One last throw of the dice.

I’ve always found the global development system frustrating. It was the 1980’s when it first got my attention, with suffering and extreme poverty dominating my daily news feed. The Ethiopian famine in 1985 was the turning point, forcing me to seriously question why a sector awash with money and resources could have so little visible impact (and when it does, how it struggles to effectively communicate the change). While I still don’t have all the answers I think I know a lot more about what needs to be fixed.

A depressing reality struck me the other week as I pulled together a collection of my most popular blog posts for a new eBook. It dawned on me that I’ve been writing about the same stuff for over a decade. Some of my posts from 2007 apply just as much today, if not more. And that’s depressing. Seriously depressing.

I’ve always been my biggest critic and I constantly question whether anything I’ve done, or currently do, has or is making any kind of meaningful difference out there. Sure, I’ve spent the best part of my working life trying to figure out how I can contribute to a solution to some of the social and environmental problems that deeply trouble me, but because I’ve spent so long doing it doesn’t mean I’ve achieved anything. I wrote about this recently, too.

Tonight I watched a TED talk, provocatively titled “Poverty isn’t a lack of character; it’s a lack of cash“. It was wonderfully argued and delivered, and beautifully challenged many of the assumptions that underly global development policy and practice. In his talk, Rutger also highlighted a solution to a poverty reduction programme that actually worked but has since been largely ignored – the basic minimum income. (This is something I’ve seen time and time again in my work on the technology side of development (often called ICT4D), in that when ideas emerge that seem to actually work for unexplained reasons the wider sector decides not to adopt or support them. For a sector that constantly demands new and innovative solutions to everything, it’s perplexing.

With so much still to be done, I wonder whether I’m going to see the change that’s needed in my lifetime. I’ve been fortunate in my career, and have had wonderful support throughout. But the question I’m beginning to ask myself now is this. If there was just one thing I could work on for the next ten years – one thing I could throw myself at and have the greatest impact – what would that be?

I wonder.

Life in full circle

In both my books – The Rise of the Reluctant Innovator from 2013 and Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation published this March – I make no secret of my early struggles to find meaning and purpose. Back home in Jersey, for a period approaching a decade from my mid-teens, I went through the motions doing what most people around me were doing – working in a well-paid but totally unfulfilling job. It was a fairly dark time, but one which I thankfully stumbled my way through.

Part of my strategy at the time was to go on long drives in my beloved TR7 – quite a feat on an island the size of Jersey. As most people my age did I’d play my music loud, putting together compilation tapes of some of my favourite thought-provoking, sometimes gloomy, music.

In 1986, like many people, I found myself caught up in the buzz and excitement of a new album called So by Peter Gabriel (famous for a number of hits including Sledgehammer, Don’t Give Up and Big Time). I began ordering some of his earlier records (yes, I had to order vinyl LP’s from actual record shops back then). One of those records was his very first album, and one track in particular found its way onto many of my driving/contemplation tapes. Playing it today still takes me back to a place I didn’t want to be, almost thirty years on.

So it is one of life’s little ironies, in a way, that Peter Gabriel agreed to write the foreword to my new book. In the same way that life sometimes goes full circle, his involvement has almost bridged what feels like two lives – the one I had before I found purpose, and the one I’ve had since.

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.

Case-Studies-Social-Innovation-Cover

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 kiwanja.net 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).

gabriel-drayton

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.