Connecting the Dots

A partnership between government and industry brings together innovators and leaders to tackle global sustainability challenges.

In Malcolm Gladwell's best-selling book The Tipping Point, he identifies three types of people who drive innovation and disseminate ideas in society-connectors, who bring together people; mavens, who traffic in ideas and information; and salespeople, who have powers of persuasion. Diane Powell is a connector-a person with a vast network of acquaintances who is plugged into different worlds.

She is the team leader for LAUNCH, a program that gathers scientists, entrepreneurs and inventors at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida to share ideas and support innovations that tackle global sustainability issues. The public-private partnership also includes the U.S. Agency for International Development and Nike Inc. Powell's team was nominated for a 2011 Service to America Medal for its work. One invention that emerged from the program is used to grow plants in the African desert by desalinating well water.

Powell, who has worked at NASA for 21 years, is not an engineer by training but has a background in branding, public affairs and the visual arts. "Some of the people who are great innovators can't present," says Powell, and that's where she and her team come in.

They give inventors and entrepreneurs access to movers and shakers, and then help them present their ideas. "What I love about innovation now, it's all about getting different people together in a room and trying to solve a problem," she says. LAUNCH plans to host its next forum in November and will focus on energy.

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