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A call for sanity – not innovation – in humanitarian tech.

If you’re a socially-focussed tech organisation working with refugees, it’s been a pretty tough few months. Not only have you had to deal with the ever-growing number of people fleeing conflict – now at record levels – but you’ve had to deal with the politics of the ‘humanitarian technology sector’.

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For those who have been working with refugees for years, often with proven, well-thought out solutions, it must be frustrating to see call after call – through Challenges and Innovation Competitions and the like – for ‘innovative new solutions’ to the crisis. Not only is it madness to imply that every solution already out there isn’t any good (which asking for new ones implicitly does), but it often sidelines the very organisations with the best background and experience – the ones best-placed to build the ‘desperately needed stuff that works’ that we need.

Can we agree to stop calling for ‘innovative and new’ solutions to every crisis, and commit to at least first looking at what currently exists? And, sure, if there is nothing then let’s reach out and built something new.

Deal?

New idea? Or old idea done better?

Last week I received my yearly mailing of Ashoka’s inspiring ‘Leading Social Entrepreneurs’ publication. It’s always fascinating flicking through the work and lives of some quite extraordinary individuals helping make their part of the world a better place.

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At the end, it struck me how many solutions there were between the covers of the publication, and how many further answers were out there to the world’s social and environmental ills. I also wondered what was happening with most of those ideas. Were they being implemented in single (or sometimes multiple) locations by single social innovators or organisations? Or had others taken those ideas and applied them where they lived and worked?

Philanthropy is always looking for new ideas, innovative ideas. I’d be surprised if we didn’t have enough good answers already, and what we should instead be doing is encouraging others to use those rather than continually come up with new ones.

2016: A year in preview

2015 started off with more than a little degree of uncertainty. Thirteen years ago I launched kiwanja.net not really knowing whether there was really much of a long-term demand for what I had to offer. But it was worth a go. Apart from my years at the helm of FrontlineSMS, where funding often came in multi-year awards, most of my other work has been short-term, and I’ve ended up combining paid work with pro-bono support to grassroots innovators. Uncertainty is the name of the game when you go it alone, as many people in my shoes will know too well.

In stark contrast to how the year began, it comes to a close with a busy and hugely exciting year ahead. So, in something of a shift from the traditional ‘year in review’ post, here’s my ‘year in preview’ and a summary of what I’ll be getting up to over the next twelve months.


Care International

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In October 2015, CARE International announced my appointment as their first ever Entrepreneur in Residence. I’ll be spending time with CARE over the next year helping them make sense of the increasingly complex world of social innovation and technology-for-development. Further details are available in this interview first published on the CARE Insights website.


Yoti

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Yoti is a new digital identity tool which helps you prove who you are and confirm who other people are, online and face-to-face. I’ve been appointed an inaugural member of Yoti’s Guardian Council. Yoti Guardians are “influential individuals who ensure that Yoti always seeks to do the right thing, and that they are transparent about what they are doing and why”. I’ll be advising them in an independent capacity over the next year to help them do just that, and to help Yoti think about the potential of their work in the developing world. Further details are available on the Yoti website.


Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation: International Case Studies and Practice

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In March my second book – the follow-up to “The Rise of the Reluctant Innovator” – will be published by Kogan Page. From the publisher’s website:

“Social innovation and social entrepreneurship look for creative and affordable solutions to specific societal problems. Fuelled by the spread of the internet and the ubiquity of mobile phones, there are more people working to solve pressing social and environmental problems in the world today than ever before in human history. Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation presents the journeys of pioneering – and often accidental – social innovators who, faced with a problem, used their courage, tenacity and creative thinking to find a solution.

Using their own words to reflect open their experiences, these cases do not gloss over the setbacks and the dead ends social entrepreneurs can face. Instead, readers will gain a realistic insight into the challenges and an engaging look at the problem-solving mindset needed to overcome them. From a life-saving project to bring solar-powered lighting to midwives in Nigeria, to a news dissemination service that’s grown from small beginnings to have a global impact, each case study draws out the lessons learnt by the innovators, providing guidance and advice for those looking to follow in their footsteps. Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation is an invaluable resource for social entrepreneurs and innovators looking for new ideas and insight into what really works – and what doesn’t. This book is an inspiring read for anyone with a social conscience and a desire to change their world for the better.”

We’ll be announcing more nearer publication date in early March, so watch this space.


Means of Exchange

MoE-X-Man-IconWe’ve recently recruited a Project Director for our Means of Exchange (MoE) project, and over 2016 will be launching a number of new initiatives. For those that don’t know, MoE is a kiwanja initiative launched in 2012 to look at how emerging, everyday technologies can be used to democratise opportunities for economic self-sufficiency, rebuild local community and promote a return to local resource use, leading us to a better, fairer, more locally-connected world. I’ll be supporting Sally Brammall over the year as she devises and implements the new strategy. More on the Means of Exchange website.


Global eHealth Foundation

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The Global eHealth Foundation (GeHF) is a UK charity dedicated to using the power of technology to bring healthcare and health education to the poorest and most disadvantaged communities in the world. GeHF is supported by a highly influential group of Trustees and Champions including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mrs. Graça Machel, Peter Gabriel and Mary Robinson. I’ve been appointed Chief Executive on a part-time basis to work with the Foundation to help them deliver on their objectives and mission. Further details can be found on the Global eHealth Foundation website.


altruly mobile app

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After about nine months of planning and raising investment, I’m now working on a new kind of mobile giving app called altruly, due for release by early summer 2016. altruly re-imagines mobile giving, helping people support the kind of change they want to see in the world in a new and engaging way. Further details will be announced soon. In the meantime, you can sign up for news and updates on the altruly website or follow the project on Twitter.


In addition to my contract and project commitments, I’ll continue to blog and write guest posts, support and mentor grassroots innovators and carry out speaking engagements. I am incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to do work that I deeply care about, and that genuinely excites me. I take none of it for granted. Thanks to everyone who has been part of my journey so far, and I look forward to others joining over the coming year. Happy new year, everyone.