Friday Oct 26, 2007

GHC2007: Tech Leaders Workshop

GHC 2007
GHC 2007
Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing

Session/Event:Tech Leaders for Social Innovators

The event started out with an introduction of women at our table. At my table, the women worked for companies including Intel, Intuit, Cisco, Paychek and Anita Borg Institute. Right away I could see how useful this was going to be. First of all, each woman had such varied and interesting backgrounds and we were all here to share our experiences and learn from each other.

The objectives of the day were set forth: To develop a network of other technologies interested in using technology to benefit the world.

The first speaker, Jensine Larsen, founder of WorldPulse (a global media organization and magazine for women of vision) started out as a journalist before becoming an entrepreneur where she learned that media is the key to women's global leadership. She defines the collective force of women as a River and wrote a book called "A river runs through the digital divide". I was inspired by this since Sun is also trying to bridge the Digital Divide. She is also starting a website called which will be an interactive Web 2.0 site. This company focuses on the most unheard women through internet cafes and cell phones in rural areas of the world and is designed to meet their needs to share their story. It's an easy way for them to blog and get support that they desperately need and not feel so alone.

Jasmine sees 3 unstoppable trends:

  1. Women rising in leadership positions all over the world
  2. Communication tools (especially cell phone) proliferation
  3. Shift in global consciousness

So, there is enormous potential. She's seen some amazing things including: Blogging in Iran - it's the 3rd largest population of women bloggers in the world, Text messaging in S. Africa for help against rape, Mom's rising for family friendly policies in America, and many more.

Here is Jasmine's advice on the top 5 things we can do:

  1. Go with where your passion is. Find your super power.
  2. Volunteer. e.g. Pulsewire technology council.
  3. Financial contribution.
  4. Forge a friendship with someone outside your borders.
  5. Use your voice and speak out.

The next speaker was Anurada, speaking via Second Life.View of presentation in second life She is passionate about climate issues and so chooses not to fly. From a pure technology perspective, this was one of the most interesting sessions. Anurada fled Sri Lanka at 13 and is now based in London. She is the founder of in RL and OneClimate Island in SL. She has been interested in social media her whole life as her parents were human rights journalists. Fed up with traditional media who focus on ratings more than anything else, she founded a space (an early social networking site if you will) in 1994. This was 2 years before Unicef in England even had an email address.

Some of the technologies they are using include:

  • Open Knowledge Network - local content in local languages to get grassroots online.
  • eLearning in Nigeria - girls & boys create stories, ask questions, challenge conventional thinking (and in doing so learn about gender equality). It's called "Learning about Living".
  • - A space like but more convential social networking. See your carbon footprint and see your progress against your target for carbon emissions reduction. Branded: "One World, One Climate, One Chance". Take a space on, put your thoughts on it, and encourage others to do the same. Together we can make a real difference in the world.

Just as a side note, she was supposed to present to the United Nations nex week but they couldn't figure out how to get Second Life to work.... HMMM.

Next up was a panel of three women. Bernadine Dias, founder of TechBridgeWorld advises us to find our passion. She used to write letters home to Sri Lanka on toilet paper from college in upstate NY because she couldn't afford paper. She doubled majored in CS and Physics and minored in Women's Studies and has a PhD in Robotics from Carnegie Mellon. An interview question "How are you going to change the world in 20 years?" changed her life. WTechBridgeWorld builds technology bridges among students so that they can choose their own path and work where they want to work. This program encourages students to figure out real life problems. Her belief is that if you broaden the experience, you increase the impact.

Mari Karashi, founder of Global Giving, studied history at Harvard rather than CS which she enjoyed in high school. She got her masters in Soviet Studies just as the Soviet Union fell apart so she went to work for World Bank working on making the Soviet Union a market economy. But she wanted to do something that made a difference. So, she spent 2 years while starting up Global Giving and didn't take a salary that whole time. People thought she was nuts but she was committed. Global Giving allows people who have good ideas to get financial support and donors can track the progress of the initiatives & projects they choose to donate too. Check it out! It's really cool:
I donated to a few myself. One having to do with the environment and one having to do with educating children.

A self proclaimed "accidental technologist", Paula Goldman founded the Imagining Ourselves Project because she wanted to create positive change. The daughter of Jewish immigrants who raised her in Indonesia before they made it back to the US, she was going to write a book about peacemakers in Israel & Palestine but this was in 2001 and obviously it wasn't a good time. She changed her focus and decided to write a book for young women to use advances to make a difference. But, print media has a low reach so after 5 years to launch the project and much scope creep (now over 100 events in more than 30 countries), the project took an online form. There are now more than 1 M people from over 200 countries participating. The website's slogan "Be inspired. Get involved. Take Action" calls you to read the stories, make comments and link to partners.

The panel's Big Risks on starting your own company:

  • Money, funding, payroll concerns
  • Self-doubt
  • Convincing others
  • Having vision but not 100% sure on execution
  • Being a leader
  • Profit or non-profit? Maybe a mixed model to start.

On Scope Creep:

  • Just make sure you are doing what you want to do (even if it differs from your initial vision.)
  • Allow scope creep to make a difference.

The last part of the day was a workshop where we broke up into groups based on topics we were interested in. (We relied a bit on the pre-work we did for this conference which was an interesting exercise in & of itself. The pre-work got us thinking about global issues/challenges we care about, examples fo people or companies who are already creating solutions to these problems and ideas we have for solving these problems.)I went to the session on generating ideas and how to run with them. Some interesting ideas were uncovered. Without revealing too much details here are some ideas these women had:

  • Creating toys for disabled kids using sensor networks.
  • Barcode DNA
  • Getting more girls interested in computing
  • Online saftey

Advice that came out of the session includes:

  • Start something that you know. Start small & grow it.
  • Don't think "It's not a big deal". Own it!
  • Believe in yourself.

That's about it on this one day session and don't worry it's probably the longest entry I'll have on this conference. In a nutshell, it was worth it!

P.S. The speaker for this one couldn't make it, but also check out Kiva. No, it's not an old app server company! It's an interactive site that lets you loan small amounts of money to people who are trying to make a difference around the world. The tag line: "Loans that change lives" says it all.




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