focuses on projects which lower barriers to entry and put the power
of technology in the hands of those who need it most. The full focus
is on the end user, typically grassroots non-profits, activists and
innovators who are often overlooked in today's high
technology-driven development sector.
If you're interested in
projects that didn't happen, our favourite three are listed
"The Rise of the Reluctant Innovator"
In November 2013 we published our first book, "The Rise of the Reluctant Innovator". The book fills a much-needed gap in the literature and challenges much of the conventional wisdom we see around social entrepreneurship. Archbishop Desmond Tutu contributed the foreword.
The book highlights the personal stories of ten social innovators from around the world. Ten social innovators - ordinary people - who randomly stumbled across problems, injustices and wrongs and, armed with little more than determination and belief, decided not to turn their backs but to dedicate their lives to solving them.
Further details, and how to order, are available on the book website
Means of Exchange
Means of Exchange looks 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.
Further details are on the Means of Exchange website
Over the past few years text messaging (SMS) has emerged as a leading tool for communicating a wide range of messages to communities and individuals around the world, particularly developing countries. Most of the text-based systems driving these services were developed independently, at high cost, and largely with commercial users in mind.
As a result, many NGOs which could benefit from SMS usage were unable to use the technology. Since 2005 FrontlineSMS has successfully bridged this gap, and is today being used in over eighty countries around the world in a wide range of non-profit activities.
Further details are available on the FrontlineSMS website
Today's feature-rich mobile phones open up whole new opportunities for the conservation and development communities. While text messaging is leading the way in the developing world, in mature markets (which generally contain the majority of new technology early adopters) there are increasing opportunities to exploit the growing features of higher-end devices.
Silverback is a mobile phone game which takes advantage of the game-playing features of today's mobile phones, and over eight levels teaches people about gorilla conservation. Taking the player from a juvenile gorilla to a fully-mature silverback, the game highlights threats to gorillas in the wild, and contains numerous help screens and gorilla facts. Silverback was re-launched in the Spring of 2008 in response to the escalating conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, home to the last remaining mountain gorilla populations.
Details of the game, and instructions on how you can download it to your phone, are available on the Silverback website
nGOmobile was a prototype competition aimed at grassroots non-profit organisations in the developing world, designed to encourage them to think about how text messaging could benefit them - and the impact and reach - of their work. Launched in the autumn of 2007, nGOmobile awarded prizes of laptop computers, mobile phones, GSM modems, software and cash to four NGOs who came up with the most innovative application ideas.
Further details on the competition, its partners, the prizes, the
expert judging panel and the rationale behind it are available on
Big ideas count for little if you don't do anything with them. If
(like us) you believe it's all about execution, here's four of the
bigger project ideas we've had over the years but didn't do anything
Idea #1: Portable SMS Aggregator
A theme running through all of our work is how to lower barriers for users, and this idea is no exception. Messaging hubs like FrontlineSMS require three things to work - a computer, a SIM card and a GMS modem (or phone). The GSM device is essential, as is the SIM card, but the computer is another matter. What if messaging software could be run 'locally' from a microSD card which slotted into the side of the modem? The software, drivers, configuration files and databases could all be held locally on the same device, and seamlessly connect with the GSM network through the 'built-in' modem. This would mean the user wouldn't need to own a computer to use it, and it would allow them to temporarily turn any machine into a messaging hub by plugging the hybrid device into any computer running Windows, Mac OSX or Linux in an internet cafe or elsewhere. A full blog post laying out the wider thinking of the idea can be found here
There always seemed to be some new Centre or other going up
during my two years at Stanford, and I wondered how great it would
be to have one dedicated to appropriate technologies, and I briefly
blogged about it in March 2008. Of course, Stanford wouldn't
have been the best place for this given the cost, so the idea slowly
evolved from my crude mock-up (above) to something a little more
eco-friendly based in rural Cambridgeshire. I'd still love to pursue
this idea, but given the growing number of innovation hubs appearing
around the world, maybe the chance has gone.
Idea #3: Mobile Sensing
On 8th June 2005, the idea for a Mobile Environmental Monitoring Device was born. MEMD would:
"... Gather environmental information as people move through their landscapes. Indicators such as temperature, air quality, CO2 levels and air pressure would be recorded along with a fix on each location. For the first time individuals will be able to monitor their own exposure to local, relevant environmental hazards"
Manufacturers such as Nokia began pushing their own concepts a
couple of years later, and today mobile sensing with mobile devices
is nothing new. I originally blogged about MEMD - another idea whose
time has passed - in more detail
Idea #4: Mobile Payments
On 1st September, 2003 - during a field trip to South Africa and
Mozambique - I put together this diagram showing how someone might
pay for a newspaper using their mobile phone. Mobile payments are
nothing new today, but back then very little was happening. If I'd
ever wanted to make money, this might have been the idea I should
have stuck with, not that I'd ever have been able to make it happen.
Further details on a blog post
"Take up one idea. Make that one
idea your life - think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let
the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that
idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to
success, that is way great spiritual giants are produced" -