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PopTech Fellows 2011

I’m back in one of my favorite places in the US: Camden, Maine. Even on a drizzly, rainy day like today you can enjoy the clean air and colorful fall-colored country around you. It’s a week before the PopTech conference kicks off, where we’ll hear from a number of eclectic speakers and have our minds given a true workout once again. (I am speaking at the conference this year during the “Re:think” session.)

PopTech Social Innovation Fellows

With hundreds of applicants from 58 countries, you have to be good to get here. As always, this year of Fellows is impressive and each one has already done something incredible to make it to this stage. We’ve got clean energy entrepreneurs, mini-manufacturing technologists, big data crunchers, girls health innovators and music community engineers. It’s a mess of engaging, driven individuals that remind you why the odd ones in the crowd are the ones that give us hope.

For the Fellows in the program, this is a chance to learn from some of the foremost experts in the field of communication, design, branding, negotiation, strategy and fundraising. The Fellows each get a chance to do a 5-minute talk on the PopTech main stage. Finally, the network that everyone is injected into gives them an amazing opportunity to connect and meet people that can help them realize their projects goals.

PopTech does something very interesting, the conference is the big “annual gathering” of the network. It’s full of great talks, as you’d expect, but you’d be wrong if you thought that was the reason PopTech exists. The organization itself is a catalyst, focused on accelerating ideas that can change the world.

The increased focus of the PopTech leadership on the Social Innovation Fellows, the Science and Policy Fellows and the Accelerator Labs that are put on in cities around the world are proof that their goal is to take all of the energy and resources that a focal point like a conference of their stature brings together, but to then direct that energy like a laser into the people and projects that they think can make a massive impact on the world.

The Fellows program fits into the PopTech organizations focus on finding people creating Innovative tools that impact positive societal change and then bringing them together with communities of stakeholders and other practitioners.

Pictures from Day 1

Brain Food: Pop!Tech Fellows 2009

PopTech Fellows 2009
[More Pop!Tech Fellows 2009 pictures]

There are a lot of reasons to come to Pop!Tech, the conference, but honestly the highlight of my Fall is the Pop!Tech Fellows program that precedes it. It’s one of those seamlessly executed events where every detail is taken care of, which is a tribute to those orchestrating it, that pulls together some of the most amazing minds in the social innovator space into one place for a 5 days of immersion. The faculty is world-class and the innovation Fellows are exceptional in so many ways, not least among them their areas of focus.

This year I’ve met a young man figuring out ways to turn waste products into charcoal soil additives that increase crop yield by up to 200%. I thought I knew a little about the mobile space in Africa – and I did know a little, very little, especially compared to what Nigel Waller knows… Oh, and I sat amazed as a lady from Saudi Arabia shares how she won both the MIT and Harvard prizes for innovative business ideas (as a non-profit!) in one year – which is unheard of.

The first thing you need to understand about this pre-conference Fellows event is that it takes place in an incredible location. It’s Fall in the woods of Maine, where we’re housed in cabins surrounded by trees of varying shades of yellow, orange and red. The bay sits below us, with wooded hills behind the idyllic and well-appointed retreat center. It’s the perfect setting to leave behind your daily life and embrace a few days of learning, discussion, renewal and growth.

I was fortunate enough to be part of last year’s inaugural Fellows class, where fast-friends were made that still stay in contact. This year, I’m here as one of the two returning Fellows from 2008, with my partner Abby Falik, to serve as a bridge between the classes and help maintain a consistent ethos and to lend a helping hand wherever necessary.

PopTech Fellows 2009 - Hayat & Eben

One of the things I’ve been asked to do this year is help photograph the Fellows program. I can’t hold a candle to Kris Krug’s brilliant work from last year. Fortunately, Andrew Zolli (Pop!Tech’s curator) is letting me borrow his much better camera, which I hope will make up for any lack of talent. 🙂

PopTech Fellows 2009

[More Pop!Tech Fellows 2009 pictures]

Beyond the photos, beyond the scenery, beyond the relaxing wood cabins – this event is about feeding my brain. It’s about the chance to meet and share a unique experience with my peers and learn from some of the world-class faculty. It’s about challenging ourselves and not just talking about the successes and “good stuff”, but about ways we can all be better and speak openly of our failures.

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