Awards To Spur Social Innovation

WorldChanging reports that Kleiner Perkins, a top venture capital firm, is establishing a $100,000 prize for innovation in green technology.

“This award will encourage innovation in sustainable, green growth,” said KPCB partner Brook Byers. “We will bring worldwide recognition to entrepreneurs who achieve breakthroughs in green energy generation, storage, conservation or policies, whether from an individual or a team, whether public or private, anywhere in the world.”

If green technology is not your cup of tea, take a look at Fast Company’s Social Capitalist Awards. You can read the call for entries here. The registrations are due in June so you only have a few weeks if you want to get an entry in for the 2007 awards.

Spitzer Speaks Out About The Digital Divide In The United States

Eliot Spitzer, the New York State Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate, addressed the Digital Divide issue in the United States during his keynote speech at the the Personal Democracy Forum in New York.

Eliot Spitzer outlined a proposal to provide affordable broadband to all citizens of New York. “In the 21st century, Internet access is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity,” he said.

Local high speed cable and dsl providers would love to gain more users, but the idea of a “low-cost” solution goes against the profit maximizing needs of these ISPs (internet service providers). There is lots of innovation happening in this space so I’m confident that some level of subsidized or free access will be provided to low income residents in our cities.

However, an analyst throws a wrench into the whole debate by arguing that the lack of broadband penetration among low income residents is due to the lack of computers:

That’s a much bigger reason for the lack of broadband penetration in low-income households than service accessibility, argues Bruce Liechtman, principal analyst with Liechtman Research Group and a former chair of the editorial board for the Cable & Telecommunications Marketing Assn. journal. “Broadband adoption really correlates directly with household income.” If Spitzer wants to solve the digital divide, Leichtman says, “he should be giving everybody a computer.”

It’s a great argument and one that is debatable. If we use South Korea as a test case, we notice that although broadband penetration is high, most people don’t own computers. In fact, most people go to internet cafes to check their email, browse the web, and play online games. Perhaps subsidizing a free internet cafe for the residents of South Bronx could be a worthy test that offers us some answers to the questions this article raises.

LifeStraw Purifies Water As You Drink

The LifeStraw is an invention created by Torben Vestergaard Frandsen, a Danish innovator who hopes that it will help third world countries where millions of people die from water-borne diseases each year.

Water from most sources can be drunk if done so through the LifeStraw say the makers of the product..

However, naysayers say that the economics don’t really work out that well.

“It only costs a charity like WaterAid £15 per person to provide them with water, sanitation and hygiene education, which, provided there is decent water resource management in the country, will last them a lifetime.

Its still great to see innovation and entreprenurism in the social sector so I’m all for it.

Beginner’s Guide To Socially Responsible Investing (SRI)

I finally saved up a enough money where investing has become relevant to me. I know a bit about how the markets work, but I don’t know too much about Socially Responsible Investing (SRI). I’ll need a crash course, and for that, there is no better resource than Wikipedia. According to Wikipedia, Socially Responsible Investing is:

an umbrella term for a philosophy of investing by both financial and social criteria. SRI investors seek to align their personal values and financial goals by choosing to invest in companies and organizations displaying values comparable to their own.

The entry is pretty thorough and my main take away is that there doesn’t seem to be a clear definition as to what SRI really means, except “no tobacco or alcohol products.”

While there is no one standard of criteria across Socially Responsible Investing, most SRI mutual funds, whether conservative or progressive, employ screens that exclude companies that manufacture tobacco or alcohol products.

I googled “socially responsible funds” and have a bunch of links to look at but there doesn’t seem to be a definitive guide. I guess I’ll have to navigate this maze on my own. I’ll report back my thoughts and findings. I’ll probably start with the following links:

Information on Funds
SocialFunds– “The largest personal finance site devoted to socially responsible investing”

Social Investment Forum– “a national nonprofit membership organization promoting the concept, practice and growth of socially responsible investing ”

Calvert Online– “socially responsible mutual funds”

KLD– “an independent investment research firm providing management tools to professionals integrating environmental, social and governance factors into their investment decisions.”

Yahoo Directory of Socially Responsible Mutual Funds

Pax World Funds– “Socially Responsible Mutual Funds, Ethical Investing, socially responsible investing”

Intel Has Its Owns Plans To Close the Digital Divide

Intel plans to close the Digital Divide with its own version of the $100 Dollar Laptop. The only difference is that their plan is to release a sub $400 dollar laptop and train teachers as well as extended wireless internet access worldwide.

It sounds like a more comprehensive approach than Negroponte’s and Intel certainly has the capital and technology to really do something here. Note that they are one of the most well respected brands in computing, have a huge semiconductor and memory business, and also have a scaleable wireless internet technology in the works, called WiMax.

The article goes on to discuss the initiative:

The program is to be announced on Tuesday at the World Congress on Information Technology, a conference in Austin, Tex., where Intel’s chief executive, Paul S. Otellini, will elaborate on it in a speech on Wednesday.

The initiative, called World Ahead, comes as Intel, the No. 1 chip maker, is embarking on what it says will be a $1 billion revamping program in the face of declining market share and a lagging share price.

So what does this all mean? Competition is always good, and it sounds like Intel and Negroponte are already criticizing each other’s works:

[Negroponte] said that the Intel program was a step forward, but that focusing efforts on training teachers had serious drawbacks.

And Otellini (Intel’s CEO) on Negroponte:

“We don’t think you cross the digital divide with old technology,” he said. “It doesn’t need exotic technology and it runs real applications.”

Related posts:
Negroponte Steps Down From MIT Media Lab to Pursue $100 Laptop Initiative
Social Entrepreneurs Focused On Closing the Digital Divide
Microsoft Pitching In To Close the Digital Divide: Cell Phone Based Internet Connection
UN body backs $100 laptop for world’s kids
Social Entrepreneur Focus: Negroponte and his $100 laptop