At Monday night’s TIME100 Impact Awards and Gala at the Museum of the Future in Dubai, performer, entrepreneur, and futurist will.i.am took the stage for a unique moment: he was the first-ever recipient of a TIME100 Impact Award.
Stepping up in front of the crowd in the ballroom, will.i.am reflected on what it meant for him to be recognized for the breadth of his work over the past decades in music, technology, and philanthropy. Technological advances can be remarkable, he noted, but they can also leave many people behind, especially in inner cities. “Companies are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to make cars smarter, machines smarter. Governments of the world are not spending hundreds of millions of dollars to make inner-city kids smarter,” he said. “And that contrast, that juxtaposition breaks my heart.”
Most people know will.i.am best as the founder and frontman of hip-hop group The Black Eyed Peas; he has over a half-dozen Grammys under his belt and has sold 33 million albums. But he is also an entrepreneur and investor, specifically in the area of technology and artificial intelligence, advising dozens of brands on that front and receiving honorary degrees for his keen insights.
Will.i.am is also a noted philanthropist: he started the i.am Angel Foundation to help support youth from his native southern California with opportunities in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) through after-school programs and college scholarships. The organization now reaches more than 10,000 students.
To address the opportunity gap, will.i.am explained he’s “married” his entrepreneurship and philanthropic work to ensure people of color can be part of the tech sector’s success, by bringing robotics and computer science programs to his old neighborhood. He said that he hoped receiving a TIME100 Impact Award would help show children that anything is possible.
“That’s the reason why my Angel Foundation started … to prepare them, and mentor them, and encourage them to be engineers, to be computer scientists, to be data scientists … so the machine works for their needs,” he said.
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