Ellen Freeman Roth                      

October 22, 2007

Parley enlists participants for HIV education in Africa

11th Pop!Tech has a mission of social change

Some conferences are organized to ponder how to change the world. Pop!Tech launches missions.

The 11th annual event dedicated to fueling social and environmental changes through innovation and technology launched a new incubator, the Pop!Tech Accelerator, with an initiative that aims to deploy clinical software supporting HIV education, drug protocol adherence, and counseling in South Africa.

"We're turning the Pop!Tech community into a collaborative engine of change," said Andrew Zolli, Pop!Tech curator and a global trend analyst who was recently named a fellow of the National Geographic Society.

The three-day event held each year in Camden drew 600 scientists, technologists, business leaders, futurists, and artists to hear an eclectic group of speakers discuss human nature, ecological systems, and emerging solutions to poverty, human rights, and health care.

Organizers of the conference, which ended Saturday, solicited human resources and financial support for its AIDS initiative, dubbed Project Masiluleke, named for the Zulu word meaning to counsel, from conference participants.

For the initiative, organizers brought together a team from the University of Connecticut's Center for Health, Intervention, and Prevention; Frog Design, a strategic and creative consultancy which is customizing the software culturally and linguistically for users in South Africa; and iTEACH, a tuberculosis and HIV education and care organization based in KwaZulu-Natal province, South Africa. The founder of iTEACH, Dr. Krista Dong, is an Infectious Disease Fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital.

"The event is about the art of the possible," Julie Anixter, chief marketing officer at laga, a design and innovation firm in Cincinnati. "Great conferences build communities around them, and this one has."

She said the idea that Pop!Tech has a curator speaks volumes about what makes it different from other tech conferences.

The idea for the Pop!Tech Accelerator came when organizers discovered that after the conferences, participants were developing corporate citizenship initiatives based on discussions in the forum. Zolli said the Accelerator will provide operational and project management support for each of its initiatives and will ensure that projects are thoroughly documented, so progress can be tracked.

Pop!Tech's mission has broadened since it began 11 years ago. "The first five years were more information technology oriented," said Tom LeVine, chief executive and president of Pop!Tech. Now there's more focus on synergy of people and ideas, he said.

Pop!Tech 2007 harnessed technology to enlist the broader community. Free video was streamed at the website poptech.org, where visitors submitted questions to presenters and participants in real time. Pop!Tech is also releasing free versions of its most popular video podcasts subtitled in eight languages.

"We're eliminating the barrier to participation by giving away our content," Zolli said. "That's the essence of popularizing. Our mission is to accelerate the impact of world-changing people and ideas, so we have to spread the ideas, engage people, and connect them to action."

Using social networking, Pop!Tech 2007 provided another new program, the Carbon Offset Initiative, an expansion of a program created for its previous meeting. Pop!Tech 2006 calculated the carbon footprint each participant created by attending the conference, printed that number on each individual's badge, and to offset those carbon emissions invested in solar generators in rural Africa. The investment equaled twice the total carbon emissions associated with attendees coming to the 2006 conference.

Pop!Tech 2007 not only invested in projects to keep the conference carbon negative but also partnered with eBay to allow the public to offset personal carbon emissions. The Pop!Tech Carbon Offset Initiative (at eBay.com/poptech) supports environmental projects in Nicaragua, Brazil, and Benin. Site visitors can invest in those projects to offset carbon emissions.

The projects are audited to ensure the legitimacy of credits being sold. Visitors to the site may tally their carbon footprints with a calculator provided by the not-for-profit Environmental Defense. The three environmental projects also advance their communities' social and economic development.

"I knew before that the world is moving at a pell mell pace, but I didn't realize it was moving this fast," noted Donna Sturgess, global head of innovation at GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare. "Everyone brought a spark to the conference, and together in that room we created a bonfire."