Enabling the inspiration generation

During one of my many epic walks around Palo Alto last week, I stopped and tapped this into my phone:


Let me explain.

When I started out in mobile almost seven years ago, there were very few people working in the space, which meant there were very few people to turn to for support, guidance or advice. In fact, there were so few people with any meaningful experience I was offered my first major piece of mobile work based on my IT knowledge and conservation/development experience alone. Today, there would have been dozens – if not hundreds – of applicants for that job and it’s unlikely I’d have stood a chance.

But getting a chance is what it’s all about. When kiwanja.net officially came into being towards the end of 2003, it took me almost four years to get any serious traction, let alone funding. Emails went unanswered, requests for charity-rates at conferences were snubbed, begging letters to mobile operators and handset manufacturers were blanked. It may be hard at the top, but it’s harder at the bottom. That’s why, today, I never forget what it was like when I started out. And that’s why I never take anything for granted, and why I never forget to make time to help students, researchers, NGOs, organisations – anyone from all walks of life, in fact – who find themselves working their way off that first rung of the mobile ladder.

UN Youth AssemblyLast Friday I attended the UN Youth Assembly in New York. If there’s one thing I love – other than having my own name plate, of course – it’s talking to a room full of fearless students. I spent the best part of this morning following up on their emails, the fallout of my short talk on kiwanja.net and FrontlineSMS.

If we can help anyone on their journey, then we should. Whether that be giving advice or a positive critique on an idea, helping raise awareness through blog posts, giving tips on fundraising, making introductions to other projects and people with the same interests, or offering to be a future soundboard as their ideas grow and develop. These are all things I didn’t have when I started out, and using them productively now that I do is one of the biggest contributions I believe I can – and should – make to the future growth of our discipline. Our legacy shouldn’t be measured in the projects or tools we create, but in the people we serve and inspire.

In the mobile world we talk a lot about project sustainability, but little about human sustainability. If we’re to have any chance of ongoing success then we need to attract the brightest young minds to the “mobile for development” field, and then give them all the support they need to keep them there. Empowerment isn’t just something we do in a distant land. There’s plenty we can be doing on our own doorstep.

It’s a different kind of empowerment, but that doesn’t make it less valuable. If anything, it’s more so.

65 thoughts on “Enabling the inspiration generation

  1. Michael Riggs says:

    Kudos to you for writing this. Too often we get caught up in our day to day work and forget it’s just that – today’s work – with not enough thought about “tomorrow” and who will follow us. Yet it is the essence of development work is it not? Working today for a better tomorrow.

    Being able to inspire, motivate and guide younger people is a real gift that individuals often overlook and many organizations fail to nurture. Here’s to developing in that area as well! 🙂

  2. James says:

    Inspirational post. Needs to be said, and you said it! It’s so easy to forget that we all had to start somewhere. Thanks for this..

  3. Mike says:

    Bravo, Ken!
    In an era of instantaneous, always-on connections, the ‘urgent’ can often crowd out what is actually important.
    Thanks for the reminder.

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  9. Paul_S says:

    Have to agree with all these comments.

    Wonderful to read an inspiring post about the need to be inspiring! This is a message we all need to carry with us. Negativity is easy. Positivity takes more effort.

    Thank you!

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  12. Miraj K says:

    thank you Ken! this was truly inspiring & gave me renewed confidence. to keep trying to convince people that mobile [+social] computing is the future.

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  19. Mark Lundy says:

    Words to reflect on, often, for those of us lucky enough to make a living working with and for others. As a friend in Colombia once said when I was an intern at the NGO where he worked, “I’ll pay for lunch today because I have a job and you do the same for other young people starting out tomorrow”. Saying thanks and helping others not only empowers but it also keeps us grounded despite the rush of events.

    Kudos on a great post.

  20. kiwanja says:

    Thanks everyone for their kind comments and thoughts. Great to know there are so many people out there with similar passion and drive. 🙂

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