Founder and CEO of Actuate, Former DARPA Director

Arati Prabhakar

Founder and CEO of Actuate, Former DARPA Director

Arati Prabhakar is cofounder and CEO of Actuate, a nonprofit that is creating new forms of innovation for today's must-solve challenges: mitigating climate change, reinvigorating democracy, opening opportunity to every person, and boosting population health.


Arati has worked with startups, established companies, universities, government labs, and nonprofits across a wide variety of sectors to create powerful new solutions for critical challenges. She led two different federal R&D organizations, serving as Director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) 2012-17 and Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) 1993-97. In between, she worked in Silicon Valley as a senior executive at Raychem and at Interval Research and then for a decade as a partner at U.S. Venture Partners. Before starting Actuate, she was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. Arati holds a B.S. in electrical engineering from Texas Tech University and an M.S. in electrical engineering and a Ph.D. in applied physics from the California Institute of Technology. She is a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and a member of the National Academy of Engineering.

Achieving Climate Scale in Time

“Climate scale” means the level of deployment that changes climate outcomes. It is vastly beyond the scale of a single company or specific technology, and so far, we have only a very few contributions to greenhouse gas reduction that are even starting to reach this scale. For example, wind and solar electricity generation, which are among today’s best success stories, together now are abating about 5% of emissions. They will continue to grow, but it’s sobering to see that the start of climate scale took seven or more decades from the first commercial products in these areas. Now we have half that much time to take emissions all the way to net zero across electricity, transportation, industry, buildings, and agriculture.


This make-or-break challenge demands a new kind of innovation that moves beyond the traditional focus on technology alone. Today we need experimentation, rapid learning, and iteration across all the domains that interact to determine the pace of deep infrastructure and sectoral change: technology, policy, finance, markets, and individuals and communities. This kind of systems innovation is our focus at Actuate, a nonprofit organization founded to create fresh approaches to innovation for the aspirations of our times. This presentation will describe and provide examples of the systems innovation that can unlock climate scale in time.