It was former Vice President Al Gore, ending one furious tirade against climate change by saying “I have a tendency to get a little worked up here,” and continuing to the next, who best summed up emotions at Mashable’s three-day Social Good Summit on Tuesday. After interviewing Parker Liautaud, a 19-year-old polar explorer on a quest to bring attention to global warming, Gore wondered what the world would look like when the teen hit age 50.
The conference was all about looking forward, specifically, to 2030. With the social-good technology being built now, from mobile apps allowing rural farmers to compare seed prices, to a soccer ball building energy with kicks, and gay rights being fought with Facebook profile pictures, many of the global issues battled today are destined for extinction.
But not quite yet. “Are we connecting on behalf of changing the world for everyone?” Melinda Gates asked in a discussion about leveraging mobile technology. The answer was no.
So the lecturers got to work. Over the first two days, the high-profile speakers—including Gore, who introduced J.J. Abrams following a panel with two members of Linkin Park—took to the stage for a comprehensive look at how to glean social impact out of technology, and, flipped, what methods have been most effective in injecting tech into social endeavors.
The panels unleashed a siege of needs and cures. Topics ranged from aid workers-turned-editors at RYOT.org discussing the future of action-based news, to Malala Yousafzai speaking with her father about girls' empowerment, to using drones to identify when genocide has taken place.
“Most people aren’t really moved by statistics,” Gore admitted. But that didn’t stop a steady stream of them from the stage. Some were scary: Gore pointing out that the 12 hottest years ever measured have been in the last 15 years. Others more reassuring: the panel asserting malaria will be the first disease cured by mobile phone technology.
World Bank President Jim Yong Kim touched on the recent massacre in a Nairobi mall by Somalia’s al-Shabab network, noting that without tackling the 43 percent of Somalis in extreme poverty, “prospects for peace aren’t very good.”
Forty percent of the world lived in extreme poverty in 1990—a number that has been halved 23 years later, Kim pointed out. Today, two-and-half-billion people operate under financial stress.
If anyone matched Gore’s enthusiasm it was Black Eyed Peas star Will.i.am, who sat on the stage with the young creator of Soccket, an energy-creating soccer ball. He imagined every sports player in the world using the ball to build up energy and encouraged kids to get into the tech industry. (“Shoutout to all my geeks out in the audience!” he yelled.)
Gore’s interviewee wasn’t the only wunderkind in attendance. Sixteen-year-old Jack Andraka, who developed a test for pancreatic cancer at 15, received an roaring round of applause while encouraging free, open-source scientific research for all.
“One downside of technology is the way we select around our preexisting preferences,” noted the U.S.'s recently-appointed Ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, in an interview with Mashable’s Pete Cashmore. “You can imagine why young people would not necessarily want to watch videos of kids getting gassed by chemical weapons.” But put more import on the flipside, where citizens now have “capacity to put an issue on the map.”
Power, a self-admitted Twitter luddite, stressed the necessity of building a two-way street on social media. On busy days, she admitted, feedback from such sites are gathered in the nightly books sent home with her, Secretary of State Kerry, and Ambassador Rice. “It's not always the most pleasant reading, I'll have you know, but it's important to hear.”
“Listening to you and learning from you is an unbelievable turn on,” Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation said to laughter.
The hurdles faced over the upcoming 20 years are substantial. Christiana Figueres, executive secretary at the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, summed it all up in a winded question. “Can you imagine a future where all women can cook on a stove, not over an open fire? Can you imagine a future where buildings produce more energy than they consume? Can you imagine a future where everyone has power?' Can you imagine a future in which a house puts out energy as opposed to consuming it?” she asked. “That's the future we're talking about. It's actually an exciting future. That's the future of 2030.”