Is High Tea For You? Female Entrepreneurs Offer Marijuana-infused Tea

Is High Tea For You? Female Entrepreneurs Offer Marijuana-infused Tea

This year, California became the 6th state in the U.S. to make it legal to sell marijuana for recreational use. The BBC World Service asked me to explore an all-female startup that’s hoping to become a global power house for “high tea.” Amanda Jones and Jen Chapin, the Kikoko cofounders say that their marijuana-infused teas can help with sleep, pain, mood and even sex. I interviewed an enthusiastic fan at a Silicon Valley high tea party who raved about her spectacular orgasms! But is it addictive and what are the risks? My report aired today on the BBC’s Health Check.

Listen to the BBC podcast (High Tea segment Starts at 8:54)

Or listen to the shorter High Tea segment below:

Here’s a transcript of my report (edited for length and clarity):

BBC Health Check Host, Claudia Hammond: On New Year’s Day, California became the 6th state in the U.S. to legalize marijuana for recreational use. With an estimated potential market of $7Bn, it’s big business and queues soon formed outside dispensaries, with people keen to buy not just marijuana in tobacco and oils, but in brownies and even gummy bears. Now you can go to a “high tea” where the tea bags contain more than just tea leaves. So we sent reporter Alison van Diggelen along to ask what impact marijuana can have on our health?

Alison van Diggelen: Here in an affluent suburb of Silicon Valley, women in fancy hats are enjoying a little tea party. The product – Kikoko – offers you “high” tea: tea bags with microdoses of marijuana that can give you a buzz and more. Here’s Amanda Jones, one of the cofounders of Kikoko….

Amanda Jones: This is not your mother’s Earl Grey tea…however it’s good for your mother. My mother does it almost every day, she’s 82. What we offer is a cannabis infused herbal tea, very low dose… “Ritz with a twist” is what we call it. It’s very refined, all organic, top-shelf herbs, blended for the particular ailments we’re trying to treat.

Alison van Diggelen: Amanda, and her all-female team, say their tea blends can help with: sleep, pain, mood and even sex….The teas have between 3 and 10 mg of THC. THC – or Tetra-hydro-cannabinol – is what gets people high. At elevated doses it’s also been linked to anxiety and an increased risk of mental health problems.  The other key substance in marijuana is Cannabidiol, or CBD – sometimes recommended to help with pain or inflammation. A small trial recently conducted at the Institute of Psychiatry in London found this substance acts as an anti-psychotic and might counteract some of the negative effects of THC.

KIKOKO-0517TEA PARTY-1003d-photoKathleenHarrison_Several Kikoko clients enthused about the tea’s healing powers – including Tara Kaplinski, a lawyer who started drinking the tea for pain relief and to get a good night’s sleep…

Tara Kaplinski: I was taking a lot of ibuprofen for a wrist injury and I started to get pain in my solar plexus…so I went to the doctor and they said you can’t take Aleve (Naproxen)…you can’t take ibuprofen. So if you can’t take anything, then this is perfect. It does do the job, at least for me. It’s like a superfood…the health benefits are amazing…it’s better than having a beer, you’re not going to gain weight from it, be hungover in the morning…You’re not going to get frustrated with your children. I think it’s a healthier alternative.

Alison van Diggelen: Tracy O’Reilly – not her real name – is also a fan, but for quite different reasons. She’s a 55 year-old pharmacologist with expertise in toxicology.

Tracy O’Reilly: I took this “sensuali-tea” and it absolutely changed my life… I really had tremendous orgasms and I just felt wonderful afterwards and it lingered; giving me a pleasure that I didn’t think was possible post-menopause…

Alison van Diggelen: With the same partner?

Tracy O’Reilly: Yes! With the same partner. [laughter] Even the next day, I’ll feel very much like a woman who’s quite happy, put it that way…

Alison van Diggelen: Any negative effects at all for you?

Tracy O’Reilly: I limit my driving…I drink it at night and I don’t drive. It’s not a good idea especially if you’re new.  I had never tried marijuana, but when I found out about this low dose tea and there’s so much science behind it…There’s been tons of clinical trials done. I was against cannabis when it was not legal, but now it’s legal I think it’s going to benefit a lot of people and probably save us some healthcare dollars…

Alison van Diggelen: Beyond California, 28 other states already allow the medical use of marijuana. Some surveys show that opioid use and mainstream medicine prescriptions have fallen in those states, as Americans seek more affordable alternatives for their ailments. But do medical researchers have conclusive evidence of its efficacy? I met with Professor Westley Clark, an expert in psychotic substances and behavioral health at Santa Clara University.

Professor Westley Clark: We know it does produce analgesia, pain relief…Do we have enough science to say 80% of people will have this result? We don’t! We need more evidence. Remember, that marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug, scientists have to go through extra hoops because it’s “illegal.”

Alison van Diggelen: He means it’s illegal at the Federal level and consequently, that that has been a huge barrier for researchers. So just how safe is it? And what about addiction and overdosing?

Professor Westley Clark: Marijuana can be addictive. It has low addiction potential, there are people who develop dependent syndrome, people who take it daily. It’s a small number. Can someone say marijuana is absolutely safe? No one’s going to say that, if they’re being honest. Is it safe for most people most of the time? Yes. There’s no credible evidence that you can overdose on marijuana.

Alison van Diggelen: As for other risks, Professor Clark reminds us that tea – and other marijuana edibles – avoid the impact that smoking a joint or vaping has on the heart and lungs. But he cautions…

Professor Westley Clark: Be wary of something that’s being marketed as “good for all that ails you.” Usually it isn’t… It’s a psychoactive substance, with psychoactive properties…you need to be careful. If you have an adverse reaction, you need to stop, and put yourself in a safe place or go you may need to go to an emergency room.

Alison van Diggelen: What’s his advice to those concerned about it triggering psychosis?

Prof Westley Clark SCU interview by Alison van Diggelen for BBC WS

Professor Westley Clark: Some people might have a psychotic experience: paranoia, delusions. But when the effect of the marijuana wears off, it’s gone. There are people more vulnerable – it’s a minority of people – particularly people younger, under 18, they may be more predisposed, they’re more vulnerable. Their psychotic state may be longer in duration and the marijuana might help precipitate their first episode of psychosis. It doesn’t happen to most people. The younger you are, the more vulnerable you are…(or) if the THC content is much higher than you’re used to…If you have a family history of psychosis or severe trauma you might be more vulnerable.

Alison van Diggelen: What about people with bipolar, depression or who’re schizophrenic already?

Professor Westley Clark: They really should not use marijuana.

Alison van Diggelen: Professor Clark points out that 24 Million Americans currently use marijuana on a regular basis and many people want it legalized, just like other popular psychoactive substances like alcohol or tobacco.

Professor Westley Clark: We need more research and less mythology and less hysteria so we can educate the public with good science. We don’t need to continue to perpetuate “reefer madness”, and create upheaval in society where we’re incarcerating large groups of people based on fictions and myths.

Alison van Diggelen: What’s your advice to ladies considering high tea?

Professor Westley Clark: If they’re adults and have no history of severe psychological problems, that’s up to them. The route of administration will probably allow them to have a more positive experience, because it’s slow… If you take too much, say you drink all the teapot, you may have adverse consequences.

Alison van Diggelen: Would you try it yourself?

Professor Westley Clark: Nah…I’m a little old for that…[laughter]

Fade out Atmos…Tea pouring, laughter at the party.

Gloria Webster: Cheers!


Find out more about High Tea and Marijuana from KQED’s Rachael Myrow

Meet some more remarkable women from our Fresh Dialogues Inspiring Women Series

NB: Fresh Dialogues podcast links are for illustrative purposes. Copyright of BBC reports remain with the BBC World Service.

Woman to Woman Rising Together: BBC Report

Woman to Woman Rising Together: BBC Report

As the flood of #MeToo stories continue to inundate our media with horrific stories of sexual assault and harassment, Alison van Diggelen was relieved to cover an uplifting story of women empowerment on assignment for the BBC World Service. California-based Rising International was conceived in response to the draconian sexual apartheid of the Taliban. One brave woman in Afghanistan asked herself: what would I do if I was not afraid? And one energetic woman in Santa Cruz was inspired to create a local uprising and launch a global movement.

“She felt they were saying to her: you’re less than a human being because you’re a woman! Jamila Hashimi is her name…she’s my hero. The Taliban had declared women under house arrest, so they were not allowed to leave their homes…to learn to read or write. She started a secret school… even though she knew of teachers who’d been killed on the streets… She inspired me to get involved. We started in Afghanistan with Jamila creating a craft project and now 27 countries later we’re working with Jamilas all over the world.” Carmel Jud, Founder of Rising International

Photo: Djide Koffa, a soulful singer from Cameroon, volunteers for Rising International

Ready for an uplifting story? Listen to the BBC Business Matters podcast (My report starts at 17:25) 

Or listen to the special extended length Fresh Dialogues segment below:



Here’s a transcript of our conversation and a longer version of the BBC report (edited for length and clarity):

BBC Host, Fergus Nicoll: Being abused, being trafficked – having little or no access to education – are not, you might think, the best preconditions for business success. But one group of marginalized women in California is turning adversity on its head. They’re selling handmade goods – made by women living in the poorest and most dangerous places in the world – and it’s doing well. Alison tell us about the Rising Home Party.

Alison van Diggelen: That’s right Fergus  – I recently attended one of these parties. Friends and family gathered in a home in Silicon Valley to buy arts and crafts from around the world. These events are a key part of Rising International’s strategy. They aim to help end poverty from the comfort of your living room and empower what they call, “a global sisterhood of survivor entrepreneurs.”

Here’s the report:

Alison van Diggelen: Dining room tables are covered with boutique-quality gifts, handcrafted by women survivors of war, gender-based violence, and human trafficking. Each item comes with a tag telling the story of the artisan, giving her a voice in the world. Carmel Jud, who founded Rising International 15 years ago, told me what inspired her:

Carmel Jud: I got to meet a woman who shared her story: she woke up to a radio broadcast… the Taliban had taken over and declared women under house arrest, so they were not allowed to leave their homes, weren’t allowed to learn to read or write. She felt they were saying to her: you’re less than a human being because you’re a woman! Jamila Hashimi is her name…she’s my hero. She started a secret school… she was sneaking girls into her basement even though she knew of teachers who’d been hung, killed on the streets… She inspired me to get involved. We started in Afghanistan with Jamila creating a craft project and now 27 countries later we’re working with Jamilas all over the world.

Alison van Diggelen: How does the organization choose its projects?

Carmel Jud: We go where it’s the hardest to be alive as a woman…the DR Congo where rape is used as a war tactic…  We look to see: where’s that happening the most and how can we tell their story? We always find they’re making something beautiful even in the midst of tragedy…It’s almost like the craft is the messenger.

Carmel Jud, Rising Intl Founder with Devin Gonzeles. Photo by Alison van DiggelenPhoto: Carmel Jud, Rising Intl Founder explains her vision as Devin Gonzales looks on. 

Alison van Diggelen: But Rising International is not a charity like Oxfam. Its business model is based on the intimate home party model, popularized by Avon, Tupperware and Pampered Chef. What makes it different from other non-profits – like Ten Thousand Villages – is that the people selling the goods are in duress or marginalized themselves.  Rising International trains economically vulnerable women to run their own home party businesses. Some are human trafficking survivors. They earn an income selling crafts for their 4500 global sisters. One day they hope to reach one million vulnerable women…

Carmel Jud: We’re inviting women who’re suffering here into our economic empowerment program. We even go into homeless shelters here to train the women to be “Rising Entrepreneurs” and they learn to sell the beautiful things that are made by the global entrepreneurs. Imagine that every time a woman in a shelter sells a scarf she’s helping someone in another continent rise above poverty while she rises above poverty.

Alison van Diggelen: Devin Gonzales is a 21-year-old single mother from Watsonville, an agricultural community on the edge of Silicon Valley. She now works as a rep for Rising International, and gets 20% of the gross sales from the crafts she sells.

Devin Gonzales: I was born into a home where there was a lot of abuse, drugs, and I was put into the foster care system. I was moved around a lot: Santa Cruz, San Jose…Salinas. I got trained to become a Rising Rep where I could host home parties and sell these crafts that women have made all over the world. I absolutely feel a connection with these women. Women are really being beaten and broken down and the “human” is being taken out of them so they feel like they don’t have any worth. When I see women fighting for women they’ve never even met…It’s so powerful for me. I feel like I’m best friends with that girl in the basement who’s waiting for someone to rescue her…

Alison van Diggelen: She could be talking about Catie Hart, who’s now part of the Rising International team. She was trafficked and made to work in a strip club in SF for seven years. Now, with the organization’s help, she’s an educator for social workers and community groups to teach how trafficking works and how to break free.

Catie Hart: 10 years ago, my life was in the gutter. I was so traumatized. I didn’t have any skills. Here I am 10 years later, living a life that’s full of joy, connection and happiness.

Alison van Diggelen: I ask one of the home party attendees, Shannon McElyea what she bought…

Shannon McElyea: Today I bought a Safe and Sound bracelet. These are for protecting against human trafficking, made by human trafficking survivors who’re easing into making a living…they come out of poverty and homelessness.

Rising International party with Shreya Roy, Photo by Alison van DiggelenAlison van Diggelen: The non profit recently showcased a short film (a joint venture between Impact Creative and Oculus, VR for Good) that documented the entrepreneur-survivors in Haiti “connecting” and interacting digitally with Silicon Valley. Virtual Reality (VR) is being described as “an empathy machine” and it seems to be working for Devin Gonzales:

Devin Gonzales: When I hear these women’s stories…the ambition, the courage inside of them. I would do anything in the world to support them, it’s contagious…. They’re breaking doors down, their education, their children. That’s all it takes: awareness, support and education.

Alison van Diggelen: Back at the party, I talk to 18 year-old Shreya Roy who’s trying out the VR goggles…

Shreya Roy: There’s a woman standing in the forest talking about how she became a representative for RI and she sells scarves from Haiti…and they just transitioned to Haiti and it’s the women making the crafts as their little children play on the side….The money she makes helps her…they craft it from their hands, they’re using things in nature like leaves and they incorporate that into their art.

Atmos: African singing, guitar…

Alison van Diggelen: Djide Koffa (Pron: Gina), a singer from Cameroon volunteers her time to support Rising International. What motivates her to be involved?

Djide Koffa: Women’s rights are human rights, and that’s so true, because life starts with us, it’s that simple…(laughter)

Djide Koffa soaring, singing and fade out…


Continue listening to the BBC podcast hear our discussion on Rising International, the challenges of Artificial Intelligence and Tesla’s money woes.

Check out other BBC reports and interviews with inspiring women

Are You Being Heard? Why Sidewalk Talk is Life-Changing: BBC Report

Are You Being Heard? Why Sidewalk Talk is Life-Changing: BBC Report

Are you being heard? Alison van Diggelen reports for the BBC World Service on a project that offers free listening to people in the street. How is Sidewalk Talk helping to change lives?

When I first learned of Sidewalk Talk, I was having a depressive episode…I was struggling in my business…online marketing: it’s lonely, it’s isolating and I saw this beautiful project on Facebook and I just lit up! It’s been a year now…I find myself being more articulate, connecting with people, being more compassionate, I’m a better mother, daughter, friend. I’m less reactive…It’s truly been life changing.” Myisha T, Oakland team leader for Sidewalk Talk

Right now, there’s a lot happening to increase our anxiety levels: The mass shooting in Las Vegas; devastating tropical storms, growing terrorism in Europe, Brexit fears…. Plus, the Trump administration seems intent on ratcheting up the conflict with North Korea; clamping down on immigration; and attempting to roll back action on climate change and rights to contraception. Here in Silicon Valley, the California fires on our doorstep are clogging the air with smoke and fear.

With reasons for mental distress growing, support can sometimes seem elusive. In Silicon Valley, there’s a critical shortage of qualified therapists and getting an appointment can take weeks or even months. Calling a helpline might seem daunting – but imagine pulling up a chair on the street where you live and sharing your anxieties with an empathetic listener?

This week, my report aired on the BBC’s Health Check

Listen to the BBC podcast (Sidewalk Talk segment starts at 9:37)


Here’s a transcript of the program, featuring a longer version of my report (edited for length and clarity):

BBC Health Check Host, Claudia Hammond: In today’s world, it can sometimes feel difficult to connect with people….Social media means that technically, we’re better connected than ever, but even if we’re surrounded by people – real or virtual – it can feel as if no one is really listening. In Oakland, near San Francisco, a group has come up with a solution, and a low tech one at that. You don’t even have to call a helpline. Instead you see the sign in the street that says “free listening” and you pull up a chair and share your anxieties about the world with an empathetic listener. Alison van Diggelen reports from California on a project that offers free listening.

Atmos: Street sounds at Oakland’s First Friday

Alison van Diggelen: I’m here on Telegraph Avenue in downtown Oakland where Sidewalk Talk volunteers are setting up chairs on the sidewalk. They’re inviting passers-by to take a seat and just talk. The aim is simply to share their story, feel a human connection and perhaps find power in their voice…

Myisha T (Oakland team leader): Hey…free listening…would you like to be listened to today? Come on over, I want to talk to you about something. We’re Sidewalk Talk…we’re a community listening project.

Oakland 1st Friday Sidewalk Talk Oct 8 2017 by Alison van Diggelen

First Friday in downtown Oakland offers an excellent opportunity for Sidewalk Talk volunteers to connect with the community.

Alison van Diggelen: About one in eight of the people she approaches agrees to sit down and talk…Tonight she has two volunteers to help out with deep, active listening.

Myisha, the Beatles sang about “All the lonely people.” Do you see that in the streets here in Oakland?

Myisha T: Yes, absolutely. A lot of people are lonely and when they find out you just want to listen to them are actually shocked. They’re like: wait, what? You really want to connect, no strings attached, no money, it’s not therapy?

There’s a lot of loneliness on the streets, a lot of soon as you sit down…two minutes in you just get connected and you can see the whole body language change, it gets more relaxed…you’ll lean into one another and it’s almost like that loneliness subsides.

Alison van Diggelen: Jessica Anderson, who’s a student advisor at Stanford University, is intrigued and takes a seat opposite a volunteer, Aaron Culich. How does she feel after 10 minutes of talking, with reflective listening by Aaron?

Jessica Anderson talks with Sidewalk Talk's Aaron Culich in Oakland, photo by Alison van Diggelen:Fresh Dialogues

Jessica Anderson talks with Sidewalk Talk volunteer, Aaron Culich on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland.

Jessica Anderson: It added a new color to my happiness. Now there’s the presence of gratefulness. That reflection piece, helping me think about how things are better than I thought they were. There’s more room for introspection and connectedness. Those hormones that go off in your brain when you feel connected? That, that, that’s what just happened. (laughter)

Alison van Diggelen: so you’d recommend this to others?

Jessica Anderson: Yes absolutely…

Alison van Diggelen: About an hour later, I speak with 25 year old Amy Jones (not her real name) who tells me she experienced sexual and physical abuse in her childhood and was suicidal last year. The posters catch her eye, but she doesn’t sit down…

Amy Jones: A year ago, I wasn’t feeling heard and feeling supported by my peers, by my family, by anybody…it’s a really isolating thing and it’s hard to reach out. When there’s an opportunity to just sit down and talk anonymously, it’s a lot less threatening and if I had this a year ago, I probably wouldn’t have considered suicide….

Alison van Diggelen: Amy takes one of Myisha’s fliers and the two women talk intensely for a few minutes…

Amy Jones: I know what it feels like to be in that situation of being unheard…it just kinda builds inside you…you feel like you’re going to be shamed for talking about it. People veer away from it. If you’re happy, people want to be around you. So you put on the face but then you go home and you feel so empty inside. Having an opportunity to get things off of your chest releases that pressure. Because when you don’t, that’s when you explode and that’s when bad things happen…

Alison van Diggelen: Although 50% of volunteers have a background in therapy, Sidewalk Talk is all about deep listening and doesn’t involve therapy or offering solutions. Here’s Myisha:

Myisha T: Sometimes solutions aren’t the solution. Sometimes someone being heard is the solution. Fixing it can stop them finding who they really are.

Alison van Diggelen: So they need to find their own solution?

Myisha T: When you really start to hear yourself, you really do find your own solution. And get your inner conflicts resolved.

Alison van Diggelen: Myisha describes a gay man she listened to here in Oakland. He told her:

Myisha T: Wow, I’ve never had anyone listen to me. I’m always the listener…I’m never sharing how I feel with other people. Just by sitting here and having you listen to me, I hear the power in my own voice…I’m empowered now because I can hear myself…

Alison van Diggelen: Before their conversation he was focused on listening and “fixing” his friends and not asking for the support he needed. SideWalk Talk volunteers find that when people feel heard they move hopelessness to opportunity. It happened to Myisha herself.

Myisha T: When I first learned of Sidewalk Talk, I was having a depressive episode…I was struggling in my business…online marketing it’s lonely, it’s isolating and I saw this beautiful project on FB and I just lit up! It’s been a year now…I find myself being more articulate, connecting with people, being more compassionate, I’m a better mother, daughter, friend. I’m less reactive…It’s truly been life changing…

Alison van Diggelen: Psychotherapist, Traci Ruble feels SideWalk Talk has changed her life too. She launched the nonprofit in 2015 after seeing an uptick in gun violence in the United States …I visited her at her office in Palo Alto.

Traci Ruble: I felt a real pull to want to know what’s happening in our society. I kept having fantasies of putting my psychotherapy chair on the sidewalk as a different kind of protest, to say: what’s going on?

Traci Ruble, founder Sidewalk Talk.












Traci Ruble (left) was concerned at the uptick in gun violence and fantasized about setting up her therapist chair in the street. She founded Sidewalk Talk in 2015

Alison van Diggelen: Traci persuaded 28 colleagues to set up “listening chairs” all over San Francisco…In almost three years, the project has expanded to 29 cities in 10 countries. Their global team of 1000 listeners has reached over 10,000 people to date and referred over 300 people to low cost or free mental health services. Although she’s convinced it’s making a difference, Traci laments that our so called “social media” can make people even more lonely and deprived.

Ruble Ruble: We need to have a daily dose of face to face human contact. We need this as much as we need air! We need to be touched, hear someone’s tone of voice, see the reflection of their face in their own eyes, and really feel someone. It’s very hard to do in text. We’re not getting the nutrients we need ….

Would a text message be enough to soothe a baby? Would a Facebook post be enough to soothe a baby? We have all those same biological impulses inside of us. We need all that to be well, to be healthy.

Alison van Diggelen: Traci believes that with anxiety levels and disconnection growing, this kind of contact is more important than ever.

Traci Ruble: When you think about mass shootings. I do think when we can de-humanize anybody then that sets us up to be able to engage in aggressive behavior. Everything about SideWalk talk is humanizing ppl again. It’s hard to aggress against humanity when you know that every single person passing you by on the sidewalk has this beautiful, amazing story inside of them.

Fade in atmos of Oakland street scene, drumming…

Alison van Diggelen: Back in Oakland, Amy Jones says she’s serious about volunteering for Sidewalk Talk and Myisha T couldn’t be more delighted. This listening project is incredibly infectious: Those who feel helped are inspired to get involved…

Myisha T: My number one reason for being here is just connecting…genuine human connection.

Fade out: street atmos…drumming….


Want to get involved? Find out more about Sidewalk Talk


Wonder Women of Silicon Valley: Megan Smith, Ann Winblad, Neri Oxman & Linda Rottenberg

Wonder Women of Silicon Valley: Megan Smith, Ann Winblad, Neri Oxman & Linda Rottenberg

Some call it “The Oscars of Silicon Valley.” This year, the glitzy, red carpet affair celebrated four Wonder Women: Megan Smith, Ann Winblad, Neri Oxman and Linda Rottenberg. Alison van Diggelen reports on SVForum’s Visionary Awards for the BBC World Service. What are the secrets of these Wonder Womens’ success, and what do they think needs done to bring more women into the tech field?

Listen to the report and lively discussion with the BBC’s Fergus Nicoll. Our discussion starts at 26:00 in the podcast.

Here’s a transcript of our dialogue (edited for length and clarity):

Fergus Nicoll: Investigations reveal that women occupy only about 11% of Silicon Valley executive positions…and a tiny percentage of startups are owned by women. Are things going to change? Alison, you’ve been to an event to recognize talent in the sector…

Alison van Diggelen: Last week I attended Silicon Valley Forum’s Visionary Awards. SVForum is celebrating its 20th anniversary and unlike its usual male-dominated roster of honorees (Bill Gates, Vint Cerf, Elon Musk etc.), this year: three of its five honorees were female. I was curious to learn the secrets of their success, and what they think needs to be done to bring more women into the tech field. This is all in the context of Uber’s chief stepping down from the company this week – at least temporarily – and the company tacitly acknowledging that it needs to change what some are calling its toxic corporate culture for women. I was curious to learn the secrets of these Wonder Womens’ success, and what do they think needs to be done to bring more women into the tech field?

[Atmos: Crowd, music, welcome]

SVForum CEO, Denyse Cardozo: Good evening and welcome to the 20th anniversary Visionary Awards….

Alison van Diggelen: Just before she went onstage, I found tech pioneer Megan Smith surrounded by a group of adoring fans. She was President Obama’s Chief Technology Officer and now she’s back from DC her rockstar status is soaring among the technorati. You might even call her Silicon Valley’s Wonder Woman. Tall and forceful, she oozes enthusiasm and credits the valley’s unique ecosystem for her success.

Megan Smith with Alison van Diggelen Visionaries 2017Megan Smith: One of the things I’m going to talk about tonight is this “apprentice- journeyman-master” and Silicon Valley is so good at that. We learn from those who have gone before. I was mentored here in this community by extraordinary people

Alison van Diggelen: Notably, her list is all men. Women make up less than 15% of most tech companies’ technical teams. Why so few?

Megan Smith: We have this strange idea that there’s technical people and non-technical people and it’s a very un-useful cultural problem: stereotyping…The truth is women and men, people of color from every corner of the earth have been doing extraordinary, heroic and technical things and sometimes the stories get lost…

Alison van Diggelen: Smith blames story tellers for ignoring the significant contributions of women at Bletchley Park, at Apple and at NASA. Although she praises the recent “Hidden Figures” movie for finally highlighting the female heroes at NASA during the space race. Ann Winblad echoes the need to raise the profile of role models. She’s an influential venture capitalist in Silicon Valley and received her visionary award back in ‘99, alongside Bill Gates.

Ann Winblad: Women are not hidden figures in this industry. We’re honoring three really strong women tonight…….The more that we do things like these events where we show there are as many strong women to honor as strong men, it will enlighten women that there is a real opportunity.

Alison van Diggelen: Winblad reframes it in FOMO terms…Fear of missing out:

Ann Winblad:  Six of the top ten highest valued companies in the world are tech companies…. We all know their names. For women they’re missing a huge opportunity if they don’t join the fastest growing, most exciting industry in the world.

Linda Rottenberg with Alison van Diggelen Visionaries 2017

Alison van Diggelen: Linda Rottenberg knows about huge opportunities. Her visionary award is for pioneering Silicon Valley’s high-impact entrepreneurship model around the world. She challenges women to be braver and bolder; and to break stereotypes:

Linda Rottenberg: Not all innovators are boys in hoodies in their 20s: People are going to be over 50, people are going to be women…Sometimes our view of entrepreneurship gets so narrow cast that we dismiss the talent and creativity right in our midst. The biggest risk is taking none at all….

Neri Oxman with Alison van Diggelen Visionaries 2017

Alison van Diggelen: Fellow visionary, Neri Oxman believes in risk-taking and passion. She’s an inventor and designer at MIT’s Media Lab, famed for her “material ecology” innovations.

Neri Oxman: It’s not easy to define a new field and to generate new technologies for the kinds of project that we are creating, so it requires a suspense of disbelief; and a willingness to fail…

Alison van Diggelen: For her part, Megan Smith is passionate to launch a new tech startup soon to continue her White House mission. She believes that her computer science initiative will help empower many school kids. Here’s President Obama promoting the program back in January 2016…

President Obama: I’ve got a plan to help make sure all our kids get an opportunity to learn computer science, especially girls and minorities.  It’s called Computer Science For All.  And it means just what it says – giving every student in America an early start at learning the skills they’ll need to get ahead in the new economy…to make sure all our young people can compete in a high-tech, global economy.  

Alison van Diggelen: Smith challenges tech leaders for not doing enough to make diversity a top priority:

Megan Smith: It’s really outrageous and irresponsible for the leadership in tech…and it’s also bad for the bottom line. Research shows the more diverse the team, the better financial performance…We’ve got to field the whole human teamit’s especially urgent right now with the beginnings of Artificial Intelligence and data science.

Alison van Diggelen: Celebrating these strong role models – these Wonder Women in Silicon Valley – is one thing, but boosting the pipeline of candidates is vital. Across the US, only 18% of computer science and engineering students are women. As the evening winds down and Silicon Valley’s glitterati disperse into the balmy San Jose evening, Ann Winblad throws down the gauntlet to the next generation:

Ann Winblad: I encourage young women to get excited about science and to make those computer science classes, those engineering classes at least 50% women. If it got higher than 50%, women would OWN the tech industry.

[Crowd, music…fade out] Report ends.

Continue listening to the discussion on BBC’s Business Matters podcast to hear our discussion and my BBC colleague Dave Lee’s report on Nintendo’s comeback.

This report also aired several times on the BBC’s World Business Report

The other visionary awards were presented to pioneering venture capitalist, Steve Jurvetson and Don Eigler, an award-winning nanoscientist.

See more photos of the Visionary Awards and watch video here.


Visionary Awards 2017 Kevin Surace Vint Cerf Ann Winblad Ray Kurzweil

Julia Gillard’s Sexism Advice: BBC Dialogues with Australia’s 27th PM

Julia Gillard’s Sexism Advice: BBC Dialogues with Australia’s 27th PM

What can Uber and Fox News do to change their hostile work environment for women? And how can organizations create a productive atmosphere where men and women thrive? Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues sat down with Julia Gillard, the 27th Prime Minister of Australia to get her insights. Gillard got the world’s attention after making an impassioned speech to parliament, detailing the sexual harassment she endured as prime minister. Her Misogyny Speech has empowered many women and a provided a wakeup call for “unenlightened” men.

“I will not be lectured on sexism and misogyny by this man…I was personally offended by the leader of the opposition cat-calling: ‘if the Prime Minister wants to, politically speaking, make an honest women of herself ‘ and when he went outside the front of parliament and stood next to a sign that said ‘Ditch the witch’…(and) a sign that described me as ‘A man’s bitch’, I was offended by sexism, misogyny every day from this leader.” Julia Gillard, 27th Prime Minister of Australia

The BBC World Service program, Business Matters aired my interview with Julia Gillard last week, and we had a lively discussion about the steps companies and organizations can take to tackle sexism. This topic is especially timely as news broke this week that Bill O’Reilly has been fired from Fox News due to a sexual harassment scandal. Is the tide finally turning, thanks to tech augmented consumer pressure?

“Company reputation and consumer pressure is actually putting the spotlight on businesses to change behavior, and women can work with that to put a spotlight on work practices in their business,” Julia Gillard.

Did Julia Gillard anticipate Bill O”Reilly being fired?

Listen on the BBC Podcast (@26:40) or to the short clip below:


Here are highlights from our conversation:

I began by asking her if there’s anything she’d add to her speech in today’s work environment…

Julia Gillard: It was coming from a place of frustration and mounting anger about the way in which gender has intersected with my prime ministership and some of the many sexist jibes and treatment I had to put up with. For many women, it’s come to represent something that answers their own frustrations. A lot of women come up to me and say: “this happened to me at work. I wake up at 3 in the morning and really wish I’d said X, Y and Z; and then I’ve watched your speech and it’s given me some heart that I really should call out sexism when I see it.”

Alison van Diggelen: Here in Silicon Valley, women in tech are in a minority. In some instances they’re facing hostile environments at work. Do you have any specific advice for them?

Julia Gillard: What’s interesting about the Silicon Valley environment is: company reputation and consumer pressure is actually putting the spotlight on businesses to change behavior, and women can work with that to put a spotlight on work practices in their business; and put a spotlight more generally on that fact that not enough women study and come through the STEM stream… We do want to be encouraging more girls to go into the sciences, engineering, into coding, computer science and new technology because that’s where so much of the future is going to lie.

Alison van Diggelen: Uber has been accused of having a hostile environment for women. If you were on the board of Uber, your advice to them?

Julia Gillard: I’d give the same advice to any company, whether it already had a public problem or not. First look at hiring practices and see whether there’s any gender bias, even unconscious…Look at promotion practices, it could be managers valuing time sitting at the desk rather than results, which would count against women who also have family responsibilities. I’d be setting policies, practices, cultural norms about treating everyone with respect. No practices of going on boys’ nights out where women are excluded.

There’s a range of things you can do from structural biases, actual policies to cultural influences. You’ve got to be thoughtful at every level and make it easy for women to say something’s wrong here, all sorts of ways of raising a complaint, including putting in complaints with anonymity, so women can get a spotlight on issues without feeling they themselves are at risk.

Roger Hearing: Asit Biswas (in Singapore), in your experience, in the areas of government and academia, do you feel a lot of progress has been made?

Prof Asit Biswas: There has been some progress, but it’s not enough. In academia, the number of university presidents who are women, I can count on two hands…there’s a great deal of glass ceiling…In India, I was surprised to see the culture has deteriorated: there’s more harassment, not much being done about it.

Bill O'Reilly fired for sexual harassment

Alison van Diggelen: I do want to go back to Julia Gillard’s point about consumer pressure. Boycott movements* (and demonstrations) are happening against Fox (News) because of accusations of sexual harassment…

Roger Hearing: We should explain, Bill O’Reilly…There have been allegations against him and it’s emerged that money has been paid to those people, though he says the allegations have no merit.

Alison van Diggelen: Exactly. There are boycott movements shining a light on sexism and bad behaviors.   Companies can’t get away with it like they used to. Tech is playing a role in exposing these bad behaviors and a lot of companies are aware of it and are trying to close the income gap and improve  the retention rates of women, and making sure that all men become enlightened men and treat women with the respect that they deserve.

*Mercedes-Benz – one of the first major sponsors to drop Bill O’Reilly – said in a statement: “The allegations are disturbing and, given the importance of women in every aspect of our business, we don’t feel this is a good environment in which to advertise our products right now.”

This interview took place in the green room of The Flint Center in Cupertino. Big thanks to Dick Henning, founder of the Foothill College Celebrity Forum Series for the invitation backstage.

App to End Homelessness? BBC Report: Tech Fix for Down & Outs in Silicon Valley

App to End Homelessness? BBC Report: Tech Fix for Down & Outs in Silicon Valley

Imagine if you could help end homelessness with the click of a button. There’s an app for that! In Silicon Valley, despite the vast affluence and many tech millionaires, homelessness is a huge problem. With average home prices close to a $1 million and tiny flats renting for well over $1,000, making ends meet can be challenging; and for some people, just finding a roof over their heads is mission impossible.

Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues met one woman whose homeless brother inspired her to change all that.

For those who are homeless and poverty stricken, it’s like having a life coach, a service provider and a trainer in the palm of their hands. There’s really something to teaching to fish…rather than giving fish…helping them be self sufficient rather than temporary handouts… We’re here trying to help in other ways that are more sustainable and that lead to a permanent resolution of the problem.Karen Addato, Founder of Hi Tech Rover and ROVA app. 

Here’s my BBC World Service report. It aired April 4th on the BBC’s World Tech program, Click. Listen @15:40 for Host, Gareth Mitchell’s introduction on the April 4th BBC Podcast or to this short clip:


Alison van Diggelen: I’m here on the Hi Tech Rover, an RV (large camper van) that brings both the internet and a safety net to homeless people all over San Jose. Karen Addato (founder of the Hi Tech Rover and the ROVA app) and her volunteers offer an opportunity for homeless people to get off the streets and reboot their lives. They offer Internet training, help with online job applications, housing search, and even access to detox services.

Karen, where are we going right now?

Karen Addato: We’re in downtown San Jose, the Capital of Silicon Valley and we’re going to a couple of encampments under bridges, right here in the heart of town. One of them is on Woz Way…

Alison van Diggelen: Woz as in Steve Wozniak, cofounder of Apple and generous philanthropist here in Silicon Valley. Karen Addato is a vivacious single mom, a mortgage broker and executive director of the nonprofit: High Tech Rover. She used $7,000 of her savings to create this Rover Outreach Vehicle App prototype, ROVA for short.

Karen Addato: For those who are homeless and poverty stricken, it’s like having a life coach, a service provider and a trainer in the palm of their hands… when we’re not here helping them, they can stay on a pathway focused on upward mobility. They can get on to ROVA and press one button.. “I am seeking help.” Up comes a list of resources available for that gender and age group.  We have a geo-tracker right here, so you can find out where they are…This tool will also help government officials, donors, and service providers figure out what’s needed and what’s not.

ROVA app for homeless by Karen Addato, Photo by Alison van DiggelenAlison van Diggelen: Connecting homeless people with jobs, training opportunities and relocation information are a key for Addato. Her brother Stevie was homeless in Boston, and she believes that those who supported his panhandling simply enabled his alcoholism and homelessness. Instead, she’s serious about connecting people to local services, and getting people off the streets for good.

Karen Addato: I’ve learned a lot in my time in the trenches working with this population…I’ve learned a lot through the life and tragic death of my brother…There’s really something to teaching to fish…rather than giving fish…helping them be self sufficient rather than temporary handouts… that in some ways is part of the problem. We’re here trying to help in other ways that are more sustainable and that lead to a permanent resolution of the problem.

Alison van Diggelen: The High Tech Rover – a huge camper van – is kitted out with desks and laptops. Addato and her volunteers take it to homeless camps around Silicon Valley.

Atmos: Sound of walking to homeless camp…traffic…

Alison van Diggelen: We make our way over rough ground to the confluence of Highways 280 and 87. Addato grabs her pepper spray, just in case. We find a half dozen scruffy tents stretched out along a concrete embankment. Below us: the Guadalupe River. Above us, although it’s midday, there’s a constant drone of heavy traffic.

Jason, whose name has been changed to protect his privacy, tells me he’s been homeless for 2 years. He’s 19 and working two jobs, earning between 11 and 17 dollars an hour…

Alison van Diggelen: You can’t get a decent roof over head with that?

Jason: Not in Silicon Valley, it’s too expensive…one bed’s like $1300, it’s crazy out here. Us teenagers, we need help. Not all of us want to be here forever.

Alison van Diggelen: Every morning, Jason has to find a place to shower and clean up for his service jobs. We tell him about Karen’s app. Would that be a useful tool?

Jason: That’s actually a very brilliant idea, because a lot of us actually have phones… I’ve actually wanted something like that. Keep helping!

Alison van Diggelen: I ask another young man, what would help him?

Karen Addato driving the Hi Tech RoverCharlie: San Jose needs to lower how much it costs to buy a house, their rents…you need to live with like three people, making at least $20 an hour to end up being able to have your own place in San Jose.

Alison van Diggelen: The ROVA app includes a database of over 700 low-income housing facilities in the county. Both young men plan to relocate out of state when they can afford it.

Like many in Silicon Valley, Addato dreams big and is seeking sponsorship from the tech community to launch her app, and create a whole fleet of High-Tech Rovers across the nation. She recently pitched her dream at the Apple campus and remains hopeful. The wider tech community is already tackling homeless via brainstorming hackathons; leveraging data-driven solutions and social media to spotlight community challenges. In Australia, an app called “Ask Izzy” already offers similar services to ROVA.

Homeless in Silicon Valley, Woz Way

Read more BBC Reports at Fresh Dialogues

Join the conversation on Facebook

Check out the Fresh Dialogues iTunes podcast