Rethinking livelihoods.

This post appeared on the PopTech blog and has been republished with permission. You can read the original post here.

This post is co-authored by PopTech president Leetha Filderman, and Ken Banks, founder of kiwanja.net and FrontlineSMS. Together they are co-facilitators of the 2014 Bellagio/PopTech Fellows program. 

We are pleased to announce the 2014 class of Bellagio/PopTech Fellows, a diverse group of designers, social innovators, technologists and writers with expertise in technology, global health, poverty alleviation, environmental sustainability and informal sector economics.


Sean Blagsvedt, Alexice Tô-Camier, Dominic Muren, Robtel Neajai Pailey, Solomon Prakash

This year’s program is focused on rethinking livelihoods. Now more than ever, the world’s population is contending with a multitude of challenges: demographic shifts, environmental stressors, unrestrained financial capital flow, shifting political landscapes, emerging technologies, and changing economic growth patterns and labor markets – all of which are shaping the notion of what livelihoods look like today and may look like in the future.

For two weeks this August the Bellagio/PopTech Fellows will convene at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center in Italy. We will collaboratively work to define the notion of livelihood in the 21st century, while simultaneously exploring the challenges, opportunities and complex interdependencies that will impact sustainable livelihood achievement in the coming decades.

Our goal is to initiate a conversation designed to inform and inspire global, national and local efforts to improve livelihoods. Conversations will be complemented and challenged by an incredible group of catalysts, which bring a diverse and unique set of insights to the table.

Areas of exploration will include an examination of the central tenets of livelihoods strategy, the interplay between livelihood productivity at national and individual level, and the opportunities offered by the often-opposing formal and informal sectors. We’ll look at the positive and negative impacts of technology on livelihoods, and how both global security (and insecurity) and the geopolitical landscape impact sustainable development goals. It would be impossible to have this kind of discussion without recognition of the environmental challenges facing the planet, so we’ll be looking at how climate change and other threats could impact livelihoods development now and into the future.


Members of the 2013 class of Bellagio/PopTech Fellows presenting at PopTech 2013

Following their immersion at the Bellagio Center, the Bellagio/PopTech Fellows will reunite in Camden, Maine at PopTech 2014: Rebellion, where they will present their work and explore opportunities for collaboration with the global PopTech network.

About the Bellagio/PopTech Fellows program:
In 2012, PopTech and the Rockefeller Foundation created a joint Fellows program that brings together small, interdisciplinary groups for a two-week immersion program at the Foundation’s renowned Bellagio Center in Lake Como, Italy. Learn more about the inaugural class.

The Bellagio/PopTech Fellows program is designed to be a unique incubator of unconventional collaboration around critical topics relevant to the lives of poor and vulnerable populations, and also serves as a laboratory to study the nature of collaboration itself as a profound tool for creative problem solving and solution development.

Means of Exchange at Pop!Tech

Last month I returned to the US for one of my favourite annual events – Pop!Tech. It’s generally an opportunity to be re-inspired, meet old friends and help out as a Faculty member on the Social Innovation Fellows Program. This year I had the added opportunity of giving the first public talk on my latest project, Means of Exchange.

You can watch the eleven-minute talk here, or on the Pop!Tech website.

For further details, and to receive updates as we roll the project out, check out the Means of Exchange website, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

You can watch more talks and listen to a selection of radio interviews on the kiwanja.net website.

Advice for social innovators at heart

For the past two years I’ve been incredibly fortunate to work with some of the most inspirational, talented social innovators (aka Pop!Tech Social Innovation Fellows). This year, good friend Erik Hersman and I returned to Camden, Maine to work with the 2011 Class. Sharing our own experiences of 2008 – when we were both Fellows – and lessons we’ve learnt on our journey is a large part of why we’re here.

Here’s a brief summary of twelve of the key lessons I shared with the Fellows before the retreat wrapped up earlier today.

  1. Don’t be in a hurry. Grow your organisation on your own terms.
  2. Don’t assume you need money to grow. Do what you can before you reach out to external funders.
  3. Volunteers and Interns may not be the silver bullet to your human resource issues.
  4. Pursue and maximise every opportunity to promote your work.
  5. Remember that your website, for most people, is the primary window to you and your idea.
  6. Know when to say “no”. Manage expectations.
  7. Avoid being dragged down by the politics of the industry you’re in. Save your energy for more important things.
  8. Learn to do what you can’t afford to pay other people to do.
  9. Be open with the values that drive you.
  10. Collaborate if it’s in the best interests of solving your problem, even if it’s not in your best interests.
  11. Make full use of your networks, and remember that the benefits of being in them may not always be immediate.
  12. Remember the bigger picture.
Further/related reading:

Pop!Tech. At 100,000 feet.

Today sees the start of Pop!Tech 2010, an annual gathering of kindred spirits in the picturesque town of Camden, Maine. Pop!Tech is always full of surprises, and yesterday proved no exception when about twenty of us found ourselves standing in a field in Augusta helping Colin Rich launch his latest ‘balloon’.

For those who don’t know, this is what Colin does. And it’s pretty incredible.

Yesterday’s launch was the “Secret Session”, one of a number of warm-up events designed to set the scene before the real conference kicked off today. And this is what we ended up doing – launching a balloon with a mannequin’s head attached. Here’s the head (with the orange GPS device exposed) next to a map displaying the ‘expected’ path the device was going to take.

After an hour’s drive out of Camden, Colin checks that the cameras are all switched on and working, and the GPS device has a fix.

Once all the electrics are go, time to dig out the helium and inflate the balloon.

After a final set of checks, and a short wait for the wind to die down, Colin releases his icy grip.

Going, going… Gone.

If all goes to plan, over the next two-and-a-half hours the balloon will capture pictures and video as it rises to approximately 100,000 feet. At that point the balloon should burst and the device will fall back to earth. The fall alone will take about half-an-hour. Colin will then head off and try to track it down, based on the co-ordinates transmitted by the GPS embedded in the mannequin’s forehead.

Who said science was boring?