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Posts from — July 2011

The past: Reframed. Re-lived.

It’s not every day that you stumble across something which blows you away, especially when you don’t quite understand why. It happened to me on Sunday, and I’m still more than a little fascinated.

Described by MSNBC as “a site that will make you call your Mom”, Dear Photograph is a beautifully simple idea. Find an old picture, go back to where it was taken, hold it up, line it up, and re-take it. For loved ones long gone, it almost brings them back. To re-live good times (or bad), it almost brings them back. I can imagine that for many people doing this, it’s quite an emotional exercise. There’s something magical and challenging about re-living – and re-imagining – the past.

The site has only been going a short while, so it’s unclear if it’s going to “go viral” or not. Either way, it reminds me a little of PostSecret, which did turn out to be a huge success.

If you decide to give it a go, you can submit photographs to dearphotograph@gmail.com. They’re also @dearphotograph on Twitter.

July 21, 2011   20 Comments

Joining the UK Africa Delegation

This week represents something of a first for us as we head to Africa as part of a UK business delegation lead by David Cameron, the British Prime Minister. Also in attendance is Lord Green, the Minister for Trade and Investment, and Andrew Mitchell, Secretary of State for International Development, along with a number of prominent business leaders from across the UK.

This trip is exciting for a number of reasons. Firstly, it represents the beginnings of a closer working relationship with government, something we’ve been keen to explore for some time. Secondly, in a visit dominated by big business, it gives us the perfect opportunity to demonstrate what the non-profit sector in the UK has to offer, and highlight many of the exciting developments – and potential – of mobile technology for social good across the African continent:

Africa has always been key for us. Our work is all about technology innovation, and how mobile phones can help solve some of Africa’s bigger problems. As the developers of FrontlineSMS, a piece of free text messaging software used across the continent, our key objective as part of the delegation is to foster closer relationships with the private sector and government, and understand how we can best support local innovation and entrepreneurship in the mobile sector. It remains an area with huge potential

Tonight we’re in Lagos, Nigeria after spending the first full day in Johannesburg and Pretoria. The South African leg of the trip kicked off with breakfast meetings with South African business leaders, followed by a short audience with David Cameron and Jacob Zuma and a quick photo opportunity. An official Press Conference was the final act of the morning, held by both leaders at the government building.

Events back home have lead to the cancellation of the visits to Rwanda and Southern Sudan – a real shame – so we’ll be heading home tomorrow (Tuesday) after lunch meetings with a number of Nigerian politicians. The BBC posted an article earlier today on the Africa visit, and the pressure the Prime Minister is under to return to London.

July 17, 2011   8 Comments

The Rolling Stones School of Management Innovation

What do the Rolling Stones and FrontlineSMS have in common? Not much, you might think. Well, they’re not users, they’re a little better-off than us and they’re considerably more famous. But there is something a little more subtle we share with them – management innovation.

In his autobiography – “Life” – published last year, Keith Richards describes the evolution of The Rolling Stones‘ management. Three quite distinct individuals played key roles in getting the band to where they are today. From an article last November in The Week magazine:

“First up was Andrew Loog Oldham – described as an oddity of the London music scene – who successfully branded The Stones as the “dirty, snarling and mean” antidote to the then clean-cut Beatles. Then came Allen Klein, a lawyer expert in negotiating with record companies. Finally, there was Prince Rupert Lowenstein, a private banker with no roots in the music industry, who professionalised the outfit – establishing separate companies to handle publishing, merchandising and touring – which made The Stones one of the richest bands in history”

The evolution and management of FrontlineSMS can also be broken down into three phases:

  • Technology innovation
  • Organisational innovation
  • Business model innovation

As The Stones example demonstrates, each phase requires a very different skill set, and it would take an extraordinary individual to be able to manage and deliver successfully on each. While I may have been the right person – in the right place at the right time at the very least – to successfully deliver on Phase One, that doesn’t mean I’m the right person for Phase Two, or Three. A large part of building a successful organisation is assembling a talented, diverse team with complementary skill sets. Identifying gaps and being honest about our own strengths and weaknesses is a large part of the process.

The social entrepreneurship sector, however, remains largely laser-focused on the innovator, the person behind Phase One. Recognising that organisations develop in phases, and have different needs at each, there needs to be a slight shift in how we view – and support – entrepreneurs and the vehicles or organisations they help create.

With this in mind, there might well be a few things the social entrepreneurship sector could learn from The Rolling Stones.

July 12, 2011   109 Comments