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Posts from — September 2011

Rewarding open source for social good

Do you know a software developer building open source tools with the potential to positively impact communities around the world? If you do – or you are one – then read on.

The Tides Foundation is now accepting nominations for this year’s Pizzigati Prize. The Antonio Pizzigati Prize for Software in the Public Interest annually awards a $10,000 cash grant to one individual who has created or led an effort to create an open source software product of significant value to the nonprofit sector and movements for social change.

The 2012 winner will be announced in April at the Nonprofit Technology Network annual conference in San Francisco. Each year, starting in 2006, the Pizzigati Prize has accepted nominations for talented and creative individuals who develop open source software products that demonstrate impressive value to the nonprofit sector. Tides welcomes nominations from both developers and the nonprofits who work with them.

Earlier this year I had the honour of picking up the Pizzigati Prize in Washington DC on behalf of everyone at FrontlineSMS. According to the Pizzigati jury, we’d managed to:

create software that speaks directly to the reality that millions of people globally have only simple mobile phones and no access whatsoever to the Internet. The software they developed turns mobile phones into grassroots organizing tools for everything from mobilizing young voters to thwarting thieving commodity traders.

The 2010 Pizzigati Prize winner, Yaw Anokwa, led the development on Open Data Kit, a modular set of tools that’s helping nonprofits the world over on a wide variety of battlefronts, from struggles to prevent deforestation to campaigns against human rights violations.

“Open source software developers like these fill an indispensable role”, explained Tides Chief of Staff Joseph Mouzon, a Pizzigati Prize judge and the former Executive Director of Nonprofit Services for Network for Good. “The Pizzigati Prize aims to honor that contribution – and encourage programmers to engage their talents in the ongoing struggle for social change”.

The Pizzigati Prize honors the brief life of Tony Pizzigati, an early advocate of open source computing. Born in 1971, Tony spent his college years at MIT, where he worked at the world-famous MIT Media Lab. Tony died in 1995, in an auto accident on his way to work in Silicon Valley.

Full details on the Pizzigati Prize, the largest annual award in public interest computing, are available online.

Please nominate, share or enter as appropriate. Good luck!

September 23, 2011   32 Comments

Predicting Africa’s multiple futures

“Amid all the uncertainty surrounding disruptive technologies, managers can always count on one thing: Expert forecasts will always be wrong. It is simply impossible to predict with any useful degree of precision how disruptive products will be used, or how large their markets will be”

“The Innovator’s Dilemma”, Clayton M. Christensen

Predicting the future of one of the most disruptive technologies of recent times – the mobile phone – was precisely what Rudy de Waele asked twenty-eight mobile technologists to do earlier this year. And to make things a little more interesting, these predictions were meant to focus on Africa alone. Good friend Erik Hersman and I were asked to help ensure that people we felt were best placed to contribute – African technologists, or people with considerable practical experience working with mobile technology on the continent – were represented.

The result is here.

As Clayton Christensen points out in his excellent book, predicting the future is never easy, and almost always ends in failure. During a workshop at Stanford University back in 2006, it became abundantly clear that one of the biggest challenges facing predictors was “breaking the shackles of current thinking”. 80% of people get caught out here, and to a large extent this is reflected in Rudy’s paper:

1. Pick a technology or service currently in use.
2. Predict that in xx years time there will be more of it.

The easiest way to obtain a “shackles-free” out-of-this-world prediction is to ask children, and you’ll find they have just as much chance of being right as an adult (or an expert). Quoting a PC World article I wrote on the subject a couple of years ago:

Ask people what that mobile future might look like, and we’ll likely get answers that take us in one of two directions. Adults will probably be constrained by the parameters of what they see around them today, so predictions on what a mobile phone might look like in, say, ten years, would most likely center around smaller, lighter and faster. Children, on the other hand, would probably let their imaginations run riot and talk about phones that are invisible, implanted in our brains, or both

One thing that particularly struck me about Rudy’s “Mobile Trends 2020 Africa” exercise lies in the title. Are we assuming that mobile technology in Africa will have a very different future to mobile technology in the rest of the world? Perhaps so – I’ve previously argued that “many future mobile innovations will be borne out of the realities of the developing world”.

If that were the case then that would be a future I could get excited about.

September 21, 2011   100 Comments

Football. Beer. Innovation?

Ever wondered where the original idea for FrontlineSMS came from? Find out in this fun 50 second video put together by National Geographic as part of their 2010 Explorers Symposium.

For more information on our work with National Geographic, check out our profile page.

September 7, 2011   33 Comments