Textbook-based learning is great and all, but I highly doubt that my current worldview or creative inclinations were inspired by an American History textbook. Despite many wonderful teachers, this is the system. It can be more or less interesting depending on the ship’s captain, but it is still very “checklisty.”
Rather, I like to think that my path (whatever it is) was set by my dad reading “The Gods of Mars” to my brother and I before we went to sleep, by the radio plays my brother and I taped onto cassette when we were little, and the horror movies I stayed up late to watch under my parents’ noses …
The House of Fairy Tales is an artist-led initiative in the UK, focused on creating “parallel worlds where learning is play and play is directed learning.” Through a sort of interactive, traveling roadshow; the artists, philosophers, storytellers, educators, filmmakers and other creatives who make up House of Fairy Tales spin yarns and engage both young and old in stories and spontaneous creativity.
Why fairy tales?
The House of Fairy Tales fits into the right-brain-centricity espoused by people like Daniel Pink, who believe that the more well-rounded, more prepared individual will also be more creative. The ability to tell a story, engage an audience and connect with others on an richly emotional level transcends age, race, nationality and gender.
If advancement is only limited by the breadth of our imagination, then we need people who are willing to put the time and energy into stretching it.
When you really get down to it, having fun is pretty serious business.
(via Forgotten Hopes)
As education activists and policymakers desperately try to figure out how to revamp our nation’s (failing) school systems, it might be helpful to take a look at a new public school in New York City — completely based on games.
Quest to Learn is an AWESOME new age school for grades 6-12 that uses digital media and game design as the primary means of education, with video games at the center of all classes and learning experiences. This doesn’t mean that its students sit around playing Farmville all day, with the occasional break to pwn n00bs at Halo 3, however. These are games created to bridge old and new literacies to help students learn about the world as a set of interconnected systems. Design and complex problem-solving are two big ideas of the school, as is immersing students in real life-based situations that help them think like designers, inventors, mathematicians and more. Each student has a laptop and homework is managed on a social networking site called BeingMe, where students can collaborate and critique each other’s work, with support from adult mentors.
A brain child of the Institute of Play, I think this school model is completely brilliant, as it situates learning in a familiar way that compels children to want to do it, versus just going through the motions, which makes all the difference in the world. Katie Salen, the director of the school and a speaker at 2006 PUSH, says that
“The design of Quest to Learn has purposely responded not only to the growing evidence that digital media and games offer powerful models for reconsidering how and where young people learn, but that access for all students to these opportunities is critical.”
As I said in a previous post, the brain never stops reorganizing itself in response to the world. This generation of children are digital natives … video games and digital media are what they grew up with and what they’re interested in. It makes sense that the way we teach them needs to evolve as well. School systems need to catch up with the 21st century and embrace the technologies that are ubiquitous in these kids’ lives instead of avoiding, or even forbidding, them. Quest to Learn might not be a perfect solution to our country’s education problems, but it is an interesting step in the right direction toward turning students into thoughtful, well-informed citizens who are literate in the technologies and skills needed for success in the 21st century.
Katie Salen, the school’s Executive Director, on Kid Culture:
“Grey is out. Gloom is gone.” is the fitting mantra behind Dulux’s beautiful Let’s Colour project making its way around the globe. Declaring that it’s time for us to live our lives in colour, the international paint company has started a worldwide initiative to transform grey spaces with (their) colourful paint.
(Side note: it’s odd to include a ‘u’ when typing ‘colour,’ but I like it enough to pretend to be British for the rest of this post.)
Dulux has gathered together a team of volunteers who have traveled to London, Rio de Janeiro, Paris and Jodhpur so far this year in search of drab, dreary neighborhoods to rejuvenate with vivid, eye-popping coats of paint. They prioritize local participation and collaboration in shaping communities, as “Mandating things to people feels a bit old fashioned. People want to collaborate, people want to create content to share with the world.”
Rather than being just another lifeless, corporate PR campaign, the Let’s Colour project is absolutely charming, combining a simple, powerful mission, an enthusiastic team and a lasting, beautiful end result. Their YouTube page features videos showing the passion sparked in local communities involved with the metamorphosis of their formerly dull, grey, oppressive public spaces. Two little girls in India declare that their favorite colours are rainbow and pink, and that they are VERY excited to paint their school. Some young men in Aulnay, France say that participating in the project makes them feel like they’re bringing joy to their city.
My favorite video, however, came from Benito Berretta, a marketing director, who shared his thoughts on colour and how it reflects who we are as individuals and communities:
“There is a relationship between the colours and the soul of the community. Colours are the language of the community. They reveal a lot of things about they communicate and interact with life, how they see the future and how they enjoy the present. “
“This language is very important to understand because it will tell you a lot about how to start a dialogue with the communities. It’s about understanding that we are all different, but that at the same time we all have similar things, one of them being that when you paint, there is a future for you. Communities that are painting have a brighter future; they have hope – for improving, for bringing new things.”
Beautiful. To go along with that, I recently stumbled across an infographic that charts the varying symbolism of colours around the world, from purple and flamboyance to brown and loyalty.
Red symbolizes love in American and Japanese culture. Hindus, however, associate that feeling with the colour green, while Native Americans use yellow and African culture ties love in with the colour blue.
This chart just goes to show that while differing from culture to culture, colour really does help us make sense of the world around us. It’s such a powerful, important part of human expression and if Dulux is on a mission to rid communities of grey and gloom, more power to them.
Kopernik is a revolutionary new social platform that connects breakthrough technologies with the individuals and communities that need them the most through crowdsourced financing. The name stems from Nicolaus Copernicus, the first astronomer to embrace a heliocentric model of the universe, completely changing the way people look at the world – a fitting metaphor for Kopernik’s goal of changing the way we approach development and some of the greatest challenges facing the world today.
The platform — founded by a team of ex- World Bank and United Nations workers — connects individual supporters, technology providers and the local organizations worldwide who need those technologies. A humanitarian three-way of sorts, if you will.
Projects like self-adjustable glasses for refugees with zero access to eye care, rollable water containers for women in East Timor and computer skills training programs for rural Ugandans have been amazingly effective and show how well the platform works.
Microfinance, a type of banking service designed to provide low income people with a means of saving money, borrowing money, and insurance is not a new concept by any means. Best known through the Grameen Bank model, microfinance has been extraordinarily successful because it gives people an opportunity to become entrepreneurial and self-sufficient, helping them help themselves. Iqbal Quadir, a speaker at the 2005 PUSH conference and Director of the fantastic Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship, is the founder of the GrameenPhone, a perfect example of the impact that empowering the citizens of poor countries can have.
In a great TEDTalk, Quadir said that he believes far more in the power of individuals, even those whose only resources are their minds and imaginations, than in the power of the state. He charges that foreign aid has failed to improve living standards because “aid empowers authorities, not citizens.” If we can start promoting businesses and connectivity in these areas, it can have a much greater impact on people’s lives than all the aid we can imagine. Quadir had a vision that creating universal access to telephone service in his home country of Bangladesh would greatly improve efficiency, connect villages to the world, create business opportunities and generate a culture of entrepreneurship over time. Quadir used the Grameen Bank model to implement his distribution scheme in which village entrepreneurs, backed by micro-loans, could retail telephone services to their surrounding areas. This model worked and GrameenPhone currently provides telephone access to over 100 million people living in rural Bangladesh, improving economic efficiency immensely.
Iqbal Quadir goes by the motto “Connectivity is productivity,” which is where Kopernik comes in. Kiva took the Grameen Bank model a step further by allowing anyone who wants to participate in microfinance to lend money all over the world. Donors can start a Kiva account and then browse among possible borrowers and causes to figure out whom to lend money to. Kopernik is the next step — it shows that not only can everyone can be involved in microfinance, but that we can do this even more effectively. It provides a model that could potentially fill the disconnect between people who dream up world-changing technologies and the people who actually need them. The team behind Kopernik is planning to eventually expand beyond crowdfunding proposals into developing their own products with DIY and open-source instructions that local communities can use to build technologies on their own. Microfinance is the new tool and philosophy of how change is effective. Kopernik is simply taking that model and adding an organizational piece to it – in effect, shifting the the structure Copernicus-style, while focusing on the idea that connectivity really is productivity.
I want people to feel as though this is the most important issue of our time. It is possible to give every kid a great education and they can do something about it. Driving by and worrying is not enough. Unless each one of us takes a step to make change, our schools won’t get any better.
-Davis Guggenheim, director of Waiting for Superman
A much-anticipated documentary premiered January 22nd at the Sundance Film Festival. Waiting for Superman (incidentally, the name of a Flaming Lips cover I love, but I digress) examines the crisis of public education in the United States through multiple interlocking stories – from a handful of students and their families whose futures hang in the balance, to the educators and reformers trying to find real and lasting solutions within a dysfunctional system. Directed by Oscar-winning Davis Guggenheim (of An Inconvenient Truth fame) and supported by an impressive cast of characters including Bill Gates, Geoffrey Canada (founder of the fantastic Harlem Children’s Zone), John Legend and Michelle Rhee (the chancellor of the D.C. public schools system), the film is meant to be a call to action for public schools the way An Inconvenient Truth was for global warming.
The film examines efforts by innovative educators to turn around failing school systems in Washington, D.C., Harlem, Los Angeles and other places where many schools have come to be known as “dropout factories” and “academic sinkholes”. It isn’t trying to prove that the public school system of the United States is in crisis – that’s been fairly well-documented, despite increased spending and the promise of politicians that no child will be left behind. We spend more money per student than any other nation in the world, but the test scores of American students have fallen from near the top to rock bottom among developed nations. Sure, money is always a problem, but by no means is it the only one. Waiting for Superman argues that teachers are the solution to our country’s education problem. Decades of research and test data indicate that the primary factor determining a school performance is not its budget, physical plant, curriculum, student population or income level of its district. It is teaching.
The main premise of Waiting for Superman is that improvement in our school systems requires major improvement in both our teachers themselves and in the way they are treated. It “requires demanding our teachers get deep in the trenches, be allowed to be flexible and innovative, persist, and to be held accountable.” Some of the main culprits identified as holding schools back are self-interested education bureaucracies and teachers unions, and the ways they prevent administrators from getting rid of poor instructors. One particularly irritating practice brought up is the $65 million-a-year “Rubber Room” in which bad New York teachers draw full salaries while waiting idly for the school district to prove misconduct charges. The film proposes a teacher compensation model based off what Michelle Rhee is already working on in Washington D.C. – a system that evaluates teachers based on a combination of their students’ test scores, academic gains, and classroom observations from third-party evaluators. The system would reward successful teachers with a higher salary while flushing out ineffective ones and weakening tenure. Charter schools (schools that receive public funding but are free from many of the rules and regulations that apply to regular public schools) are identified as the future of our education system. Guggenheim offers hope by looking at education reformers and schools that are already reshaping the culture and refusing to leave children behind.
No matter what your political beliefs, this movie is important because it brings the issue of our country’s education system to a level that everyone can understand — telling them how it works and why they should care. When values become shared, when an issue becomes personal, when a large group of people starts to get it — this is the catalyst for innovative solutions and changes to actually occur. Not having seen the documentary yet (Paramount plans to distribute it in the fall), I can’t offer my opinion on the exact changes that these educators want to make to the system. I can, however, offer my opinion that things need to change and that it needs to be a group movement; it’s impossible for a few revolutionary teachers to change a system on their own that’s been around forever. There are thousands of children in our country who, despite promises that they won’t be, are being left behind and are desperately in need of a Superman (or two or fifty). Hopefully this documentary stirs the souls and the hearts of the people in this country and makes them believe that it is possible to give every kid a great education.
“Synthetic biology has been called the science of the 21st century. Rewriting the genetic information of micro organisms allows scientists to create new genetic machines that can perform extraordinary tasks.”
And, perched at the crossroads of biology and engineering is the annual International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition wherein multi-disciplinary teams of undergraduate students from all over the world (112 teams this year) come together to dabble in scientific exploration of synthetic biology concepts with an eye toward real world applications.
According to the iGEM site, student teams are given a “kit of biological parts” meted out from an official Registry of Standard Biological Parts (yikes!) which they use as components to “specify, design, build and test simple biological systems.” Participants present their findings in an annual Championship Jamboree/finale forum.
Beakers, lab coats and pocket protectors aside, this is no activity for lightweights. Successful involvement in this impressive competition requires a winning combination of funding, equipment, research space, expertise, leadership, team work and commitment.
“As the premiere undergraduate teaching program in Synthetic Biology, iGEM attracts the current and future leaders in the field. The competition format is highly motivating and fosters hands-on, interdisciplinary education. Biology students learn engineering approaches and tools to organize, model, and assemble complex systems, while engineering students are able to immerse themselves in applied molecular biology… Students are given access to some of the most advanced synthetic biology tools currently available in the hopes of developing students into the best genetic engineers of tomorrow.”
The 2009 Jamboree took place last week at MIT and the Grand Prize winner of the Biobrick Trophy was the Cambridge team for their work on sensitivity tuners and color-generating devices that can detect and measure levels of contaminants in the environment. An eclectic group of graduate fellows, researchers, and honorary lab rats from the London School of Economics, the Royal College of Art, (and a guy whose “work on synthetic meat was recently featured in Wired magazine”), served in an advisory capacity to the Cambridge team.
Students participated in a series of workshops designed to “catch everyone up on the details of Synthetic biology” (I know I’m a little rusty), brainstorm, hone presentation skills, and encourage thinking around bioethical issues such as the far-reaching implications of a project involving live bacteria.
Daisy Ginsburg and James King from the Royal College of Art, organized a Colors Future workshop, exposing students to the behavior of various pigments from the natural world. The group explored many interesting scenarios around the use of pigmentation as an environmental indicator, engineering E. coli to be sensitive to “environmentally significant compounds,” including arsenic, mercury, lead, cyanide, etc. These genetically engineered biosensors worked on a color “dipstick” model wherein live bacteria changed color when exposed to various chemical pollutants.
“We envisioned a marketable product that reports the concentration of an inducer by colour. Each strain is sensitive to a different concentration of the inducer. The concentration of the inducer in the test solution can be determined by reading the pattern of pigmentation. Think litmus paper using live bacteria as the color change agent. “Colour can be a meaningful but simple output solution for biosensors, adapting nature’s idea of warning colouration.“
The simple sensing mechanism created by the Cambridge iGEM team came about as a result of multidisciplinary thinking at the juncture between science, technology and art. Their discovery has the potential to change the lives of tens of thousands of people living in remote areas of developing countries where pollution looms as an increasingly significant threat.
There’s no question that the input we receive affects the world we see. I mean, how can you see it if you don’t … well, see it? The fact that I spent 6th grade through junior year of high school reading Stephen King’s entire library probably has something to do with the fact that I now seem to pick up terrible horror films as if I were trying to physically manifest BadMovies.org.
You’ve been warned.
Luckily for all of us, there are people out there enlightening those around them with more than the special edition of C.H.U.D.
One of them is George Ayittey, champion of Radio Free Africa – a non-profit organization with the goal of facilitating the flow of information on the continent. Specifically, the group is most interested in the sharing of ideas and supporting public watchdogs to expose criminal and political wrongdoing. Though an equally large undertaking is the creation of a viable network for spreading said information.
Knowledge is the ability to create change – voice is the ability to share it. Opening the lines of communication leads to the ultimate open source community. Only, instead of building iPhone apps, it’s building the future. The iPhone app store is a good example, though, in the sense that it shows how the empowered masses will always move things forward more quickly than the entrusted few.
I remember taking “The History of Mass Communication” in college (almost as stuffy as it sounds) and discussing the role of the colonial press in the birth of the nation. It’s hard to imagine this rebel press as a very big deal because we already have things like Consumerist.com and FactCheck.org. At this point, we truly seem to live in a country where the watchdog is thriving.
In fact, I can barely picture a world where I don’t have access to the outside through my computer, iPhone, coworker … etc. I am empowered and the fact that I’m even writing this post is proof that I have the potential to spark change, or at least Diggs, outside of my own, immediate sphere.
Radio Free Africa is picking things up at a different stage because this freedom of information – this flow of ideas – does not exist in Africa, or at least not to the extent that it does here.
Radio Free Africa is currently focused on:
- collecting current events and news articles relating to free press and violations against it
- collecting information on similar grassroots programs
- academic and policy review
- legislative outreach
- technology outreach – penetrating hard-to-reach locales through the use of tools like mobile phones and services like SMS, in order to create a framework for engagement and free media
- identifying areas where free speech is under attack and developing plans to intervene
In short, the visionaries at Radio Free Africa are building the reservoir, developing the pipeline and determining where to plant wells.
Meanwhile, across the pond, Luis Soriano Bohorquez and his donkey have worked out a system that – while not quite as expansive – is no less inspiring. Instead of connecting a continent through free media, Luis gets on his “biblioburro” every weekend in order to deliver books to the surrounding towns and villages.
With a few thousand books haphazardly piled in his home and at friends’ houses, it’s a little hard fill requests. And to think I groaned at having to use a card catalog once!
But, in the same way Radio Free Africa is seeking to open the lines of communication to and build community, Luis is broadening the horizons of the children around him. The children are becoming stronger readers – developing the tools to communicate on a much broader level.
Said one child, “It’s important because, when your parents ask you to read them a letter that they don’t understand, you can read it to them.”
Not only are they developing technical skills, but they are learning how to dream bigger, and through these books, they are allowed to step outside of their own worlds.
There’s a good chance that I’ll never see half the places I’ve visited in books. But I’m certainly better for all the places I’ve dreamed. It’s a question of scope. It allows me to dream bigger in the world I do exist in.
If we believe that change literacy is written in the language of dreams, then both Luis Soriano Bohorquez and George Ayittey should be thanked in the dedication.
Without their faith and support, this [insert dream/change/invention/cure/work of art/etc.] would not have been possible.
Eager to continue his education any way he could, he spent a considerable amount of time at the library where, one day, he picked up a tattered U.S. textbook and saw a picture of a windmill.
Malawi is short on many resources, but they do have an abundant supply of wind. Thinking “If somebody did this thing, I can also do it,” Kamkwamba set out to build his very own windmill. To get supplies for it, he salvaged all sorts of junk (another man’s treasure) from his father’s broken bike to old tractor pieces and was often greeted with “Ah, look, the madman has come with his garbage.” Several people thought he was smoking marijuana to which he replied that he was “only making something for juju [magic].”
The garbage-collecting madman succeeded in making magic when he managed to hack together a functioning windmill from strips of PVC pipe, rusty car and bicycle parts and blue gum trees.
Originally, all he wanted to do was power a small light bulb in his bedroom so he could stay up and read past sunset. That dream got bigger in a hurry and one windmill has turned into three, which now generate enough electricity to light several bulbs in his family’s house, power radios and a TV, charge his neighbors’ cellphones and pump water for the village’s fields and household use.
TEDGlobal heard about him, invited him to speak at their conference, and inspired by William, started a non-profit called the Moving Windmills Project. Moving Windmills supports Malawian-run rural economic development and education projects in Malawi, with the goals of community economic independence and self-sustainability; food, water and health security; and educational success.
All this from a tattered library book, a few old bicycle parts and a boy with a seemingly impossible dream. Juju indeed.
(William will be a guest on The Daily Show tonight!)
My first impression of Neave.com was that I had mistakenly stumbled across an online playground for stoners – the lights, the sounds, the painfully over done British banter complete with bizarre references to elephants named Dave – huh?
Paul Neave, the London-based interactive designer behind Neave.com explains his flash-design software such: “I love trying to dissolve the boundaries between code and design and exploring ways of making technology seem less scary and geeky, but more fun and human.” Undoubtedly, the site is amusing, but when it comes to dissolving boundaries – I have to disagree. Neave’s flash graphics are fun, but in his attempts to make them more “human”, it’s hard to miss the irony that his use of technology is actually driving us away from the very definition of humanity: interaction with each other and the outside world.
Take for example, any of the following: Imagination, Bounce, Dandelion, or Flash Earth. Immediately upon opening the Flash Imagination screen, I am met with memories of playing Ribbon Dancer in my driveway. Bounce reminds me of the ball pits that I would bury myself in at Chuck-E-Cheese, the blowing of the dandelion seeds in Dandelion is a practice that I still indulge in, and Flash Earth or Planetarium – well, walk outside your front door and you can behold the real deal.
It is interesting to think that the catalyst behind Neave’s playful flash design is the nostalgia of our own childhood. It works for most of us now, but what about the next generation of kids? With the introduction of computers coming earlier and earlier in life, their first exposure to these games might actually be Neave.com’s version instead of real thing. Will the flash games still engage them if they have no previous, more tangible memories to build upon for their understanding of fun? How do “real play” and “virtual play” overlap? Must one precede the other in order to be effective or can we be engaged in a continual exchange?
Neave.com toys with this concept in a clever way. Paul Neave takes delight in his ability to use his flash-tech savvy to have fun at work, but I think we’re better off taking him up on his parting advice:
“Turn off the computer and go outside. Go hang with your friends. Make lots of new friends. Count your blessings. Smile like an idiot. Don’t think too much. Don’t worry about the future. Don’t take life too seriously. Don’t pay attention to word I say.” – Done!
Music is an explosive expression of humanity. – Billy Joel
The past few years, veiled by the secrecy of night, street pianos emblazoned with the phrase “Play me, I’m yours.” have been appearing in cities across the world. Located in skate parks, industrial estates, laundromats, precincts, bus shelters and train stations, outside pubs and football grounds, the pianos are for any member of the public to enjoy and claim temporary ownership of. London was the most recent city to be hit with an influx of these mysterious musical instruments and the positive results have been overwhelming.
The 30 brightly decorated pianos scattered across the UK’s capital are part of an art installation by artist Luke Jerram, designed to act as a catalyst for strangers who regularly occupy the same space, to talk and connect with one another. Disrupting people’s negotiation of their city, the pianos are also meant to provoke citizens into engaging, activating and claiming ownership of their urban landscape. Along with creating a sense of unity and whimsy in the street, the installation serves a practical purpose by providing access to musical instruments to those who ordinarily might not have the privilege. When Play Me, I’m Yours was in São Paolo, Brazil, people traveled for hours just to play the pianos that are normally so scarce and precious that they cost a year’s income. After the 3 week installation is up, the pianos are donated to local schools and community centers.
Characteristically of the Web 2.0 world we live in, a website was created that allows people to upload videos and pictures of the various pianos in use across the city. The responses were overwhelming, ranging from a homeless man teaching the son of a street worker how to play to a duo who played 24 of the pianos in 8 hours to a massive crowd singing Hey Jude on Carnaby Street. I spent far too much time looking at these pictures and was amazed by the impact such a simple idea had on the demeanor of complete strangers on the street. Place a few pianos on the street here and there and voila!, detached passerbys normally glued to their technological devices transform into living, breathing human beings who sing and laugh and play piano and connect with both the people and the city around them. I love the idea of the fine arts being moved from private venues such as museums and concert halls to the public space (defined by Wikipedia as an area or place that is open and accessible to all citizens, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, age or socio-economic level.) where everyone reaps the benefits. What could happen to both urban landscapes and the way strangers interact with each other if there was enough funding to spread this project to hundreds of cities worldwide? Imagine.
Recently, I took a hiatus from the Push Institute in order to head to for the Oregon hills, where I spent the last 8 weeks working for an outdoor adventure company. I lose track of time in the backcountry – playing around on the peaks and river paths, catching soft sunrises, and soaking it all in Henry David Thoreau-style. Yet one of my favorite experiences outdoors has nothing to do with its virgin scenery or wildlife. After so much time becoming one with nature, one of the most startling reentry experiences has always been when I see myself in the mirror for the first time. Returning to my life in the city, I must acclimate to the fact that other people are looking back too. Self-consciousness returns (as in conscious of self), and I start to feel obligated to dress nicer, speak softer, and well -to be frank- stop belching whenever I please. I was still struggling with this readjustment frame when I sat down with Cynthia Casas, the Strategy and Partnerships Advisor of the Portland, Oregon-based global women’s magazine, World Pulse.
World Pulse was founded in 2003 by Jensine Larsen, a young journalist covering indigenous movements and ethnic cleansing in South America and Southeast Asia, with a commitment to address international women’s issues. “We deliver a message of empowerment,” Casas explains. “We have no political agenda, nor are we are a humanitarian agency…We are simply a venue for the voices of women across the world to be heard.”
Though many national feminist magazines exist such as Ms. Magazine and B*tch (another popular Portland export), World Pulse seeks to fill the international niche. Their Voices of the Future initiative operates similar to Global Voices or WITNESS, two sites that use videos, blog, and other technology to expose issues and sectors of society that might otherwise be left silent, but World Pulse caters specifically to women. Not only do they provide a platform to be heard – they provide the training as well. In partnership with the Empowerment Institute, the Press Institute, and the Op-Ed Project, World Pulse has initiated the help of approximately 30 life coaches/editorial advisors across the world to serve as mentors to 31 international, grassroots correspondents from over 21 nations. Because World Pulse primarily seeks first-person narratives for their stories, the women who are willing to speak may not always have a journalism background. Fortunately, they will have coaches available to guide them towards success and improvement within their writing careers and their lives.
In addition to their bi-annual print magazine and regular online content, World Pulse has developed PulseWire, a social networking tool that can be used for women’s global empowerment. It is a space where you can tell your story, post an offering or need, collaborate in groups, and ideally – build a movement. “We have a lot of new platforms in the works, but we’re saving our big media launch until 2010,” Casas says. “We’re hoping to introduce a membership model for our magazine to help with our funding. We would also like to organize an international delegation where our women writers and other influential figures in women’s issues can come together to workshop and strengthen their solidarity.”
As I flip through the Winter/Spring 09 edition of World Pulse, I am greeted by faces and voices incredibly different from my own, yet also so profoundly similar. My encounter with World Pulse was a wonderful way to come back into and reconnect with this world.
The Summer/Fall 2009 print edition of World Pulse will be hitting newsstands soon. Look for it at Barnes and Noble and independent bookstores across the nation.
The Push tagline, “Push the Future in New Directions,” reflects our mission to, on the one hand, track the people, ideas, and technologies that are shaping our future while, on the other hand, give people the tools and inspiration required to be Push-ers in their own right.
“A person with no hope is the most dangerous person in the world. We need to give individuals a stake in the system, or they will seek to destroy it. This is silver rights in action.”
John Hope Bryant says he’s out to make smart sexy. That the next emerging markets are in our own back (mostly urban) yard; that our communities, in terms of an economic recovery, are (dys)functioning as underperforming capital; that people have to see options before they know they have options; and that role models who can make smart sexy are critical to showing the way to success.
Your cell phone keeps you more connected than you think – and not always in a good way. Recently, the Enough Project and You Tube teamed up to launch their “Come Clean 4 Congo” video campaign to raise awareness on how your small electronics purchase could be fueling one of the deadliest wars in the Congo. The current death toll reaches 5.6 million (with 2,000 more dying per day) and 70% of the world’s rape is reported from the Congo. In order to fund their armies, the three warring militias take control of the lucrative mines and extract bribes from transporters, local and international buyers, and border control.
According to the Enough Project’s report “Can You Hear Congo Now?” The four principal conflict minerals are:
•Tin (produced from cassiterite)—used inside your cell phone and all electronic products as a
solder on circuit boards.
• Tantalum (produced from “coltan”, 80% of the world’s supply is located in the Congo)—used to store electricity in capacitors in iPods, digital cameras,
and cell phones.
• Tungsten —used to make your cell phone or Blackberry vibrate.
• Gold—used in jewelry and as a component in electronics.
The Enough Project and YouTube’s call for filmmakers to produce a short, 1-minute documentary on how cell phone purchases are linked to the war in Congo is the first step is raising awareness on this issue. Most people have no idea where their cell phone materials come from and there is no legislation currently in place to reveal the origin of these supply chains.
Even though most of us already own a cell phone that was more than likely produced with some of these conflict minerals, there is hope. As soon as conflict-free phones are introduced to the market, we can switch to one of those, and then we can donate our old phone to Hope Phones. Hope Phones is an organization that works in collaboration with kiwanja.net, the Hewlett Foundation, and FrontlineSMS: Medic, to provide phones to health care workers in developing countries. For every cell phone donated, the money from trading in the old phone goes towards purchasing new phones for health care providers. By giving remote communities a cell phone, they can stay in closer contact with their doctors, receive better care, and cut down on the response time when a medical emergency arises. A $10 cell phone will give 50 families access to emergency health care. Cell phones, like everything, can produce both bad and good, but as long as we’re aware of both sides of the conversation, we can make it work things work the right way.
Richard Branson explains in a video blog why he has chosen to take up Mia Farrow’s fast for Darfur:
“We fast in solidarity with the people of Darfur because they do not have a choice. We fast as a personal expression of outrage at a world that has allowed the suffering of millions of innocent people. We fast because as we simply watched, Darfur’s defenceless people were forced into wretched camps where today they are facing starvation and disease. We fast because those in positions of authority who know what is right and just, could and should do more to alleviate their suffering and bring peace, protection, and justice to the people of Sudan.
We fast for Darfur’s courageous people —because we yearn for a world where human rights are respected and a life of dignity is the legacy for every man, woman and child.
Please join us and get involved in supporting the people of Darfur by going to www.fastdarfur.org and taking action.”
Branson told Entertainment Weekly that his decision to take up a three day fast for Darfur in the aftermath of the Sudanese government’s decision to expel 16 international aid organizations is “the first time I’ve deprived my stomach to get political change.” I commend his efforts and view his support of Darfur as a powerful move. I recently wrote an article on the sway of the hunger strike in response to Evo Morales’ six-day hunger strike for election reform. People often brush aside the efforts of famous people in working for social action – like its some kind of sideshow to their otherwise luxurious lifestyle, but I will not condemn anyone who cares in any capacity that they can. Branson’s three-day hunger strike is a commitment that encourages so many others because his influence is so widespread.
[Sidenote: Shame on you, journalists, for introducing Mia Farrow as "the former wife of Frank Sinatra and the ex-girlfriend of Woody Allen" in nearly every article written on Farrow's handing over of the hunger strike to Richard Branson. Aside from her former career as an actress, singer, and model, she should be recognized first and foremost by her status as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF and her tireless work in the conflict-stricken regions of Sudan and Chad. If I find it annoying that she's still being introduced by her former love life, I can't imagine how she feels. Give the woman some due credit!]
The annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner could have been another platform for Obama to stay somber and serious about our current state of affairs, but instead, he chose to take a lighter note and unexpectedly crack a lot of jokes. If anyone is going to abuse a position of power, this is how it should be done – with humor! Thank you, President Obama for some much needed comic relief!
This Monday, I had the opportunity to attend a test dinner of the Push Institute’s much-anticipated Global Dinner Party (now in its pilot phase) at the home of Sam and Sylvia Kaplan. The guest list included four lawyers (from corporate to entertainment to constitutional/security-torture-rendition, our mayor, a singer, a serial entrepreneur, a college student in need of a free meal/younger blogger (me), and others. The three-course dinner featured matzoh ball soup and salad, a Middle Eastern main dish, and chocolate meringue for dessert, but the conversation undoubtedly proved to be the main affair – so much that, I confess, I rather slacked off on taking notes. Like a good meal after a long day (when you don’t stop to wipe your face until you’ve cleaned your plate), I became so engrossed in the conversation that I did not pause to take notes for fear of missing the debate.
In our review of the evening, Cecily explained that “The aim of A Global Dinner Party is to bring people together over food and ideas, to share and challenge thinking about where we’re headed. We’re creating a 3-course menu of questions on topics such as energy, immigration, life expectancy, worldviews, exploration of space and ocean, morality, and other such juicy stuff. If the conversation broadens and inspires people’s thinking, all while having fun, then the dinner is a success. Ultimately, these are the kinds of experiences that ultimately impact how decisions are made — which is how change is made — and that’s what we’re after! Share a dinner, create community, and change the world — what could be better?”
Discussion for the evening focused on (which) factors that create a stable and robust society. I’m not sure that we arrived at any answers, though there was agreement that a malleable framework (ability to identify and adapt to change) was indeed a key aspect. Some thought that framework depends on the soft stuff of trust and community, while others leaned toward the hard stuff of social institutions, i.e. government, constitution, laws, banks, schools, health care, philanthropy, etc. It’s a chicken-egg/nature-nurture dialogue, but consensus wasn’t the goal, rather this group preferred to describe how a stable and robust society feels, looks, behaves. Terms used included safety, diversity, education, resilience, identity, production of goods and services, access to opportunity, common good, and leadership. Tom Wiese, my partner in the one-on-one discussion even argued that lazy people were an important aspect of society because the ambitious are motivated by others lack of action. – Interesting take!
The conversation then moved to encompass the benefits of our increasingly open-source government. With the introduction of interactive internet tools, more people are able to weigh in and hold sway. Nate Garvis of Target Corporations argued, “We have been suffering from a failure of creativity. We tend to throw the government and military at every problem. We use old tools for the new age when what we really need is more social innovation. The internet tools we now have allowed us to expand greatly in the world of social innovation.”
I could continue, but it doesn’t merit much for me to give you a play-by-play. It is our hope that every global dinner party will have its own unique face, but all will offer the opportunity to engage.
“The dinners are by design,” Cecily says. “It’s a way of humanizing ourselves.”
“I think we are surrounded by messages that drive us apart,” Nate adds. “We need to focus more on what we have in common and what better place to bring us all together than over the dinner table?”
Welcome Injaz, the first female one-humped camel clone to enter the world! Injaz was created by scientists of the United Arab Emirates at the Camel Reproduction Centre on April 8th. Her name means “achievement” in Arabic, but given that we’ve been cloning sheep since 1993 (followed by mice, dogs, pigs, and cows), you’re probably wondering: what’s the big deal? Aside from the fact that Injaz is likely the cutest clone I’ve seen [look at those floppy ears!!!] , I think it’s great to see Dubai scientists stepping into the limelight. Cloning celebrity status has been primarily dominated by the United States and the UK (with only the dog clone being created by South Korea). Case in point: innovation can and does come from anywhere and everywhere.
In all fairness, 82-years is totally legitimate age for retirement, even a bit overdue, but I still feel a sharp slight twinge of agony at Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s admission that he is finished with writing. Garcia Marquez is best known as the founder and most familiar voice of magical realism, a type of fiction in which the world is conveyed just as realistic as our own, but very extraordinary events can and do occur – lending the novel a fascinating, whimsical feel. Garcia Marquez’s most famous work, One Hundred Years of Solitude is full of magical realism and its popularity was a part of what helped him to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982.
Though many critics argue that a writer’s work is never done, they’re always writing – whether they are publishing that work is a different story. For now, Garcia Marquez seems content to call it a day. And why shouldn’t he be? He has enjoyed one of the rare goblets of fate that so often slip from the hands of gifted authors – the ability to know success in the present day, instead of from the grave. Well done, Garcia Marquez. And to be fair, there is still more to come because One Hundred Years of Solitude, Love in the Time of Cholera and most of his other novels are the type that can be read, time and time again, and each time you will find something new.
Scientists at the Honda Research Institute have been doing a lot of thinking lately, and they’re never just your run-of-the mill thoughts. As of yesterday, Honda thoughts now have the power to move robots. Japanese scientists introduced Asismo this Tuesday. Asismo is a bipedal, humanoid robot that has a 90% success rate of reading its operator’s mind, then carrying out one of four commands.
With mind-control technology, the idea is that eventually we can take the teapot off the stove when we’re in the other room or warm up the car without even having to go outside. Honda scientists explained the “brain-machine interface” as having sensors that pick up electrical signals in the scalp and the ability to translate them into the appropriate actions. There is obviously a bit of a processing time-delay – probably the same amount of time it would take for you to get up off the couch and complete the task yourself – but hey, who am I to knock on something so scientifically progressive, high-tech, and trendy? I know if I were still seven years old, I would be begging my parents for an Asismo for Christmas. The amount of time I spent dreading washing dishes would’ve given me plenty of time to think through the whole affair and delegate the responsibility to my pet robot.
Honda stressed that Asismo is still a baby, not yet ready for introduction to the market. The unpredictability and diversity of a person’s day-to-day thinking makes it difficult for Asismo to function universally. A brain must be analyzed for up to three hours prior before taking a trial run with the robot. If Honda is really smart, however, when Asismo is finally ready for market, they should change its name to Wall-E. The fans would go wild! (Myself included.)
Recently, I found myself in Costa Rica. I was looking for my brother, who had been living there for over a year, but this turned out to be a mistake: “my brother” looks nothing like the young man who met me at the airport. His normal military-style buzz cut had grown out into long blond locks that were gelled upwards in a crocodile fashion (“my girlfriend likes it” he defended), his English was accompanied by a noticeable Latin American lilt, and he was much skinnier than during our college years together. At best, I recognized his blue eyes, but even those were fiercer than I remembered, perhaps made so by his new startlingly dark skin tone. Luckily, it did not take long for our mutual idiosyncrasies to make themselves apparent and we quickly fell back into the brother-sister comradery/combat that has always dictated our relationship.
The first of his friends that I was introduced to were Carlos Aguilar and Laura Zamora and as if those were the only two people that I had met on my entire odyssey, I would have been perfectly happy: they are a truly fascinating pair. Carlos is a well-known Costa Rican artist and one of the pioneers behind the famous month-long artist collective known as “Chunches de Mar” that takes place every year on the beach in Montezuma, Costa Rica. Laura is his loving sidekick, muse, maker of home, biggest fan, and warmest heart. Each January, they spend a month on the beach with other artists that come from around the world to make art with an environmental theme and to share in the passion for their work and the world. Afterward, the most popular exhibits are put on display in the National Gallery of Costa Rica, located in San Jose.
In Costa Rica, “chunche” is one of the most versatile words in their spin on the Spanish language. It literally means anything – that object over there, this object right here, that topic you can’t remember the name of, that gadget you don’t know what to call. The best way I translate it to my English-speaking friends is that “chunche” is like the Spanish equivalent of when we say “whatchamacallit” or “thing.” (On second thought, I’m pretty sure “whatchamacallit” may only be specific to the Midwest, possibly even just my Grandma’s house, when she’s referring the TV remote…In Northern Ireland, their word for that-which-cannot-be-named is “doofer.” Weird.)
In the context of Chunches de Mar, “chunches” signify any of the trash or materials that is left behind on the beach. These items are gathered by the artists and used to make beautiful works of art that call attention to the contamination of Costa Rica’s precious beaches. This year, Carlos gathered as many plastic bottles as he could find and constructed a giant-sized plastic bottle out of all of the plastic bottles he found on the beach. He then filled the giant plastic bottle with plastic bottles and created a stream of plastic bottles flowing out from it, to symbolize the waste that is being spilled out onto the beach. I am currently in a disagreement with my camera right now, but as soon as it is resolved, I promise I will post some of the beautiful creations that were made during 2009′s Chunches de Mar, including Carlos bottle piece. (For now, take a look at their website to see previous year’s photos). Going strong since the year 2000, Chunches de Mar is a creative way to raise awareness about respect for the environment in a country where that respect is tantamount to the survival of their economy and livelihood.
The Executive Chairman of the Virgin Money Group, Jayne-Anne Gadhia offers four key points on how to keep being “cowboy” when the business world enters the badlands of recession…
1) Strong partnerships
2) Product diversity
3) Efficient marketing
4) Cost management
These are clearly logical and appropriate responses for the times, but I was more struck by Richard Branson’s (Virgin entrepreneur) post directly after hers. “People often wonder what makes Virgin different” he starts off and goes on to elaborate about the caliber and purpose of “Virgin people.”
Cecily has a lot to say about this. “What makes Richard Branson’s company so successful is that he’s not selling airfare, cell phones, or music, he’s selling a ‘territory of meaning’ (her term). When you have a strong identity, such as Virgin does, you can offer almost anything. Branson’s approach to business has been somewhat unorthodox, but he’s proved this strategy time and time again.” She says the ‘territory of meaning’ concept is illustrated beautifully by Virgin: “The very essence of the Virgin brand is its Explorer spirit, restless and always moving into virgin territory. Virgin is brave, at times bawdy and brash, and always, always forward-looking.” But the real genius of this brand, says Cecily, “is its tongue-in-cheek ‘rebel with flair’ attitude that puts the notion of virginal purity on its head. It’s this kind of double-entendre of meaning that’s just so winning: Adventure + Irreverance wrapped around luxurious experiences.”
(Here’s Sir Richard at a press conference in Boston announcing flights to the “Left Coast” — LA, SF)
According to Branson, “Virgin Group enters industries that aren’t well-run and need to be ‘shaken up,’ and the U.S. Airline business is one of them.” People who’ve flown Virgin Air rave about it. That makes them raving fans, by the way, so U.S. Airlines, which tried to keep Virgin out of their markets for 20 years, have reason to be nervous. A look up his sleeve: Branson is reported to have reached out to Captain Sully Sullenberger recently…
In many ways, it all comes back to being a good salesman. It doesn’t matter what you’re selling, it’s whether or not you can actually sell it. Particulary interesting was the point Gadhia emphasized: it’s important not to view costs as fixed and variable, but bad and good. The way you decipher the bad from the good is to make the benefit to your customer priority #1. If it’s at the greatest benefit to the customer, that’s a cost you need to keep.
“Amen!” is Cecily’s response. “Woe to those who start slashing expenses based on dollar amount. Unfortunately, that’s a survival tactic most companies embrace when revenue starts falling, along with squishier ROI such as marketing. No company, no matter its size, can afford to forget that it’s core business is sales.”
“Excellence and customer service is the cost of entry to the market. You don’t get to make it past ‘Go’ if you don’t have those two things in your operation. The game is really about generating loyal fans of your work. To do so, you’ve got to clearly stand for something, you’ve got to mean something to your customers (again, the Virgin example).”
To complement Virgin’s advice to evaluate costs based on benefit to the customer, Cecily recommends businesses go back to the basics:
1) produce something that people want
2) have a clear point of view (territory of meaning)
3) touch people’s lives
4) keep expanding your network
This last point can be addressed by developing/refining a social media strategy. “The high-touch, high-context environment of online social networks is designed to leverage connections exponentially,” Cecily says. “Where else can you find more than 12,000 people added to your network everyday for zero cost? It’s a market you can’t afford to ignore.” She reiterates the importance of creating relationships, “the game isn’t to see how many ‘friends’ you can make, but to leave people better off for having been in contact with you. You create online fans not by selling to them (or giving mundane status updates), but by establishing a point of view and backing it up with content such as opinion/editorial on something of substance, linking to relevant stories, or sharing found ‘delights’ (i.e. music, video, commentary).” It’s not surprising to learn that Richard Branson blogs and Tweets (@richardbranson, 40,400 followers) too.
Branson’s and Cecily’s strategies are just two of many for making your way through the business badlands, summed up as, “Mean and mind (your) business!”
In the mean time, while Detroit is figuring out all to get all of its ducks/cars in a row, local communities are not holding their breath. One Californian dairy farmer has rolled out its own survival package in the form of a cow-pie powered 18-wheeler. As a child, I recall visiting my friend who lived on a farm. We would stand outside her holding tank of manure, scratch our heads, hold our noses, and threaten to push each other in if we gave too much sass. I never thought to ask whatever happened to that manure when it finally filled up, but I’m happy to see that there are now more viable solutions than those (literally) stinking hot summer days on the farm. To be more specific, Hilarides Dairy manages the manure made by 10,000 cows to create 226,000 cubic feet of biomethane each day. This will decrease their Central Valley farm’s diesel fuel consumption by 650 gallons a day!
“Money is the most powerful incentive,” Cecily says. “It is certain that gas prices are going to rise to unseen levels again and farmers need to find a way to protect their interests. Rather than waiting to see if car companies to re-organize in a more sustainable manner, farmers are being innovative themselves.”
To me, the best part about this particular plan is that it shows progress from our initial platforms. The sustainability headlines have long been profiling people who have been using leftover oil and grease from local restaurants to power cars and buses. A major drawback to this is that the collection process can be long and tedious – traveling to and from area restaurants and transporting large volumes of grease to an adequate staging area is no easy task. By producing biomethane fuel on factory farms where large amounts of manure are already available will significantly diminish this problem.
If the stimulus package is able to restore some of the economy’s liquidity, sustainability is definitely one of the first realms of promise that private investors could look into. “The auto industry does not have the capacity to re-tool its entire system to work in favor of sustainability. That would be a too daunting of a task in the present moment,” Cecily comments. “But private investors with a view for the future could certainly step up and provide funding for pilot projects that focus on fuel-efficient cars and manage these relationships for the time being. This is an excellent time for innovation.” So yes, shit happens, but the good news is, we can make it sustainable.
Here are a few related links to browse:
The video below is of a farmer in India who has proved that the manure-to-methane process is even effective on a small-scale. He uses one cow to create the cooking gas needed for a family of four.
This is one of many reasons why I love winter (and Minneapolis). You can choose to go stir crazy or apply your winter blahs to something truly brilliant. Check out this video of February 7th’s Art Sled Rally and enjoy some photos below.