Last night, I heard a remarkable idea for connecting people with information. It involved tethering our mobile phones to a shared cloud and lots of low-tech, scalable sensors. Our phones would use kinetic energy to charge themselves and trade energy, enabling large communities to operate as cooperative organisms. During a huge natural disaster, like the Haiti earthquake, this would allow people to share critical information, redirect traffic and to help find those in most need of help...even if the power grid has been taken down.
It’s exactly the kind of idea I’d hear during one of my regular visits to the MIT Media Lab, or while at a summit of foundation directors and tech specialists. But I wasn’t at a conference last night, and I wasn’t hanging out with a PhD.
I was sitting in a restaurant in Washington D.C., avidly listening to an incredibly bright, energetic 15-year-old girl.
As it turns out, she wasn’t the only one with a brilliant idea.
Webbmedia Group sponsored a Digital Divas Dinner, a regular event hosted by master-connecter and tech maven Bonnie Shaw. She typically brings together 50 women and empowers them to talk about the amazing digital projects they’re working on and to showcase their strengths. It’s a great reminder of just how important women are to the digital ecosystem – as developers, designers, venture capitalists, strategists and executives – especially as tech’s well-documented brogrammer culture continues to proliferate.
Last night, Bonnie matched 25 dazzling professional women like Suzanne Philion (State Dept), Alexis Sampson (World Bank), Haley VanDyck (White House), Katel LeDu (National Geographic), Kate Ahern (Case Foundation), Jenn Gustetic (NASA) and many others with 25 young women from the inaugural class of TechGirls, a State Department exchange program that brings girls from the Middle East and North Africa to the U.S. for a three-week dive into all things geeky.
It’s customary at a Digital Divas Dinner for each woman to stand up and introduce herself. I was humbled and inspired to hear girls from Yemen, Morocco, Tunisia and elsewhere describe what they’ve already accomplished (programming Facebook apps, experimenting in neuroscience) and what they want to do when they grow up (the words “MIT” and “Harvard” came up more than once).
Many of these girls come from regions around the world where learning quadratic equations is often trumped by political and cultural unrest. And yet here they were. Well-spoken, incredibly knowledgeable, and brimming with energy.
When we asked these TechGirls what they want to do in the future, we heard the same response again and again:
“I will win the Nobel Prize.”
“I will graduate with a mathematics PhD from MIT.”
“I will develop a new way to explore outer space.”
I never once heard any of the girls mention “hope.” And that gives me great hope for the future.
- Amy Webb