NAPLES — Two conclusions can be drawn after attending the Imagine Solutions Conference.
There are a lot of complex problems plaguing society — both domestically and abroad. And there are a lot of talented, driven people striving to solved them.
As the two-day conference wrapped up at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort in Naples on Tuesday, conference attendees heard a series of 17-minute presentations from experts in the fields of finance, education, human rights, political science, entrepreneurship, journalism and filmmaking, to name a few.
Daniel Ravicher was perhaps the highlight of the morning speakers. Ravicher, president and executive director of the Public Patent Foundation, a patent attorney and a lecturer in law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, was described as a “modern day Robin Hood” by Science Magazine.
Ravicher said, as of this morning, “there are 4,000 things we are now not allowed to do.”
He lambasted the United States Patent Office for pandering to corporate special interests and allowing companies to invent and shelve innovations that would benefit society at large.
To anchor his argument, Ravicher gave several examples including agricultural giant Monsanto’s patenting of produce seeds. Ravicher said Montanto takes legal action against farmers who don’t buy their seeds because they unknowingly have the patented Monsanto seeds migrate onto their fields from neighboring farms.
“They want to control our food supply,” Ravicher said.
He also referred to a Utah-based company, which patented a medical test that informs patients as to whether or not they are genetically predisposed to develop breast cancer. The company, Ravicher said, forbid doctors from performing free tests to patients who couldn’t afford them.
“Our patent system has been co-opted by those that benefit most,” Ravicher said to the audience.
David Schwartz, the 25-year-old founder of the Real Food Challenge, spoke about his organization’s fight to improve the quality and nutritional value of cafeteria food at universities around the country.
“We’re using existing university spending to create a healthy, just food economy,” he said. “We see food production, such as urban organic farms, as an opportunity to provide jobs and revitalize local economies stricken by economic blight.”
With a third of all children in the United States suffering from obesity, Schwartz said it’s time to think critically about where our food comes from and change the existing food system from growing products for fast food chains to a system to healthy, organic “real food.”
Throughout the day, education was a key topic.
Jack Hidary, of the National Lab Network, spoke on innovative ways for improving the quality of science and math education in public schools through hands-on training and problem solving.
Hidary said science classes today offer little more than recipes for students to follow, and said courses like “auto mechanics” and “shop” engage children to use their ingenuity and problem-solving skills to learn.
His example of having students take apart a car engine and rebuild it resonated with conference attendees Brad Anderson and his wife, Janet Anderson, of Naples.
“It’s very practical and a good way to invite kids into what learning is all about,” Brad Anderson said during a break.
While many of the education speakers over the two-day conference focused on improving math and science education, David Wish, Founder of Little Kids Rock, a non-profit organization that funds and runs one of the largest, free, public education music programs in the country, championed the need to support music education programs in the United States.
“Our future doesn’t lie in our children’s hands,” Wish said. “It lies in their creativity.”
After his presentation, Wish said creativity spills over from the arts and affects every other subject, including math, science and the language arts.
But, he said, society is somewhat schizophrenic when it comes to creativity.
“The successful person is lauded as a hero, but at the beginning they are labeled as a misguided fool,” Wish said. “We are handing the children a long laundry list of societal ills. And the list will not get shorter unless our children put their creativity against that list and imagine solutions.”