September 12, 2013

Spotlighting the personal stories of 10 social innovators

Reluctant innovators

Charting ‘The Rise of the Reluctant Innovator’

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who come alive”Howard Thurman (1899 – 1981)

kiwanjaWhen David Rowan, editor of Wired Magazine, invited me to write a short article for “Ideas Bank” in the spring of last year, it gave me a great opportunity to share something I’d been witnessing on an increasing scale since my days at Stanford University in 2007. The article had to be short – 600 words – and because of that I invited only a couple of friends to contribute their stories. But the seed of an idea was born, as was the concept of “reluctant innovation.”

It was that seed which, one year on, would turn into a book set for launch in a couple of months’ time. You can read the original Wired piece that inspired it. Continue reading

January 4, 2010

Information into action: Africa and beyond

kiwanjaTwo organisations I’ve had the pleasure of working with – Tactical Tech and Fahamu – have independently announced the release of a film and a book that cover different aspects of non-profit digital activism. Both are well worth a look.

Info-activism.org, a Tactical Tech initiative, explores how rights advocates “use information and digital technology to create positive change.” Actions are broken down into 10 tactics that, through the site, provide original and artful ways for rights advocates to capture attention and communicate a cause (see video, above). The website includes a 50-minute film documenting inspiring info-activism stories from around the world and a set of cards, with tools tips and advice to help people plan their own info-activism campaigns. Further details of the launch are available on the BBC News website. Continue reading

March 24, 2009

Social mobile: A moral duty to do more?

kiwanjaIs the future of social mobile an empowered few, or an empowered many? Mobile tools in the hands of the masses presents great opportunity for NGO-led social change, but is that the future we’re creating?

In The White Man’s Burden – Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good,” William Easterly’s frustration at large-scale, top-down, bureaucracy-ridden development projects runs to an impressive 384 pages. While Easterly dedicates most of his book to markets, economics and the mechanics of international development itself, he talks little of information and communication technology (ICT). The index carries no reference to ‘computers,’ ‘ICT’ or even plain old ‘technology.’

But there is an entry for ‘cell phones.’

smallbeautifulE. F. Schumacher, a fellow economist and the man widely recognized as the father of the appropriate technology movement, spent a little more time in his books studying technology issues. His seminal 1973 book – Small is Beautiful – The Study of Economics as if People Mattered” – reacted to the imposition of alien development concepts on Third World countries, and he warned early of the dangers and difficulties of advocating the same technological practices in entirely different societies and environments. Although his earlier work focused more on agri-technology and large-scale infrastructure projects (dam building was a favorite ‘intervention’ at the time), his theories could easily have been applied to ICTs – as they were in later years.

Things have come a long way since 1973. For a start, many of us now have mobile phones, the most rapidly adopted technology in history. In what amounts to little more than the blink of an eye, mobiles have given us a glimpse of their potential to help us solve some of the most pressing problems of our time. As the evidence mounts, I have one question: If mobiles truly are as revolutionary and empowering as they appear to be – particularly in the lives of some of the poorest members of society – then do we have a moral duty, in the ICT for Development (ICT4D) community at least, to see that they fulfill that potential?

Continue reading