the U.S. turns out to have had a major program in China for almost 20 years, and they have come up with a cool way to use the net. Just got some information on this cool program:

The Hadley School for the Blind has launched an innovative program of English language learning and empowerment which spans the Pacific Ocean. Hadley’s international branch is located in Fuzhou, China. In 2005 the principal of Hadley-China, Rongqiang Xia, contacted Hadley students and staff who spoke native English to see if they would like to teach Chinese Hadley students English over the internet. The native English speakers readily agreed, and an international program of empowerment, English learning, and friendship building has existed ever since.

Hadley-China students, support staff from Hadley-China, and native English speakers log onto a website at the same time. This means that Americans and Chinese have to coordinate time zones rather carefully, since China does not observe Daylight Savings. To further complicate matters, when it’s evening in the U.S., it’s the next morning in China.

The participants wear headsets with microphones. High-speed internet access allows them to speak and be heard by all others logged on. It’s like a free conference call.

The native English speaker teaches lessons on topics like holidays, customs, or English grammar. Beginning English learners practice pronunciation and speak simple sentences. More advanced English students read aloud interesting articles for the whole class and explain the more complicated words to the other students in a combination of Chinese and English. Students ask questions about English usage. Some particularly brave students even sing songs for the enjoyment of the group.

The Hadley-China support staff interpret between Chinese and English to prevent communication difficulties. They consult online, Chinese-English dictionaries. After the English lessons end, the native English speakers and the Hadley-China staff talk about the class and make suggestions for improvement.

About ten students log on per chatting session. These chats typically last one to two hours. Occasionally, slow internet connections make people’s voices choppy or difficult to understand. When that happens, the chat participants use Skype instead.

Hadley-China notifies its over 1,000 students of the chance to talk with native English speakers through the website in its newsletter. Of course, only students who have access to a computer with assistive technology and an internet connection may participate. Unfortunately, this means that the majority of students served by Hadley-China are unable to chat in English.

The benefits of the English chat are many. Chinese are still eager to learn English, because it remains the language of business. Chinese who are blind would like to get jobs in more diversified fields than the traditional massage. Therefore, the English chats play a large role in helping Chinese who are blind or visually impaired to become more competitive in the job market.

Hadley-China students gain more self-confidence as their English skills improve. They share stories about being blind with the English tutors, some of whom are blind themselves. One of the English students who participates regularly in the chats has passed the General Examination in Spoken English administered by Trinity College in London. This student will likely get a job in interpreting next year. Another of the Hadley-China students who logs onto the chat has recently been hired by a Chinese travel agency to translate some of their advertisements into English.

The cross-cultural friendships that are formed by Hadley-China students and the native English tutors are heart-warming, indeed. Students and tutors communicate privately on Skype as friends. Both of the current native English tutors have visited Principal Xia in Fuzhou, China since the chats began. Several of the Hadley-China students called one of the English tutors on her birthday and sang her Happy Birthday in English. The same tutor visited two of the Hadley-China students while in China recently.

As improved international communications make it easier for business and friendships to develop around the world, Hadley is at the forefront. Hadley continues to capitalize on the growing importance of the digital age. Hadley students from all areas of the globe can connect and learn from each other with programs such as this one.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Guatemala struggles to find war crimes justice

Two good articles recently covered the Guatemala secret police archive project that we are supporting. Guatemala struggles to find war crimes justice was in the San Francisco Chronicle, and captures the personal side of this work. Many people want to know what happened to those who disappeared in Guatemala's civil war.'s Digging for the truth quotes Benetech's Tamy Guberek and notes that our Martus software is being used in the project. Finally, it notes the time pressure that often accompanies our projects. This project is supposed to be completed this year, and only a fraction of the 80 million documents will have been touched. What will happen after that is a very interesting open question.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Global Alliance for ICT and Development

Last week I attended a meeting of the Global Alliance for ICT and Development (GAID), which was subtitled "UN Meets Silicon Valley." The goal of the meeting was to talk about ways to advance crucial goals of the UN with help from the technology community, especially poverty reduction.

The people in attendance were good, and I had many exciting conversations. The chair of the effort is Craig Barrett, Intel's chairman. My main concern is that the outputs seemed to be focused on predictable Silicon Valley lobbying objectives, which went under the label of creating an enabling environment. This means getting rid of telecom monopolies, competition based on open standards, adequate intellectual property protections and so on. Don't get me wrong, I think that these lobbying objectives are actually correct: the poor will probably be better off if these things happen. but, it did seem indirectly connected to poverty reduction, improved education and improved health.

One of the key points made repeatedly was that the Global Alliance for ICT and Development has no money. In spite of that, it would be great if GAID could outline some big ideas about using ICTs to make real impact on the global poor. A cogent vision could mobilize some substantial resources. I've decided to work on this, not as an alternative to the enabling environment goals but to complete them. So, watch this space for an essay on what GAID could really do. My focus will be on commitments to creating local content and delivering fundamental access to technology and content.