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[liberationtech] Tech Awards honor innovators seeking to change the world - San Jose Mercury News

Yosem Companys companys at
Fri Nov 15 09:21:35 PST 2013

Tech Awards honor innovators seeking to change the world

By Patrick May

Posted:   11/14/2013 10:00:00 PM PST | Updated:   about 3 hours ago

Alejandro Maza is harnessing artificial-intelligence software to give
a voice to Mexican citizens in communities ravaged by drug violence.
Debra Stein's team is showing refugees in Sudan how an energy-saving
cook stove can change their lives. And A.J. Viola's nonprofit is
riffing on Steve Jobs -like product design to cure deadly jaundice
among newborns in the poorest countries in the world.

All three were on hand Thursday night as their teams, along with seven
others, were honored at the 13th annual Tech Awards, Silicon Valley's
pull-out-all-the-stops gala celebrating technology that's quietly and
cleverly changing the world. Well-heeled and black-tied, the creme de
la creme of the tech-world's crème showed up at the Santa Clara
Convention Center to toast 10 winning groups from around the world.

Debra Stein of Potential Energy shows off a portable, fuel efficient
stove from her Darfur Stoves Project at the annual Tech Awards at the
Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, Calif. on Thursday, Nov.
14, 2013. The stove reduces the amount of firewood needed to cook,
thereby limiting women's exposure to violence in that country during
firewood collection. The Tech Awards honors global innovators who use
technology to benefit humanity.(Gary Reyes/Bay Area News Group) (Gary

The victors, chosen by judges from Santa Clara University's Center for
Science, Technology and Society, received cash prizes from major tech
sponsors of as much as $75,000 per team to continue their work. And
their visit to Silicon Valley included pitch opportunities with
venture capital firms and networking opportunities that their global
peers would kill for.

The laureates, said Father Michael Engh with Santa Clara University
which cosponsors the event, "engage and serve the voice of 'the

"They are the best of the best serving the poorest of the poor," Engh
told the crowd of 1,500, filled with tech titans whose companies over
the decades have made Silicon Valley the innovative center of the

The event's crowning honor, the James C. Morgan Global Humanitarian
Award, was presented to Dean Kamen, a tech legend whose long list of
pioneering breakthroughs include the Segway, that curious two-wheel
"human transporter" now shuttling around everyone from urban cops to
San Francisco tourists.Kamen has been widely hailed for his work with
FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), a
nonprofit he founded in 1989 to come up with ways to inspire students
in the engineering and technology fields.

"Technology and innovation only mean something if they have an impact
on people's lives," Kamen said in an interview earlier this week. "I
strive to inspire the younger generations to continue looking at
things in new ways, and am flattered to be considered an award
recipient for my involvement in projects that benefit humanity, in
addition to being honored among such an incredible set of laureates
that strive to do the same."

Among those whose projects were honored on stage before Kamen's
keynote was Maza, a soft-spoken 26-year-old from Mexico City. His
studies in applied math and economics inspired him not to come seeking
work at some Silicon Valley startup, but rather to "try and use
technology to solve my country's most pressing problems, not just
potholes.'' And that took him to Ciudad Juárez, a city that's become
synonymous with the ravages of the drug cartels terrorizing much of
the country.

Alejandro Maza of OPI displays work from his project at the annual
Tech Awards at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara,
Calif. on Thursday, Nov.14, 2013. Maza has created software tools to
help citizens in Mexican cities have some input in curbing drug-cartel
violence. The Tech Awards honors global innovators who use technology
to benefit humanity. (Gary Reyes/Bay Area News Group) ( Gary Reyes )

"We came up with the idea to use tech that would give average citizens
the tools to speak up and tell their local government what the real
problems were and how they could solve them," Maza said in an
interview. "The federal government said they'd partner with us if we
could get 500 people to participate in our project, which was trying
to solicit suggestions for what the city should do with an abandoned
racetrack. We got 5,000 people to tell us what they thought needed to
be done."

Carrying cardboard boxes at first into the community, volunteers
gathered the grass-roots ideas. Eventually, they had residents of
Juarez use tablet computers to video-interview their neighbors, whose
suggestions were then immediately uploaded to the cloud.

"Then we used artificial-intelligence algorithms to analyze what
they'd told us, which were things like activities and workshops for
kids," Maza said. "The software allowed us to then match kids up with
volunteers who could offer those services."

Stein, a 35-year-old Berkeley resident with a background in
international development, said her project to supply inexpensive cook
stoves to women in the war-ravaged Darfur region of Sudan was the
brainchild of her mentor, UC professor Ashok Gadgil, who learned from
American foreign-aid officials that the women in Darfur faced attacks
and other threats every time they left their refugee camps to gather
wood for cook fires.

"So he went there and realized we needed a cooking solution,"

she said. "We needed a fuel-efficient cook stove that would reduce the
amount of wood they needed, help them keep some of their income spent
on fuel, and reduce the number of these dangerous treks they were
having to make."

Several years and 14 versions later, the metal stove Stein's group
devised, which costs $21 to make, is gradually being accepted by the
cooks of Darfur and elsewhere.

Viola, a 29-year-old graduate of Stanford University and Harvard
Business School, said it was his "passion to help the developing world
with well-designed products" that led him to join the team at D-Rev,
whose Brilliance device is being used by doctors around the world to
cure jaundice in newborns.

"It's a phototherapy device that uses light in a specific wave length
to treat the condition, and breaks down the bilirubin in the blood,"
said Viola, whose San Francisco-based team hopes to expand its program
soon to Southeast Asia. "I'm proud to be here," he said, "and to be
part of something that honors all these amazing people using
technology to really help the world become a better place."

Tech Awards winners

Antrix Corp./ISRO: Sujala Project (India): Watershed development in
severely drought-prone Karnataka state helps raise agricultural
productivity and farmers' income by using remote sensing devices to
monitor weather patterns. (prize: $75,000)

Wecyclers (Nigeria): Using low-cost cargo bikes to collect waste and a
text-based incentive program to offer household recycling services in
densely populated, low-income neighborhoods. ($25,000)

Enova: Learning and Innovation Network (Mexico): Runs education
centers that provide digital connections for hundreds of thousands of
Mexico's 82 million people without access to computers. ($75,000)

Globaloria: Invent. Build. Share. (United States): Its digital
game-design learning platform and curriculum are easily integrated
into any school, offering digital learning opportunities to help
bridge the educational divide in Mexico.($25,000)

OPI: Yo Propongo (Mexico): Employs sophisticated software and video
survey tools to gather grass-roots advice for municipal governments
from previously apathetic communities in areas hit hard by drug
violence. ($25,000)

TOHL (United States): Creates single segments of pipeline, delivered
by helicopters and trucks, that provide access to water in remote
areas of Chile.($75,000)

Nazava Water Filters (Indonesia): Its easy-to-use household water
filters provide safe drinking water to parts of Indonesia where 150
million people can't afford to get it. ($75,000)

D-Rev: Brilliance (United States): Has sold 320 of its affordable
state-of-the-art phototherapy devices that can cure life-threatening
jaundice in newborns and premature babies in developing countries.

Potential Energy: The Darfur Stoves Project (United States): Its
energy-saving metal cookstoves, adapted for local cooking traditions
in the war-ravaged Darfur region of Sudan, allow women to avoid
dangerous wood-gathering treks from their refugee camps and reduce
their fuel costs. ($75,000)

Syngenta Foundation: Kilimo Salama (Kenya, Rwanda): With traditional
agricultural insurance too expensive for most farmers, this group
provides a mobile-phone claim-and-payment system and other tech tricks
to help farmers get compensation for crop losses due to drought.

Source: The Tech Awards

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