Here in Silicon Valley, where folks line up for the latest iPhone release and twitter their every waking thought, it’s often easy to forget that it’s not the sleekest and fastest and newest technology that makes the most difference. For most of the world, it’s about the basics—food, water, light.
Every year, the Tech Museum and Applied Materials bring together Silicon Valley luminaries with entrepreneurs from around the world to focus on just that kind of basic technology and the difference it can make. Last night, at the annual Tech Awards gala, entrepreneurs from fifteen organizations working to make that kind of difference were honored as laureates, five of those organizations received cash prices of $50,000 each, and former Vice President Al Gore accepted the 2009 James C. Morgan Global Humanitarian Award.
The laureates truly represented the world—they came from as far away as Nigeria, Mexico, South Africa, Botswana, India, Mozambique, and Brazil, and as close as nearby Emeryville, Calif. They’ve figured out ways to light the night with lanterns and boat-based solar charging stations, to water crops with simple drip irrigation systems made locally using laser drilling, to let people confirm that prescription drugs are what they say they by sending a simple text message, and to make people's lives better in diverse other ways.
Winners of the cash prizes were:
• Joseph Adelegan of Nigeria for “Cows to Kilowatts,” a project that decontaminates the waste stream from slaughterhouses and turns it into methane fuel.
• Alternative Energy Development Corp. of South Africa, for its zinc-air fuel cell power systems.
• The Akshaya Patra Foundation of India, for its school meals program, that uses high tech kitchens to serve millions of school children a morning meal daily.
• World of Good Development Organization, based in Emeryville, Calif., for its Fair Wage Guide Software that helps price local handmade goods around the world and encourages ethical trade.
• PATH, working in India, Brazil, and Colombia, for Ultra Rice, a nutrient fortified additive to standard rice.
For a full list of laureates, and information about their projects, click here.
Photo courtesy of Applied Materials
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.