Revealing inside stories of social innovation

It all started as a casual conversation about a new book idea over coffee last March. Despite being self-published with no marketing budget, my first book, “The Rise of the Reluctant Innovator“, had gone down particularly well and I had been encouraged by how well it had been received, particularly in academia. It turns out there aren’t many books like it – ones that give the true, authentic voice of the social innovator and their life, work, achievements and struggles in their own words. I was happy with the book, but the feedback – great as it was – told me I could do better.

The end result, exactly one year later, is “Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation: International Case Studies and Practice‘. It’s been a long, challenging (and rewarding) exercise, and more work than I ever imagined, but the end result is everything I wanted it to be. And this time I have one of the largest publishers of academic books in the world behind it to make sure it goes as far and wide as possible, which is good. These stories need to be heard.


The book kicks off with my introduction, which touches on the concept of social entrepreneurship, the value of empathy, my own story and work with and FrontlineSMS, the reason I decided we needed this kind of book, and some advice and tips for people wanting to help make the world a better place. Thirteen case studies follow, covering a wide diversity of people and projects from around the world, written by the innovators themselves.

Chapter 1
‘Wonders of the Solar System: Reducing Maternal Mortality in Developing Regions’
Laura Stachel of We Care Solar

Chapter 2
‘Closing Latin America’s Digital Divide’
Rodrigo Baggio of Centre for Digital Inclusion (CDI)

Chapter 3
‘Patent Wars: Fighting Big Pharma to Enable Access to Drugs for All’
Priti Radhakrishnan of I-MAK

Chapter 4
‘Data Science, Technology and Design for Social Justice’
Jessica Anderson and Joumana al Jabri of Visualizing Impact

Chapter 5
‘Bringing the Silicon Valley Revolution in Technology and Business to Global Health’
Joel Selanikio of Magpi

Chapter 6
‘Food Waste Meets Food Poverty: Closing the Loop’
Kelvin Cheung and Michael Norton of Foodcycle

Chapter 7
‘Innovation in Africa’s Silicon Savannah’
Erik Hersman of Ushahidi

Chapter 8
‘Touch-Based Treatment for Autism’
Louisa Silva of Qigong Sensory Training Institute (QSTI)

Chapter 9
‘Reconnecting the Disconnected: A Story of Technology, Refugees and Finding Lost Family’
David and Christopher Mikkelsen of Refugees United

Chapter 10
‘Let a Billion Readers Bloom’
Brij Kothari of Planet Read

Chapter 11
‘Keep Calm and Dream in Tunisia: Supporting Sustainable Development in Tunisia and North Africa Through Empowering Youth, Women and Farmers’
Sarah Toumi of Dream in Tunisia

Chapter 12
‘The Reluctant Geneticist’
Sharon Terry of Genetic Alliance

Chapter 13
‘Power to the People: Re-engineering Democracy’
Tarik Nesh Nash of GovRight

Continuing the theme of story telling, I’m also excited to announce that we have two Forewords in the book – one from musician and humanitarian, Peter Gabriel, and the other from Bill Drayton (CEO and Founder of Ashoka).


These complimentary Forewords come from two people who have made significant but different contributions to the field of social innovation. Peter Gabriel gives the ‘outsider’ humanitarian perspective, while Bill Drayton – often cited as the ‘Grandfather of social entrepreneurship’ – gives the ‘insider’ line. I am hugely grateful to them both for their support, time, friendship and encouragement.

Publication is set for early March 2016. You can read more, and place orders on the publishers website or on Amazon, or drop me a line in the comments below, or email me. If you’d like to reach out to any of the chapter authors I’d also be happy to make introductions. 

2016: A year in preview

2015 started off with more than a little degree of uncertainty. Thirteen years ago I launched 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


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 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


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


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


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. 

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.