Robynn Sturm Steffen
We the Geeks: Innovation for Global Good
Geeks have had a lasting positive impact on the lives of millions of people in the developing world—from the innovations and insights that fueled the Green Revolution, to the historic scientific achievements that have marked the “Beginning of the End of AIDS.” Today, geeks are playing a central role in building technologies, making discoveries, building businesses, and engineering solutions that benefit people and communities around the world.
As President Obama and the First Lady travel to Africa this week, the White House will host a “We The Geeks” Google+ Hangout this Thursday, June 27 at 1:00 pm EST to discuss innovation for global good with some of the creative minds making it happen. These individuals are harnessing their science, engineering, and entrepreneurial skills to answer the President’s call to eradicate extreme poverty in the next two decades. The Hangout will be moderated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy’s Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation, Tom Kalil. Speakers include:
- Nikhil Jaisinghani and Brian Shaad, Co-founders, Mera Gao Power (MGP);
- Vineet Bewtra, Director of Investments, Omidyar Network;
- Maura O’Neill, Chief Innovation Officer and Senior Counselor, U.S. Agency for International Development; and
- Alix Zwane, Executive Director, Evidence Action.
Hangout participants will hear from leaders within and outside government, who are working together to spur game-changing innovations in global development. USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures (DIV) program, for example, is seeding, testing, and scaling the next generation of powerful innovations in development from geeks the world over.
One innovative social enterprise supported by DIV, Mera Gao Power, is using renewable micro-grid technology to power thousands of homes in Uttar Pradesh, India. Customers receive lights, phone chargers, and system maintenance for 46 cents per week, or about half the cost of kerosene. When private -sector support was hard to find, DIV provided Mera Gao Power with the capital to grow beyond its initial pilot villages and attract seed financing from an impact investing firm to expand operations throughout India and Southeast Asia.
Another DIV-supported project, the Dispensers for Safe Water project, used behavioral insights and randomized control trials—a method commonly used to test the effectiveness of pharmaceuticals—to dramatically increase adoption of chlorine to decontaminate water. With funding from DIV, carbon-credit financing, and matching funds from the Gates Foundation, this initiative is poised to expand across East Africa, delivering clean water at a cost of less than 50 cents per person annually.
And just last month, USAID, the UK Department for International Development, and the Omidyar Network launched the Global Development Innovation Ventures (GDIV) as part of the National Impact Initiative to amplify the DIV model’s positive impact with even greater resources and reach.
To learn more about the exciting innovations underway to advance the global good, watch the latest "We the Geeks" Hangout live on WhiteHouse.gov and on the White House Google+ page on Thursday, June 27, at 1:00 pm EST. Got questions and comments? Use the hashtag #WeTheGeeks on Twitter and on Google+ and we'll answer some during the live Hangout.
Tom Kalil is Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation at OSTP.