Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Tech Awards For Humanity: "Cash Prizes" Galore And Al Gore's Meaningless Speech . . . And Amazing Laureates!

Posted by Tom Foremski - November 20, 2009

Last night I attended the Tech Awards Gala, which celebrates technology benefiting humanity, with the award of five $50,000 "cash prizes."

Technology in the service of humanity seems a better description because all of the 15 laureates chosen, communicated a quiet humility, patience and a stubborn purpose in making a big difference in the lives of many people. It was awe inspiring.

Many of the ideas were simple but powerful: distributing camping lamps with rechargeable batteries and recharging them every day at a central location so that kids can do homework and parents can read or work; attaching a code to medicines to check their validity through a simple text-message; and much more.

Unfortunately, only five of the laureates won a prize yet each of them deserved it. Many work with annual budgets of just $10,000.

The Tech Awards are grand affairs, full of Silicon Valley "royalty" with some 2000 people decked out in black-tie and glittering gowns. If that ballroom were a country, it would vault into the top 100 in terms of GDP, for that evening.

Which is why it always strikes me that $50,000 is a bit stingy. But I have a solution:

- Place a pen and paper at every dinner place setting and play a game of picking the laureate you think will win.

- You get to see a short video focused on each laureate, you tick the box next to the one that's your favorite.

- If you pick all five correctly your table congratulates you and you take home the central flower setting.

- At the end of the awards, you then have an opportunity to make a contribution to your favorite laureates. You fill out your credit card number, fill in the amount of your contribution and the money is divided among the laureates.

It's a great opportunity to raise money because everyone is emotionally moved by the story of the laureates. The organizers are literally letting money walk out when it could be left on the table, collected, and donated. That's my 2 cents.

The rest of the evening wasn't as good as hearing the stories of the laureates. The presenters of the awards, big names like Michael Splinter, CEO of Applied Materials, which founded the Tech Awards, were tedious attempts at inspirational speeches. All the right words but lacking in anything else.

The worst of the lot was former vice-president Al Gore, who received the Global Humanitarian Award.

First, he thanked super VC John Doer and his other pals at Kleiner Perkins, before mentioning the Tech Award winners. He then launched into a very long speech that sounded like he had literally taped-together hundreds of well-meaning phrases that were meaningless when heard together!

I tried to concentrate and listen to what he was saying but it all sounded like a typical politician's speech. He sounded like a parody of someone imitating Al Gore give a speech about global warming. It was awful. He got a standing ovation.

Afterwards, I checked around and asked if others had a similar experience. Everyone said yes.

All the laureates gave far better speeches. Al Gore should give his prize and appearance money to the laureates that went home without any "cash prize" money. (All the presenters emphasized the "cash prize" constantly, so often that it became the catchphrase for the evening.)

I enjoyed the evening and I support the work of the Tech Awards and I hope that more money can be raised for the incredible work that the laureates are doing in some of the poorest regions of the world.

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(Note to organizers: I'd love to be able to embed some of the videos I saw last night. Could you please make those available along with a handy donation form?)

Here are descriptions of the laureates: Technology In The Service Of Humanity


SFGATE- Tech Awards recognize innovation

San Jose Mercury - awards honor social entrepreneurs

Tech Awards Recognize Science in Service to Humanity - Tonic


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