June 22, 2008
PUSH Conference in Minneapolis
I've been wanting to go to the Minneapolis-based PUSH Conference for awhile now but since its always in June, there has always been a conflict. This year was no different as I was in launch mode, but I somehow found myself on a Northwest flight heading to the midwest last week.
President Cecily Somers often has a hard time describing the event, which she puts in the 'brain food' category. It's a miniature Davos in a way, in a mini-TED-like format, so its small enough that you can still meet nearly everyone at the conference if that was your goal.
The theme this year was "The Fertile Delta," which while it has a great name, is hard to summarize in one line. It addressed one of the things I've been feeling in a bigger way over the last eighteen months - the widening of gaps in the U.S.
After visiting Mexico last year, I was not only reminded that our dollar is in decline, but it was thrown in my face. And it wasn't just the dollar that I felt in Mexico and every other international trip I've taken in the last year or so. America is turning into a third world country (some argue that it already is) and the transition is gradual like they so often are, that many living in the top 20% barely notice, or if they do, its easier to turn a blind eye than to face it.
Issues addressed at PUSH including some of these very themes, here and abroad:
--while globalization is bringing more players to the table, many more are being left behind.
--this widening gap in resources, wealth, education, technology and healthcare is a destabilizing influence --this trend is unsustainable and we need to re-think business models and social systems for agility and for solutions that are truly sustainable (look at the state of our education and healthcare system for example) --Phrases such as the "Digital Divide" and "Two Americas" refer to this growing chasm within.
Where The Fertile Delta comes in, is that "while this space in between faces extreme challenges, it represents enormous, untapped opportunity."
Cecily hopes PUSH will leave people with at least a few reasons why polarization never looked so good.
This brain food event brings in together academics, politics and international issues. While so many of the issues discussed were global in nature, the attendee base was largely from greater Minneapolis and other pockets in the midwest, unlike last year which was closer to 50/50. The slowing economy and soaring airline costs could be part of this shift.
A couple of my favorite speakers included Thousand Hills Venture Fund co-founder Antoine Bigirimana and University of Rochester Assistant Professor of Religion Anthea Butler.
While based in the states, Bigirimana spends the majority of his time in Rwanda as a philanthropist, supporting the Kigali Center for Entrepreneurs. Bigirimana was born in Rwanda and is a central figure in Rwanda's information and communication technologies (ICT) community.
He talked to us about how Rwanda is making a transition from agricultural subsistence to a knowledge–based economy that will act as the information–technology hub for neighboring countries in Eastern and Central Africa. Because Rwandans reached bottom, sustainable change is happening in remarkable ways and quickly. Implementing some of these changes in neighboring countries could have a profoundly positive impact on central Africa.
He was incredibly moving and inspiring and gave us hope that change can happen rapidly on a continent that has suffered a series of slow starts over the decades. His passion centers around technology and to-date, Bigirimana has been successfully building Internet infrastructure in Rwandan villages, programs which can be replicated elsewhere in the region.
Speaking of inspiration and passion, enter Anthea Butler who recently wrote Women in the Church of God in Christ. Able to fluently blend women's issues and religion, her stance on the PUSH stage was on fundamentalism.
Up right after a speaker on Islam, she encouraged us that while the radicals get most of the media stage, there's another point of view, another way of behaving within the same religion. These are the stories so rarely told and even when they are, they often get buried. Be sure to listen to her on video on the PUSH website.
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