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Everyday Problems: Are you paying attention?

On what would have been Nelson Mandela‘s 98th birthday, today seems like a better time than any to launch a new website I’ve been working on…


You shouldn’t need anyone to tell you that there were refugees long before the Syrian crisis brought their horror further into the public consciousness. There was famine before recent announcements of severe food shortages in Yemen, Malawi and Nigeria, too. And, today, with over fifty countries run by dictatorships, oppression isn’t in short supply, either.

As heartening as it is to see the public response to the latest humanitarian crisis or injustice, it’s a shame that in so many cases it takes a major news event to bring a particular concept of suffering to people’s attention. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if people were always paying attention, always aware of the inequalities in the world, and always willing to help chip away at it, wherever it may be? How many of these events might never have happened if we all paid more attention and supported those working to fix their root causes? In today’s always on, always connected, 24/7 news world, there’s no excuse to not know what’s going on in the lives of people less fortunate.

Heartbreaking stories like the drowning of the young Syrian refugee were meant to be turning points, but for many people those shocking images are now just a distant memory. Yet refugee children and their families continue to drown in boats every week. The problem has not gone away, even if the attention of the press has. 

As part of my wider work helping support and mentor social innovators – and would-be social innovators – around the world, I’ve launched a new site, Everyday Problems. The site is designed to highlight the fact that people face problems every day, even when the news doesn’t report it. In particular, the site encourages people to:

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During my time as a mentor with Unreasonable at Sea, I had the honour to sit on a panel with Archbishop Desmond Tutu in front of several hundred students hungry to find out how they could help make the world a better place. It was a wide-ranging conversation which you can see in full below. (The Archbishop later wrote the Foreword to my first book, which you can read about here).

Feel free to check out the Everyday Problems website, and if you’re an educator please make use of it as you encourage your own students to take an interest in, and build solutions for, the kinds of problems people face around the world on a daily basis – whether those problems are in the news or not.

We’re (part-time) hiring! * NOW FILLED*

After a great response, this position has now been filled. Thanks for your interest!

Late last year we secured angel investment for an exciting new kind of mobile giving app. Called altruly, we’re looking to reimagine how people give, manage and monitor their personal giving portfolios. App development started last month and we’re looking at early summer onwards for an official launch. There’s a holding page up on the altruly website, but we’re holding back on releasing more information until nearer the time.

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As part of our preparations for the earlier Beta release, we’re looking for some help building a database of projects and causes people will be able to support through the app. The online data entry side of things has already been built, and is good to go and easy to navigate and use.

We need someone part-time for three months, starting any time between the middle and the end of May, to help find and enter projects into the database. You’ll get guidance and support with this – we want to be strategic about who and what is made available to users early on. And we’ll be looking to meet up regularly over coffee to share ideas and discuss progress.

We’re looking for someone who:

  • Is interested in social innovation and helping drive social change
  • Can use a web browser, can type accurately, and is comfortable using a computer
  • Has access to the Internet, or who can get somewhere with access
  • Is enthusiastic, reliable, ideally looking to forge a future career in the social sector
  • Is available to start within the next couple of weeks or so
  • Can commit to 15 hours per week throughout June, July and August
  • Is happy to work remotely most of the time
  • Is happy to work under a short-term contract, billing us monthly for their time
  • Ideally lives in Cambridge or London (or near by) for ease of regular meetings

This work would suit a student looking to keep busy over the bulk of the summer, but also keep some free time for other activities and interests. Hourly pay will be determined by experience, but in any event will be well above the minimum wage.

If you’d like to apply we’re looking to keep the process as short and sweet as possible:

  • Applications will be through our contact form, so no attachments or lengthy letters
  • In a couple of paragraphs, tell us about you and why you’re applying for this role
  • If you use Twitter or other social media, feel free to share the details
  • Feel free to ask any questions, which we’d be happy to answer via email
  • Before you sign off, confirm when you’re available and where you live

This position will remain open until we find the right applicant. Good luck!

Best practice begins in the classroom

In The Rise of the Reluctant Innovator and my more recent book, Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation, I dedicate more than a few pages to emerging best practice in technology-for-development projects. While we certainly need as many bright minds as possible turning their skills, energy and attention to solving many of the problems in the world, their efforts should be respectful to the communities they seek to help, and properly guided in order for those efforts to have the greatest possible impact and chance of success.

But if you step back for a moment, it defies logic that someone should try to solve a problem they’ve never seen, or don’t fully understand, from tens of thousands of miles away. It’s hard to argue that they have the knowledge or qualifications – even the right – to attempt such an audacious feat. Yet that’s precisely what’s happening in many universities across much of the developed world multiple times each academic year. Students are being ‘skilled up’ in design thinking and global development issues, pointed to a few exciting new and emerging technologies, and told to fix something. Their primary purpose is to pass a course in most cases, which almost makes it worse.

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Speaking at schools, colleges and universities around the world has been a big part of my work over recent years, and I always make a point of sharing emerging best practice when I do. My inbox is always open to students wanting to share their ideas, or talk about how they might contribute to making the world a better place. A highlight was almost certainly a discussion in front of several hundred students with Archbishop Desmond Tutu a few years ago. I’m happy to connect, guide and mentor anyone with a good idea and even better intentions, and have even gone to the effort of editing two books to help share the stories of others who have gone about innovating in impactful and respectful ways.

At a time when we know we need to be building capacity among local innovators to start solving their own problems, it’s tough to see so many outsiders continuing to take charge – students and tech-focused international development organisations among them. The developing world becomes a sand pit where people take and play out their ideas. It rarely turns out well for a whole number of reasons.

To help students think through what they’re doing before they reach out for help, I’ve added a Students page to the kiwanja website. I hope it helps them think a little more about what they’re doing, and why. There they can download a PDF of a checklist – made up of the same questions in my Donors Charter – to help them think through what they’re doing and, more importantly why it’s them doing it. I also hope teachers and lecturers make use of it, too. After all, in many cases it’s them encouraging and supporting these students with their project ideas.

You can check out the new Student page here. And feel free to print, share, re-post and distribute the checklist PDF anywhere you think it might be helpful.

Let’s start to put this right, one classroom at a time.