is the curator of the Guardian’s Activate summits and online platform. Here he tells us why the Guardian is creating a place where people working with technology can come together to change the world.
WHAT IS ACTIVATE?
Activate is the Guardian’s platform for leaders working across all sectors who are using technology and the internet to try and make the world a better place.
We run two annual summits – one in London and one in New York – and create content for our online platform on guardian.co.uk Activate through interviews with speakers, editorial tie ins with sponsors and reporting on our satellite events (more on that later).
Thematically, Activate is all about examining the influence of technology on global society in areas as diverse as media, commerce and economics, the environment, energy and sustainability, citizenship, democracy, governance and accountability, the developing world, healthcare, education, science and humanity.
WHY DID THE GUARDIAN LAUNCH IT?
Activate began life as a small conference which was to focus on opportunities around the open internet for the web developer community. It was to be a launch event for the Guardian's Open Data platform. During research though it became clear that people were looking for a different kind of web event that celebrated the positive social (as opposed to purely commercial) influence of the internet on global business, society and governance. And with the Guardian’s growing international reputation as a digital leader and "friend of the web” it was a natural project for us to try and undertake. And lo Activate was born.
HOW HAS ACTIVATE GROWN IN THE LAST THREE YEARS AND WHAT HAS THE RESPONSE BEEN LIKE
We made a big splash with Activate 2009 in year one and really seemed to strike a chord with an eclectic mix of people who believe that the internet has the power to create a more equitable and collaborative global future. In 2010 the summit sold out to a 300 strong audience of senior domestic and international delegates and boasted the likes of Jan Chipchase, Eric Schmidt, Clay Shirky, Beth Noveck and Ethan Zuckerman as speakers. At the end of the 2010 summit we announced plans to launch the first international iteration of Activate in New York which we ran at the Paley Center for Media on April 28th 2011. It was a great success and we’re looking forward to next year’s Activate NY already. In the longer term we have plans to move Activate into other international territories, including emerging markets, although it’ll be a little while longer before we have any more news on that front.
We’ve also created a number of satellite events around the Activate brand including an Activate pitching workshop for tech start ups and investors and a cause-led hack called (H)activate that brings developers together to work with data to create applications that will have a positive social impact in both domestic and international contexts. We also run something called Project Activate every year which includes a fundraising and tech development drive off the back of the Activate speaker video content. Past beneficiaries include SW Radio Africa and Ushahidi.
All these elements help to make Activate more than just a talking shop – we want to use our resources and those of our speakers, delegates and sponsors to create tangible outcomes from our work.
WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT TO RAISE AWARENESS OF TECHNOLOGY'S POSITIVE ASPECTS AND ITS POTENTIAL AS A FORCE FOR GOOD?
The internet has the power to unite, organise, entertain, galvanise and inspire. It also, in the wrong hands, can be used to subjugate, distort and undermine positive movements and actions. Recent global incidents – the Arab Spring, the Wikileaks saga and subsequent fall out, crisis responses in disaster-struck areas – have underlined the potential of the web and, more importantly, the people that use it to express and act upon a collective will to change things. We need to raise awareness of the power of technology to do this so as to ensure its potential is not blunted by more base and conservative human inclinations to thwart change and to retain the status quo. That is what Activate is all about and that is why, we think at least, it is so important.
WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO ACHIEVE AT THE LONDON SUMMIT?
The aim is to grow Activate year on year – it’s all about reaching a wider audience and getting the word out. One of the key things we want to see is more engagement from the private sector. Businesses need to realise that the world is changing – audiences are shifting along with their expectations. If you want to be a progressive and relevant entity in the 21st century then understanding, for example, how grass roots tech companies working on a shoestring budget with a skeletal staff in sub-Saharan Africa are better able to employ innovation and knowledge to serve their markets than say a legacy leviathan with all the consultants, expert advisors and trappings of wealth you’d expect, is critical to building effective and engaging business strategies.
WHO IS SPEAKING?
We’ve got a load of fantastic speakers involved this year – too many to mention in full – but I’m really looking forward to hearing Alec Ross, senior advisor for innovation at the State Dept talk about US plans around the much touted 21st century state craft strategy. I’m also super interested in Ory Okolloh’s move from Ushahidi to Google and to find out what she sees as the benefits of moving from a small start up to a global juggernaut. I’m also really looking forward to heading Rakesh Rajani from the Tanzanian-based Twaweza, Dr Joel Selanikio of DataDyne (who also spoke for us in NYC recently) and chief monkey at Monkey Inferno and founder of Bebo Michael Birch (not least because he has the world’s best job title!).
FIND OUT MORE
• For more on Activate London on 22nd June and to register your place, click here
• For more info and to watch speaker videos from the recent Activate New York Summit, click here
• If you’re a developer and you want to get involved in (H)activate, click here
• If you’re a start up and you want to get involved in the Activate pitching workshop, click here
• If you’re interested in what we’re doing around Project Activate you can check out the Activate blog here
2 June 2011