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Friday, November 17, 2006


In a loose fitting tuxedo, I attended a dinner event at San Jose's Tech Museum and heard Bill Gates speak Wednesday night. If you closed your eyes, you could forget you were listening to the world's leading capitalist, and many might even come away thinking that capitalism does in fact seed the best innovations that in turn uplift all people. He was that good. The event was the sixth annual awards night for Tech Museum Laureates - those innovators who have employed technology to bring positive results - often in impovershed places. One of the winners created a simple filtering mechanism that can purify water and enable women's cooperatives throughout India to sell bottled, purified water. Another winner created a portable device that uses a digital camera-voice recognition computer in a way that helps visually impaired persons know what all the signs they encounter outside are telling them. Bill Gates talked about the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to eradicate diseases that are curable yet still ravage millions in developing countries every year. He said that if we somehow lived in neighborhoods that randomly mixed rich and poor, you would notice this child is starving and that family is ravaged with malaria, and we would immediately do something about it. He was passionate and genuine. If every successful capitalist turned a significant portion of their profits to seeding social solutions, maybe it would make a big difference, but that just doesn't happen. Many of the awards presenters such as execs from Intel and Agilent have laid off thousands in recent years that far outweighs the $50,000 they gave out to the winner in their category.

I got invited to the black tie event that very afternoon because the Foothill College table had one opening. I've been working with a wonderful Sociology professor there to conduct debates on state propositions before the past two elections. She knew from some small talk that I had a "hand-me-down" tuxedo. Unfortunately, I forgot to put on the suspenders and had to hold my pants up whenever I walked.

There really ought to be museums that are organized year around on the theme of innovations for social good such as these 25 annual award winners. How different the world would be if schools were organized around solution building projects as well where students developed appropriate technologies and education materials to make a difference in the health of the planet and its people.

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