16th Tech Awards Highlight Previous Winners Who Have ‘Scaled’ Their Impact

By Queenie Wong
Mercury News

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Seven organizations tackling major health, environmental, agricultural and educational problems around the globe were honored for their work at the 16th annual Tech Awards Thursday night.


Even in Silicon Valley, awash in tech industry millionaires and billionaires, it isn’t all about the Benjamins. It’s about doing good, too.

At the 16th annual Tech Awards on Thursday night, more than 1,000 people attended a black-tie gala at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center to honor seven organizations tackling major health, environmental, agricultural and educational problems plaguing developing countries.

They’re helping to create vaccines and drugs to combat infectious diseases, empowering women through storytelling in the Middle East, or making solar energy more affordable worldwide. “We hail not only our honorees’ pioneering spirit but their compassionate hearts,” said San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo in a speech during the award ceremony.

And unlike other years, all of the laureates have previously won a tech award. The Tech Museum of Innovation, which runs the program, has honored 287 organizations since the awards were founded. In total, these social entrepreneurs have helped more than 2 billion people in some of the world’s poorest countries.

“What (an independent panel of judges) were looking for was the impact, how they’ve scaled since they were first honored here, and what their value was to the world’s most disposed and the poorest people,” said David Whitman, executive producer of The Tech Awards.

Dressed in evening gowns, tuxedos, and suits, attendees sipped on cocktails, snapped photos and chatted as live music filled the air at a reception area and in the ballroom.

PATH, an international nonprofit aimed at improving global health, won the Laureate Impact Award. It was the fourth tech award that the Seattle organization received, which is more than any other honoree.

The nonprofit has been honored by The Tech Awards in the past for creating a nonreusable prefilled syringe, a vial whose label changes color if the vaccine is damaged by heat and a grain that resembles rice but is rich with iron, zinc, folic acid and other nutrients. They may not be the flashiest tech tools, but in developing countries, their simplicity packs a huge punch.

All of these innovations are still being used today.

Steve Davis, president and CEO of PATH, said in an interview the nonprofit often works behind the scenes with the private sector and government to reach the masses. “We’re not in the business of creating proprietary products that we push out to the market,” Davis said. “We are in the business of helping others create products and getting them to scale.”

Started 40 years ago, the organization has also helped develop vaccines for a type of meningitis that broke out in Africa in the 1990s, as well as for other diseases such as polio, malaria, and pneumonia.

And as the way people communicate changes with the rise of social media sites such as Facebook and messaging apps, some of The Tech Award’s honorees have evolved the way they reach people in need. Equal Access, an international nonprofit based in San Francisco, uses storytelling to teach people in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East about empowerment, human rights, and other life skills.

When the nonprofit first won a tech award in 2003, it was educating about 10,400 young girls in Nepal about empowerment, HIV/AIDS and the dangers of sex-trafficking via radio programming. Now the organization, which was awarded the Microsoft Education Award, has more than 67 million active viewers and listeners in nine countries. They’re using video, messaging and even hip-hop music to grab the attention of youth.
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“It’s youth talking to youth in ways that matter to them, and that part is really important because young people worldwide love media,” said Ronni Goldfarb, founder, and CEO of Equal Access.

Hours before Thursday’s gala, Angaza CEO Lesley Marincola showcased the technology the San Francisco and Kenya tech firm developed that allows families to pay as they go to use solar energy products. Since Angaza first won a tech award in 2012, it started partnering with manufacturers to develop energy products instead of creating its own, allowing the company to reach more customers globally.

Presented by Applied Materials, the awards also provided cash awards totaling $300,000 for the seven laureates.

For The Tech Museum of Innovation, the awards ceremony is also a big fundraiser. The event helps raise an estimated $2 million every year, and about half of that goes back to the museum.

Dick King, who helped co-found the awards in 2000 but recently retired after more than 28 years at the Tech Museum, said The Tech Awards were created not only as a fundraiser but to brand the museum as an international organization and highlight Silicon Valley as a place where technology does good.

“A lot of Silicon Valley’s reputation is based on IPOs, who’s making money and how many instant billionaires there are out there,” he said. “What we in the Tech Museum and what many in Silicon Valley want to be known for is creating technology that would make the world a better place.”

The museum also is launching an initiative in fall 2017 called “The Tech for Global Good.” It will showcase the work of the laureates in rotating exhibits, along with educational programs and events.

“The Tech Awards,” King said. “has taken on a life much bigger than we even imagined.”
16th annual Tech Award winners

Laureate Impact Award: PATH, a laureate in 2003, 2007 and 2009 that aims to improve global health through vaccines, drugs, diagnostics, devices, and system and service innovations.

Intel Environment Award: Source International, a 2014 laureate that travels to remote communities around the world that have been negatively affected by mining operations and provides scientific evidence of the damage done to people and the environment.

Microsoft Education Award: Equal Access, a 2003 laureate that reaches 67 million households in nine countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East with educational media content about women empowerment and other life skills.

PayPal Equality Award: Souktel, a 2010 laureate that created a job market platform for basic phones that has grown to more than a million users in 30 emerging markets.

Katherine M. Swanson Young Innovator Award: Angaza, a 2012 laureate that created a pay-as-you-go system for solar energy.
Sobrato Organization Economic Development Award: IDE-India, a 2004 and 2010 laureate that invented a low-cost drip irrigation system and foot-powered water pump that have created more than $1.4 billion in additional net income for farmers in India.

Sutter Health Award: D-Rev, a 2013 laureate that designed and produced medical technology that treated more than 100,000 babies with severe jaundice in 2015.

Source: The Tech Museum of Innovation

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