Execs see technology as economic equalizer

Intel's chairman Craig Barrett and Cisco CEO John Chambers see tech as the key to eliminating poverty throughout the world.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
3 min read
Cisco CEO John Chambers during his keynote speech at CES 2009. Sarah Tew/CNET Networks

LAS VEGAS--Two of the tech industries biggest champions for using technology to eliminate poverty in the developing world took the stage at the Consumer Electronics Show here on Friday for the final keynotes of the conference.

The message that the executives brought to the crowd at CES was simple: Technology is key to improving the lives of billions of poor people throughout the world. Intel Chairman Craig Barrett and Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers have each received awards and have been lauded for their work in helping fight poverty throughout the world.

Barrett took the stage first, where he promoted Intel's newly formed program called Small Things Challenge, a partnership the company announced this week with microfinancing firmKiva.org and Save the Children.

As part of this campaign, which is raising funds for Kiva and Save the Children, Intel has promised to donate 5 cents for every person who visits the Smallthingschallenge.com Web site, to push for development and education in emerging countries. And Intel plans to provide up to $300,000 a year for the project.

During the keynote, Barrett provided several examples of how technology, including the new third generation Classmate PC Netbook, which uses Intel's low-power Atom chip, can help improve the lives of people living in poor countries. And he urged everyone in the audience to contribute to Kiva and Save the Children.

"You travel and see the impact that technology and your donations can have on children's lives," he said. "Whether it's Kiva or Save the Children, it's a small step toward making the world a better place. But each and every one of us can play a role."

Adam Duritz of Counting Crows joins Intel Chairman Craig Barrett on stage at CES 2009. Marguerite Reardon CNET News/CBS Interactive

Intel has enlisted the help of several celebrities to get the word out about the Small Things Challenge. And two of the celebrities supporting the effort, joined Barrett on stage, Adam Levine of Maroon 5 and Adam Duritz of Counting Crows.

Chambers didn't need star power when he took the stage later in the afternoon. The charismatic executive walked among the crowd like a Southern preacher at a church revival. But his message was less about philanthropy and giving back as an individual, and more about how developing countries can implement technology to pull themselves out of poverty.

He started off describing what he considers the "pillars of national competitiveness" that will make developing nations more prosperous. The pillars are education, infrastructure, innovation, the ability to identify market transitions, a supportive government, and collaboration.

He said technology is important to developing nations because it helps drive economic growth, create jobs and improve productivity. And he said it could help improve the quality of life of people, especially when it comes to health care.

Chambers likened developing countries to businesses, and he compared his own company's successes in growing its business over the years to what countries must do to improve the lives of their citizens. He said that countries, like companies, need to look out for market transitions. But he also said that they need to have a clear vision of where they want to go, and they must be able to execute on that vision. What's more, new ideas need to be able to scale as well as be sustainable.

"Emerging countries are like companies," he said. "And they can follow the same path toward success. You must be able to execute. But you can't have speed without vision. And catching market transitions determines whether a company or a country is successful."

Intel Chairman Craig Barrett
Intel Chairman Craig Barrett during his keynote address at CES 2009. Corinne Schulze/CNET Networks