Joining CARE as their Entrepreneur in Residence

This post first appeared on the CARE International ‘Insights’ website and is republished here with permission.


Welcome to CARE International’s first ever Entrepreneur in Residence, Ken Banks. Ken will be spending time with us over the next year to help make sense of the increasingly complex world of social innovation and technology-for-development.

So, what exactly is an Entrepreneur in Residence, and why might we need one at CARE? Ken provides some answers.

You’d normally find an Entrepreneur in Residence (EiR) at a venture capital firm, law firm or commercial business. They’re usually brought in to provide support and expertise not available internally by giving the firm wider access to the entrepreneurs’ field of expertise. The EiR may offer mentoring support, or help develop policy, or advise on the viability of projects and ideas.

EiRs in the NGO sector are less common, despite many NGOs struggling with the same issues as the private sector, particularly on the technology and innovation front. Staff in both sectors are being increasingly encouraged to think innovatively about the products, projects and services their organisations offer, and to develop new ideas and strategies to keep them one step ahead, or to increase the impact of their work among the communities they serve.

Today, everyone seems to be thinking more about social value, how to be innovative and how to build for sustainability, yet few staff have first-hand experience of all or some of these disciplines. Having a simple sounding board in the shape of an EiR can make all the difference, giving staff the resources and confidence to pursue their innovations or ideas without needing to worry about how to make use of, and budget for, external expertise and resources. The EiR is, in effect, a member of the team.

What do you hope to be doing?

I’ve already had meetings within CARE with teams who are both using technology in their work, and with those who are not and would like to better understand the opportunity. Over the first couple of months I’ll be making time to listen to everyone’s ideas and needs, and by the end of the year we plan to have identifed a couple of larger initiatives I can offer particular support to.

Whilst we’re aiming for two or three key deliverables during my time at CARE, I will remain available for meetings or phone calls at any time with staff who want to discuss technology and innovation, or to understand how things like mobile money, 3D printing, big data or drones work. I’ll also be available to review project proposals, and sense check ideas. The remit is wide and varied to reflect the need. It’s an exciting role at an exciting time within an exciting organisation.

What’s your background?

My background is a bit of a mixture. I’ve been working with technology since my early teens when I taught myself to program computers. I took a strong interest in international development in the early 1990s, and since then have spent many years living and working across the African continent on everything from school building in Zambia and hospital building in Uganda, to technology research in South Africa and Mozambique, to running a primate sanctuary in Nigeria. My degree is in Social Anthropology with Development Studies, and since 2003 I’ve been focused specifically on the use of mobile phones in conservation and development work.

In 2005 I designed and wrote FrontlineSMS, a text messaging platform aimed at the grassroots non-profit community. I ran the project for the first seven years and today it is being used in over 170 countries benefiting tens of millions of people. Interestingly, CARE International were one of the earliest users, deploying it in Afghanistan to send security alerts to staff and fieldworkers. I now run a number of initiatives through my own organisation,, including book writing, mentoring, consultancy and other technology-focused work.

On the subject of books, I’ve just finished a follow-up (to be published March 2016) to my first, “The Rise of the Reluctant Innovator”, which came out in late 2013. With a foreword from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “The Rise” profiles the work of 10 unexpected ‘reluctant’ innovators, and touches on work in many different fields from all around the world.

Over the years I’ve also been fortunate to pick up numerous awards from PopTech, Ashoka, National Geographic, the Tech Awards, Curry Stone, the Pizzigati Prize and Cambridge Business News, among others. Today I sit on DFID’s ‘Digital Advisory Panel’ and am Sussex University’s ‘Ambassador for International Development’. I’m excited to be working at CARE and look forward to sharing the work we do through CARE’s Insights website over the coming months.

Reluctant innovators are go!

It’s been a busy few months as our new book – “The Rise of the Reluctant Innovator” – has been taking shape. We’ve been finalising chapter contributions, working on the introduction, sorting out cover and chapter designs, doing last minute copy-editing, building a new website, keeping Kickstarter supporters up-to-date, and pulling in book endorsements. We got 24 of those in the end, all glowing and hugely supportive. You’ll find all of them on the inside cover of the book, or on the website (click here for a full PDF version).

All that said, everything has been delivered on time, with the new website set live on the eve of the book launch. And everything has been well worth the effort. The books look incredible.

“The Rise of the Reluctant Innovator” is aimed at a general audience, although we’re hoping it will particularly appeal to younger people interested in social innovation and social entrepreneurship, and schools, colleges and universities teaching the subject. It fills a much-needed gap in the market, one which is currently dominated by books which – often at no fault of their own – give the impression that meaningful change is only possible if you’re an MBA, or a geek, or have money or influence, or a carefully laid out five-year master plan, or all five. Let’s be honest – you don’t need qualifications to change the world.

By highlighting the stories of ten ordinary yet remarkable individuals, and the impact their work is collectively having on hundreds of millions of people around the world, “The Rise of the Reluctant Innovator” shows us that anything is possible, planning isn’t everything, and that anyone anywhere can change their world for the better.

To coincide with the book launch we’ve given a limited number of interviews, with articles going out via PopTech, National Geographic, TechPresident and the Unreasonable Group. Feel free to click on any of the images below to read them.

Finally, why not check out the book website, and if you like what you see feel free to share details with your own networks. We believe this book has an important story to tell, and would love you to help us tell it.

Spirituality, being human, and how to change the world.

“Despite all of the ghastliness in the world, human beings are made for goodness. The ones that are held in high regard are not militarily powerful, nor even economically prosperous. They have a commitment to try and make the world a better place”Archbishop Desmond Tutu

I’ve been home for about three weeks since leaving the Unreasonable at Sea ship in India. I spent just over a month helping mentor eleven technology startups which, if that was all I’d done, would have been a fantastic experience. What really stood out for me, though, was the interaction with the hundreds of students aboard, and a stronger sense than ever of how important it is that we encourage, engage, support and mentor the next generation of planetary problem solvers (something I’ve written about before). As if that wasn’t enough, the trip gave me the chance to re-immerse myself in the kinds of environments that were responsible for starting me on my own journey back in 1993. Witnessing suffering and hardship, and countless young children denied a childhood in India, Myanmar and Vietnam, reminds me that there’s still much work to be done.

Spirituality plays a large part in what drives me, and I’ve tried to capture some of this before. It’s not just a subject I find incredibly interesting, but one which puts humanity and purpose back at the centre of development (something which has become increasingly cold and institutionalised). I’ve never thought of helping people as a career. For me it was a way of life, a deeper purpose. So it was a huge honour to be invited to sit on a panel with Archbishop Desmond Tutu to talk about “how we change the world” aboard the MV Explorer. A big thanks to Tori Hogan (who was also on the panel) for inviting me to take part.

I’ve had something of a crazy time over the past few years, finding myself in all sorts of places I felt I had no right to be (National Geographic and No. 10 Downing Street, for example). Having the chance to chat with the Archbishop on a number of occasions during my time aboard the ship is another highlight, and the one hour discussion in front of a packed auditorium was the icing on the cake.

This video is also available (in larger format) on the main kiwanja website, and via Semester at Sea (hosts of the Unreasonable at Sea programme). It can also be downloaded on Vimeo.

Here’s to making the world a better place. For all of us.