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Technology’s Gifts

Seven charities that innovate for good

Those who’ve made a career of technology are in a good position to appreciate its limitless potential to do good in the world. These charities, many global in scope, aim to expand public appreciation of technology, inspire the next generation of technology pioneers, and maximize technological benefits to society. Keep them in mind as you consider your year-end giving or 2011 resolutions.

Tech for kids and kids for tech

Computers for Youth considers children’s homes the greatest untapped resource for improving education. The organization gives away home computers, designed as learning centers, to families in five U.S. cities. Families undergo half-day training sessions to maximize the computer’s benefit to children’s learning experience. Computers for Youth also offers professional development to help teachers extend learning into students’ homes and assembles teams of students to evaluate educational software.

In an effort to instill a love for science and math in young people, FIRST organizes robotics competitions for ages 6 and up. The organization, founded by inventor Dean Kaman of Segway fame, attracted 210,000 kids in its most recent season, with participants from 56 countries. High school students compete for tens of millions of dollars in college scholarships.

Technology past and future

Founded in 1824, Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute is surely among the oldest technology charities in the world. Originally founded to honor Benjamin Franklin to advance the usefulness of his inventions, and host to an 1893 demonstration of wireless telegraphy by Nikola Tesla, the organization is now a hands-on science museum. It boasts a diverse audience of scientists, students and visitors of all ages. Permanent exhibits cover Newtonian physics, aviation, space exploration, a giant human-heart model, the science of sports, astronomy, electricity, climate and geology.

The Foresight Institute acts on its assertion that nanotechnology and the advances it helps create will change the world in ways “radical but not unforeseeable.” Its mission is to study and inform the public about nanotechnology’s potential—good and bad—and to promote beneficial nanotechnology in six areas: clean energy, clean water, health and longevity, environmental preservation, information access, and space development.

Technology and equality

To bring the benefits of the information society to underserved communities in 12 countries, One Economy creates public-service Web tools with information about employment, health, finance and social services; helps connect low-income communities with affordable broadband; trains “digital connectors,” youth who pass digital literacy to their neighbors and peers; and works with community members to make highly localized content (such as how to keep cattle-breeding records in Rwanda) available via nonprofit, government or local-business access sites.

In an effort to bring the number of U.S. minorities earning engineering degrees in line with nonminorities, the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering distributes more than $4 million annually to universities and scholars. Middle school programs guide teachers and counselors on how to support students interested in engineering. A new project, Academies of Engineering, has created high schools focused on science, technology, engineering and math that draw students into those fields and prepare them to enter postsecondary programs in engineering. The organization also sponsors scholarships, mentoring and other programs at the college level.

Technology sparking industries

The X PRIZE Foundation spurred the competition that resulted in the first privately built spacecraft and the first marketable 100-mpg cars. It did this by setting lofty goals accompanied by $10 million prizes in industries that would most benefit from an influx of competition. Teams are now competing to inexpensively sequence individual genomes and to send a robot to the moon. The 26 teams that competed in the spacecraft competition collectively spent more than $100 million in efforts to win the prize, and private space flight is now a billion-dollar industry.

Morgon Mae Schultz is a copy editor for MSP TechMedia

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