Scroll down the page for the Live blogs of the talks.

Videos about D

Live blogs about D

Jenny Sealey talk

JennySealey_portraitJenny became deaf (with speech) at aged 7. Her mother said she could do whatever she wanted. Her careers officer said she could become a librarian! With Graeae, she works with some extraordinary deaf and disabled artists. She is showing a video of some of them as she continues to speak.

Disabled people are dependent on Access to Work and the Independent Living Fund. The first is one of the government’s best kept secrets. It helps disabled people into the workforce, so they can fulfil roles with equality, and come off benefits and pay taxes. The latter does what it says. But in 2012 Esther McVey announced out of the blue that it will be closed and passed to local authorities in June 2015. The pot is £23m, and per person the cost of £346 compares very favourably with the cost of care in residential homes [several thousand]. Jenny argues the closure breaches human rights.

When working on the Paralympics Opening Ceremony, Stephen Hawking said don’t look at your toes, look at the stars. He and many other deaf and disabled people (Beethoven, Roosevelt, Frida Kahlo) have contributed enormously to civilisation. They needed and received support. Jenny is running through a list of people who are struggling with accessing government support so they can fulfil their potential.

For example, a graduate in business studies had Access to Work for 6 hours a day, then when moved to another job was only given 3 hours a week, and had to leave the job… which also means that two signers lost their employment too.

Disability does not occur because someone has done something wrong. Yet disabled people are vilified and in some countries treated as beggars. It amazes some that there are disabled people on the stage. Many decisions seem to be the result of lack of empathy and understanding. For example, how do blind people use tablets with smooth screens? The Paralympics were glorious. Following it, Channel 4 asked Jenny to put some of her people forward to Undateables, which she found sickening.

So Jenny asks us to familiarise ourselves with Access to Work, and with the issues, and help disabled people in their efforts to give their great contributions to society.

Matthew Owen talk

MatthewOwen_portraitThe first session is on Open Communities.

Matthew is reminding us of the main policies which have reduced carbon emissions: solar, hydropower, reducing industrial gas emission, and number one is protecting rainforest.

Every rainforest talk has a tree frog image, which he has got out of the way early. Instead he has zoomed into a small village called Cuti Vireni in the Amazonian rainforest. It used to be 300km from chainsaws, then 5km, then it was offered $250 for 40 odd cedar trees. Not good value, but ready cash if they need to get food or carry a child to get medical care. In other words, poverty is the issue, and the barriers to loggers’ entry are low.

Piecemeal degradation is the biggest threat to rainforest now, and no longer clear cutting. We care more now where our beef, soya and palm oil comes from… and the US makes its own ethanol. But we still lose 260,000 acres every day, or the equivalent number of trees, and degradation is four times worse than clear-cutting.

Illegal loggers always find a way of circumventing regulations, e.g. by shipping illegal trunks back to their logging concession to pretend they are legal, and even shipping and replanting stumps. There is also a lot of hidden coca farming, the raw material for cocaine, often by the same people.

Logging is not a commodity trade. It’s negotiated tree by tree, on the ground, locally. This is what lies behind the Cool Earth model – offering an alternative to selling trees for short-term cash.

Cuti Vireni looked for advice, and were introduced to Cool Earth. Cool Earth cobbled together $8000 as payment to the village to keep the trees in the ground – half up front, half in a year. They asked the village to form an association, and tell neighbours about it a year. The villagers invested in mosquito nets, and importantly a cacao drier, offering an alternative cash crop. In a year, instead of a meeting with neighbours, the village had a sport tournament, involving 14 other teams. It was a great success, and nine other villages then joined the project. As a result, local canopy loss has been only 0.5% instead of 29% more widely. 150,000 acres are under the communities’ control, but 1.5m has been shielded from loggers.

The best bit is how little Cool Earth needs to do. The villagers make the decisions and do the work. So Cool Earth can work anywhere, and there are now over 1m acres shielding 10m acres, and it is continuing to grow. David Attenborough says they are not just saving the rainforest, but saving the world, and we are all benefitting.

[Please note that in these live blog posts I aim to report what the speakers present. I may well miss bits, but that is because I can’t keep up rather than anything nefarious. I try not to let my personal views shape the argument or intrude, except for the occasional light interjection in square brackets.]

Joel Gibbard talk

Joel Gibbard featureJoel got into robots because he thought they were cool. His first robot was Clean3PO, which stumbled around his parents’ kitchen.

His favourite robots are those that are inspired by nature, which to many people are creepy. [I’m not going to look up at the video of an 8-legged overly-realistic robot.]

The most natural movement is in the human hand. Each hand has 29 bones, 34 muscles and 123 ligaments. Is it possible to replicate this robotically without necessarily replicating all these intricacies?

Joel built his first effort from stuff he found around the home, but he still managed to get some realistic movement.

When he studied robotics at university, he found that the options for amputees needing a prosthetic was limited, in terms of cost and functionality. He realised that what he was doing could change people’s lives. He wanted to get the latest technology to amputees at an affordable price.

His next hand was sheet aluminium, and chopped up rubber gloves for a nice touch. This attracted a lot of interest, so he made the design open source.

After a stint at an engineering company, he returned to the project and investigated the potential of 3D printing. He quit his job, bought a 3D printer, and moved back in with his parents(!) He could see the potential of 3D printing for both cheap and tailored production. His design uses free software all the way. His latest model can cope with being knocked about, and has smooth and natural movement. The video looks great, but the model he has on stage only has 2 working fingers. The leading prosthetic costs $18K. He plans to sell his for only $1K. For growing children, he can reprint only the parts that need to be replaced over time. Kids’ hands can be customised to look cool instead of awkward.

Joel has found his only limitation has been in his ambition. The next time you use your hands to do something, taken a moment to think about the complex intricacies. Technology has the power to mimic this freedom, and it doesn’t have to cost the earth.

Addendum

Here’s a Vine of “Dextrus hand closing and opening. Except for the pinky finger!” If you can’t view the embedded film, it’s available here.

Vinay Nair talk

Vinay Nair featureOur first session is about international themes, and our first speaker is Vinay Nair from Acumen.

Five years ago, he found himself in remote NW Mozambique, sitting down and buzzing about budgeting and planning for a social enterprise selling jam, run by women who were HIV positive. They were managing to generate an income, and become active agents in their own futures. One was asked by the Red Cross to set up similar enterprises across the country.

Vinay had a sense that the work was about dignity not dependence, choice not charity. But he’s not a good Samaritan, he’s a former investment banker – his joke! And yet, that experience helped him in the position he is now in, and he wants to explore those interconnections and interdependencies.

A few years ago, he visited Robben Island in South Africa, where he tried to get inside the head of Nelson Mandela. On the way home, he bumped into Gordon Brown at the airport, thanked him for his work on debt relief, and was then surprised when they had a conversation about economics and finance as vehicles for reducing poverty and improving social justice.

Before the financial crisis, Vinay took a sabbatical and spent some time in India. He met Muhammad Yunus, the pioneer in microfinance. He thought initially that microfinance was a silver bullet, but realised that often the goals of social justice had got lost in the push for a financial return. 

So he left the world of microfinance and ended up in Mozambique and then the Clinton Foundation, before studying for a masters at LSE. He got involved in Acumen, and began to work with its founder Jacqueline Novogratz.

Acumen’s model is to take donations, bypass governments and conventional finance, and invest ‘patient capital’ in social enterprises. The returns can then be recycled again and again. It also has a strong focus on ‘how’ it makes decisions, in a difficult and messy area of work. Listening and humility are core, but there is also a need for leadership, audaciousness and accountability.

Vinay found himself back in India, in the rice belt, working with a renewable energy company which was burning rice husks to generate electricity for sale at £1 per month. Because it wasn’t free, people demanded customer service etc – dignity not dependence. There were also improved health outcomes, through not inhaling kerosene fumes, and improved education, through better lighting – not just the financial bottom line.

He’s now leaving Acumen to set up a new initiative in the UK, to tackle poverty and inequality here. There is a need to understand what and how investment can support innovative social enterprise and charities. There’s a lot that can be learnt from Acumen and other organisations, because of the interconnections. As they say in Bantu South Africa: Ubuntu, I am because you are.

Jo Royle talk

Jo Royle portraitIt’s July 2010, and Jo is sat in the Pacific on Plastiki, a boat built out of plastic bottles. As skipper she is responsible for the lives of 5 boys, and wondering whether they’d bitten off too much.

She is showing a video of the sea state – “big wave!” – and I’m feeling queasy just watching… and in awe of the seas, and of Jo and the crew for risking them.

Her dad left her in a dinghy at aged 7, and started a life-long love affair with the seas. Her journey towards Plastiki started on South Georgia. She took a moment by herself on the beach – it was stunningly beautiful, but then she saw the bright oranges, blues and greens of plastic.

Ever since she’s been questioning how the materials we produce and use daily impact the life of the sea. Plastic is the first man-made material that can’t be found in nature. And now we have pumped 8 billion tonnes into the sea, and nearly all of it is still there today – our geological legacy.

There are 11 gyres in the oceans, caused by currents and winds. And vast quantities of plastic can be found in the middle of these gyres. Sea birds choke on it, turtles are trapped in it. Tiny pieces of plastic sop up toxins, which get into the food chain.

We should stop thinking of plastic as throw-away, as it is almost, like diamonds, forever. We should consider the whole lifecycle of a material or product before we manufacture it.

Jo and the others in the Plastiki team thought that if they could build an up-cycled boat and sail it across the Pacific, then they could demonstrate other possibilities. The team collected 12,000 bottles from recycling centres to form the buoyancy. They also found SRPT, which could be used to bond the bottles together. It retains its properties in the reycling process, so could be used again to build another boat or a plane. It hadn’t been used before, so it was a big risk to sail out under the Golden Gate Bridge heading for Sydney.

The crew learnt a lot about the material: saw it expand and contract in the sun, and twist and reform in the waves. Plastiki was the first boat to be made of closed-loop plastic, and the project led to other inventions.

Jo has learnt to appreciate plastic’s material qualities. It’s our misunderstanding of the material that has led to the problems. Someone needs to take ownership. Big companies and curious minds need to get together to work out how to build closed-loop everyday products too.

More Information

The Plastiki – website, Facebook, Twitter

History of plastic and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch on Wikipedia

Jo on Twitter