IT Thought Leaders Tackle Global STEM Issues in Meetup

A UN group consisting of Silicon Valley thought leaders takes to the skies to formulate concepts and solutions for global talent challenges that directly affect innovation, entrepreneurship and the economy around the world.

LONDON--For the better part of six hours on the evening of June 12, about 120 forward-thinking invitees on a chartered British Airways 747 from San Francisco to London went old school.

Packing away their myriad connected devices, they sat down and simply talked to each other about a lofty but increasingly important concern: how to fix STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education in the 21st century.

Hundreds of notes were taken. In fact, every idea that came up--no matter how trivial--was noted immediately on a Post-It note and stuck on a big piece of paper in front of each of six groups. These brightly colored sticky notes were everywhere; eventually, they were all harvested and input into a data store for the event. Nothing--absolutely nothing--slipped through any cracks.

The group, invited by a British Airways-sponsored initiative called UnGrounded, was a diverse one, consisting of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, educators, venture capitalists, inventors and a few journalists. Their ages ranged from early 20s to senior citizens. What they had in common was a love and/or concern for the improvement of education, a knowledge of technology--and a four-day opening in their schedules.

Collaborating to Create Solutions

These thought leaders took to the skies to collaborate and formulate concepts and solutions for global talent challenges that directly affect innovation, entrepreneurship and the economy around the world.

Included were Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist; Van Jones, a key strategist for the Obama presidential campaigns; Tiffany Shlain, founder of the Webby Awards; venture capitalist Esther Dyson; Peter Hinsson, author of "The New Normal"; Megan Smith, Google Vice President of Advanced Products (later to become CTO of the United States); Mark Campos, founder of the Waze GPS system; and Gary Fowlie, International Telecom Liaison for the United Nations.

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom had to pull out of the event at the last minute because his wife, Jennifer, was expecting a child at any moment.

IBM, Microsoft, Google Represented

Attendees also included key executives from IBM, Microsoft, and IDEO. The flight also featured venture firms such as Innovation Endeavors and Andreessen Horowitz, as well as organizations such as Clinton Global Initiative. Mostly they were people from fledgling companies and non-profits of which you've never heard. All were participants in the world's first innovation workshop held at 33,000 feet.

During the meetup, the group drew up 22 concept packages aimed to help people with STEM skills find opportunities to utilize their talent and drive global innovation. Four key angles were examined: the roles of women and girls; meeting growing demand for STEM talent in the United States; growing local STEM opportunities in emerging economies; expanding the reach of STEM in general.

Flight participants collectively selected one winner in each of the four categories. The winning concepts were announced and presented by UnGrounded passengers to the United Nations ITU Committee at the DNA (Decide Now Act) Summit in London on June 14. DNA was held in conjunction with the annual G8 Innovation Conference at the Crystal Conference Center in East London.

The winning concept, which will be backed financially by the UN and other sponsors, was AdviseHer, an online community that uses social networks and other pipeline programs to advocate for women and girls in STEM education.

AdviseHer will recruit women in STEM companies, retirees and former IT company employees to advise young women as they show interest in IT education. This will reduce attrition rates in STEM university programs and help raise funds for startups founded by women.

UK Prime Minister, Branson Add Perspectives

Prominent speakers at G8 on June 14 included Prime Minister David Cameron (pictured) and Sir Richard Branson.
The UN and its sponsors are hoping this will be the first of many UnGrounded summits in the sky.

"The whole idea is to get ideas people together in one place, unencumbered by email or texting, and give them a deadline to try and think of solutions to problems," Simon Talling-Smith, executive vice president of the Americas for British Airways, told eWEEK.

"Through UnGrounded, we had the opportunity to tap into some of the world's most brilliant minds and demonstrate how ideas can accelerate when the right people come together."

Here are links to other eWEEK articles on this project:

UN Will Back Project AdviseHer to Aid Women in STEM Education (slideshow)

IT Thought Leaders Will Jet to Summit in the Sky June 12

A Closer Look at Several 'UnGrounded' Participants: Part 1

Here are links to further information on the summit:
--G8 Innovation Conference
--UnGrounded Project
--UnGrounded Summit in the Sky videos

Editor's note: This article was updated on Feb. 21, 2020 to add more links and update information on some participants.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 15 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...