Stanford Service Summit

The first weekend in April, Stanford had its service summit.  The service summit was an idea from the student government to expose interested students to ways to get involved with service and to brainstorm plans for Stanford’s service vision for the next few years. 


There were a bunch of cool panels, but there was only time for two.  The first one I went to was on Social Entrepreneurship.  Each of the people there had done amazing stuff, but one in particular took a class at Stanford’s grad school called “Extreme Affordability.”  In the class, people from all of Stanford’s different grad schools (ie, business, engineering, product design…) get together to design  a product that is designed to be extremely affordable so that people in the third world can benefit.  Jane Chen took this class and founded Embrace (see  Premature or low weight babies born in the first world might use incubators (to keep up their heat so that they stay healthy) that require electricity and cost up to $20,000.  Chen made an incubator that sells for $25 and only requires hot water. 

The panel also talked about the role that Stanford played.  There is an important financial aspect because the business school has loan forgiveness.  There are human resources because Stanford has so many engineers and people interested in getting things done rather than just researching and talking.  There are professors and alumni.  There’s also the Stanford name, which means that if you are aggressive or radical, people are more likely to take you seriously. 

The other panel I went to was on technology and social change.  Two lessons:  1) One Laptop Per Child is the wrong model.  85% of the world’s population is covered by cell towers.  Leverage cell phone technologies like SMS (text messaging), or build applications to run on cell phones.  2) Interact with the people that you’re trying to help.  That way, you’ll know how to adapt to their cultural context. 


There were a few keynotes.  The first was a former ASSU president (I think his last name was Westley?).  He led the student movement against South African apartheid by getting Stanford to divest its funds from South Africa which led to other universities and, later on, financial institutions divesting their funds, which gave Mandela the support he needed. 

Then there was a keynote with the dean of Stanford’s med school, Dr. Garcia, and the chief philanthropist at, Dr. Brilliant.  Dr. Brilliant led the World Health Organization campaign that eradicated smallpox.  Brilliant’s vision for the future? 

We need to eradicate polio.  If we do that, the global community will start believing that it is possible to eradicate diseases, and then we’ll be able to work on malaria. 

We need more public intellectuals: in the past, there were people that theorized about democracy, public service, and civic responsibility, but that is now missing. 

We need people to go into social entrepreneurship rather than academia or venture capital. 

We need to solve global warming.  It exacerbates every other problem.  All of the work that Mohammad Yunus (the microfinance guy) did would be destroyed if there was a one meter rise in world sea levels.  It is reducing agricultural capabilities.  This is forcing Africans to eat 700 million wild animals, which is leading to dozens of new diseases.  As Dr. Brilliant says, “Forget what your sex ed teacher told you; eating something is the most intimate exchange of bodily fluids that exists.”  Warming is decreasing the global supply of usable water, which is increasing conflict in the Middle East, worsening agriculture, and is leading tens of thousands of farmers to commit suicide. 

We need a community to support us.  These big social movements fail 8 out of 10 times, so we need a way to continue.  Those two wins are important.  When asked how Stanford could better facilitate this, he said, “First of all, change your speakers.  Bring in fewer Nobel laureates and more people who live the life of the heart: inspirational people who have lived hard lives and done something good in the world.”  Here here!  He also suggested that the only things learning in the halls of learning are the halls, so it is necessary to go outside of the classroom to figure out how to save the world.