Bridging Technology and Sustainable Development: A Closer Look at the Rio+2.0 Conference

Posted by Chris Duffy
February 10, 2012

The Department of State's Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs and Office of E-Diplomacy recently teamed up with Stanford University to host Rio+2.0: Bridging Connection Technologies and Sustainable Development.

Held on-site at the Stanford Graduate School of Business in Palo Alto, California, the three-day conference energized the global discussion about connection technologies and how they can foster the global sustainable development agenda. The interactive event also explored the issues that will be discussed at the upcoming Rio+20, which will take place in Brazil on June 20-22, 2012, to mark the 20th anniversary of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED).

From February 2 through February 4, the conference built on Silicon Valley's innovative spirit and took a unique approach towards motivating global stakeholder support, inspiring collaborations between ministers and high-level governmental representatives from across the globe, UN officials, tech innovators, private sector, NGO and civil society representatives, in addition to Stanford students and faculty.

It was evident from day one's "Demo Alley" (think speed-dating meets Silicon Valley) presentations that this conference was unique. The dialogue continued on day two with discussion of how connection technologies can be used more effectively for results-oriented end-goals. Some of the heavy-hitters directing this discussion included Assistant Secretary of State Kerri-Ann Jones, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson, and technology expert Tim O'Reilly.

On the last day, attendees gathered for a final "unconference.” The “unconference” brought participants together to brainstorm about real technology solutions to specific sustainable development challenges. During the break-out sessions, one group of participants made a YouTube video to raise youth awareness of Rio+20.

Over 8,300 viewers tuned into the Stanford website to watch a live webcast of the conference, while others followed the events on Twitter. Using the hashtag #USRio20, participants freely exchanged ideas and opinions in real time throughout the conference. Most of the tweets discussed quotes and concepts from each session, shared pictures and videos from the conference, and addressed ideas for the future. Taken together, they formed an organic narrative of Rio+2.0 and a fascinating study in the difference social media can make in facilitating active and equal participation among stakeholders. By connecting people online, the hashtag formed a virtual three-day narrative about technology's role in the larger Rio+20 story. Though told by many voices, the story I read was one focused on the same goal: exploring innovative solutions for sustainable development. To me, that sounds like a great conversation, and I can't wait to continue the discussion.

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