2016: A year in preview

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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. 

NASA on Mars vs. Development in Africa?

Better late than never, I’m about to start reading “Dead Aid“, Dambisa Moyo’s much touted book. I’ve already read a few blog posts and reviews – some about her, some about her book – and the Guardian’s “An evening with Dambisa Moyo” seemed worth a look. In an otherwise downbeat review, one statement stood out a mile.

“Africa is to development what Mars is to NASA” – the ultimate development studies essay question. It certainly got me thinking. To what extent is Africa development’s playground, a place to ‘try things’, to experiment? Often with so little accountability – see Bill Easterly‘s “White Man’s Burden” – it’s easy to see why it’s thought of as an easy place to pilot, to test, to try out. “And if it goes wrong, well, let’s try something else, somewhere else”.

During a workshop at IDS a couple of weeks ago, I commented that the development sector in Africa was littered with the carcasses of failed projects, a kind of ‘elephant graveyard’ for the well-intended.

I’d love to see an ICT4D/African technology conference pick up on the “NASA, Mars, Development, Africa” theme. And I’d love to be in the audience. Any takers?

Sustainability: Who’s the Daddy?

No doubt one of the most commonly used words in the non-profit sector (sometimes innocently lumped together with other words to make beauties such as sustainable development), sustainability is an interesting concept. It’s perhaps also not a million miles off holding some kind of ‘holy grail’ status, too. Built into nearly every project proposal by default, it remains elusive most of the time. So what’s the big deal?

Donors like to think that their money – and sometimes effort – are going to last way beyond the project cycle (to coin another phrase). In other words, when the money runs out they like to think that things aren’t going to come crashing down. This is kind-of sensible, I’d say. The trouble is, it’s really rather tricky.

For a start, projects are often funded for fairly short periods of time – up to five years if you’re lucky but often two or three (many smaller projects, of course, run for much less). This isn’t long if you’re hoping to create a long-lasting, positive change. Through my own experiences getting muddy on projects, or studying the subject from the comfort of a university campus, this leaves only a limited number of options. Two of they key ones must be:

Create a business model: If you need to make money to keep the project going, then you’re open to market forces. People will only buy crap products “because they’re ethical” for a while, and before they realise that they’re perhaps just that – crap products. Zillions of small businesses around the world fail without having the complexity of being part of a conservation and development project, so achieving financial sustainability is a real challenge. Sadly there aren’t that many success stories.

Factor yourself out of the project: Rather controversial for many larger NGOs, although some actively pursue it. Some research would be nice. Anyway, whether or not a project needs to become ‘commercial’ (see above) keeping costs down is vital if it’s to have any chance of survival. This could mean local staff, local salaries, local overheads, little or no ‘head office’ consultation fees, or people flying left-right-and-centre around the world for no apparent reason, etc. Maybe the best projects create the desired change, and when the experts have long packed their bags and left it’s able to continue running on a shoestring.

Gerald Durrell had the right idea when he said that his dream was to shut down his zoo in Jersey. Of course, he’d then have to go and find something else to do, but that didn’t matter. It would have meant he’d succeeded in his mission to save endangered species, and that was all that mattered to him.

Trying to unite profit and social venture – which I think includes conservation and development projects – doesn’t only worry or challenge me. Plenty of other people are already writing and blogging about it. Let’s hope the debate reaches a useful conclusion. A few more positive outcomes would certainly help us along.

Just paying lip service to the ‘s’ word doesn’t really get us anywhere in the long run.