Silicon Valley’s finest minds to brainstorm ideas on the 'humanitarian super highway' in the sky en route to London

US West Coast’s entrepreneurs to use 11-hour flight from San Francisco to London to brainstorm ideas for making the world a safer place

Ian Burrell
Monday 03 June 2013 21:48

On the face of it, it’s just a transatlantic flight. But for 100 of Silicon Valley’s finest minds, their journey to London next week is a mission to protect the world by creating a “humanitarian super highway” that will use technology to fight international emergencies and disasters.

During an 11-hour journey from San Francisco some of the cream of the West Coast’s entrepreneurs will brainstorm ideas for making the world a safer place. Among those on board will be Craig Newmark, founder of the successful advertising website Craigslist, Ben Rattray, who set up the online petition site, and the Lieutenant Governor of California Gavin Newsom. The British Airways flight is being called “Ungrounded: The First Innovation Lab in the Sky”.

After they touch down at Heathrow on Thursday of next week, the Silicon Valley delegation will be met by Joanna Shields, CEO of Tech City, the government-backed hub of technology companies in east London, and whisked across town to bring their ideas to a representative from the United Nations.

Cynics might question what can really be achieved in the course of a single plane journey but organisers of the trip, linked to the Decide Now Act (DNA) summit being held in London would bring together some of the “most innovative thinkers in the world”. DNA said: “DNA is not a talking shop but a results driven gathering.”

Among the famous names due to attend the summit are Sir Tim Berners Lee, founder of the World Wide Web, Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, Sir Bob Geldof and the American actress Rosario Dawson.

In particular, it is hoped that the event will improve ways of using the latest technology to reduce the impact of humanitarian crises around the world by improving responses. A DNA spokesman said its experts would be working with the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The planned “Humanitarian Super Highway” would consist of “an international 999 network of humanitarians from a cross sector of industries that OCHA can immediately call upon when disaster strikes.”

“The aims of Decide Now Act are of the utmost importance,” said Mark Florman, who is both chairman of DNA and the CEO of the British Venture Capital Association. “From education to disaster relief and infrastructure development we are bringing together the best and the brightest from every field to create a global network of experts that can help in any eventuality.”

Baroness Valerie Amos, the UN Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, is also backing the initiative. “Increasingly technology is shaping the way we provide aid,” she said. “Faster and better targeted communication and information mapping tools help us to provide aid quickly to the people who need it most.”

It is hoped that the event will inspire more global corporations to use their international networks to assist in humanitarian operations. DNA also hopes its high-powered delegation will encourage the best use of technology in the fields of business and sport. Among its aims is to set up a network of international sports stars who are willing to visit deprived communities around the world.

The event –- is also seen as helpful in building contacts between Silicon Valley and the British technology industry and other business sectors. Among the British entrepreneurs on the flight from San Francisco will be Richard Reed, founder of the Innocent brand of fruit smoothies.

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