Francisco Noguera

NextBillion Returns to Pop!Tech: Conference Preview

Early October marked my second year living in the United States. Is that too long already or is this just getting started? It depends what day of the week you ask me, to be quite frank. Sometimes it feels like it’s been ages since I checked my bags at the airline counter in BOG, full of illusions and looking forward to joining the growing crowd interested in and acting upon the idea of social entrepreneurship.

There are other days when 48 months feel like an instant, when I feel like I know less and not more than I did when my passport was stamped at JFK. That feeling generally suggests that this is only the beginning of my stay in this neck of the woods and that there is still much for me to learn and absorb. Of course, there are still many days when I wake up itching to start packing again and go back to my country to harvest the seeds of curiosity that this experience and the fascinating people I’ve met have helped irrigate.

The last few days, and today in particular, have had a taste of this-is-just-the-beginning. I just arrived to Maine where I’ll be live-blogging Pop!Tech 2009 for, which doesn’t come without a healthy dose of nostalgia. I can perfectly recall where I was, the time of the day and what I was working on when I logged on to read about Rob’s and NextBillion’s first live-blogging engagement at this unique conference two years ago, only days before initiating my email correspondence with him and WRI, where I now work. I enjoyed Rob’s excellent writing, the interviews he posted and the parallels drawn while discussing the net impact of Pop!Tech. Last year’s coverage was even more compelling, I think. Rob’s interviews allowed us all to have a sneak peek at the world-changing ventures of the Pop!Tech Fellows. I can only feel grateful and humbled by this opportunity, and really look forward to providing what will hopefully be an equally useful and illustrative coverage for you.

The theme of this year’s Pop!Tech is fascinating to say the least. Entitled America Reimagined, the conference will “take a top-to-bottom look at America’s opportunities, its challenges, and its future. We’ll explore the country’s business model in the decades to come, and unearth inspiring stories of American invention and social innovation. We’ll explore the country’s role in the world, and the world’s role in the U.S. We’ll look at cutting-edge ideas in education, energy, entrepreneurship, and the many other social systems on which America’s future wealth depends, and we’ll ask what it means to be a superpower in the age of the Second Superpower — the Internet.”

You might ask what the relationship is between this theme and that of the Base of the Pyramid or the practice of social enterprise. I believe that the ideas of social enterprise and/or BoP are in fact the result of a process of reimagination. A reimagination of markets and their role in addressing poverty and environmental degradation; a reimagination of the idea of personal fulfillment and what it means to be a “successful professional” in today’s age. Furthermore, the founding idea of NextBillion (that the world’s poorest consumers and producers, living mainly in developing countries, will be able to move up into the middle class thanks to the market dynamics instilled by gamechanging enterprises), will also push emerging economies into an increasingly decisive role in the world.

In other words, the “NextBillion idea” is one of many that challenge the until-recently lonely superpower to take a look in the mirror and reimagine its role in the coming decades. I’m looking forward to hearing and commenting on the interventions of many speakers, most notably Esther Duflo from MIT’s Poverty Action Lab. I’m also thrilled to meet and interview hopefylly many of this year’s Social Innovations Fellows.

I encourage you to share your feedback or ideas for this coverage, and to get in touch if you happen to also be attending Pop!Tech 2009.

Got to run to the new comers induction session… More later!