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Innovation

How 'Big Data' Can Benefit the Public Good

Aleem Walji's picture

Patrick Svenburg, co-founder of Random Hacks of Kindness, tells "Developers for Development" audience: "There's no shortage of big ideas in the world.  It's the action part that's often lacking."


“Big Data” –- the billions upon trillions of bytes of digital information that are pumped into cyberspace every nanosecond –- has a single, secular mission: to keep growing. Now, software developers – the not-so-nerdy techies who keep Big Data growing at its feverish rate –- are striving to channel Big Data into the public good.

On Monday at the World Bank, developers came together with the development community -- in person and virtually through Skype video -- to figure out how to do that.

The entire "Developers for Development" can be seen on B-Span, the World Bank's webcasting service.

The afternoon event, which attracted an auditorium-ful of in-person visitors (many of them curious staffers from risk management and ICT at the World Bank) and many more via the live webcast that was offered in English, French, and Spanish, started with developers showing what's already been achieved since the first CrisisCamp about data and the public good was convened in Washington with CrisisCommons-World Bank co-sponsorship in June 2009.

The first demo was about the on-the-fly proliferation of CrisisCamps internationally in response to the earthquake that devastated Haiti in February.

When Innovation Fails

Edith Wilson's picture

I’ve been having some interesting conversations with some of our favorite people like Mari Kuraishi, Jim Koch and Marla Capozzi, about a topic we don’t probe much in development: what we do with an innovative project fails.

In Silicon Valley, as Mari and Marla reminded me lately, you earn your spurs trying and failing. It is almost easier to get funding if you have failed a few times. Venture capital firms assume you learned some valuable things in the process. It’s a credential. But in development? Failing with a donor’s money? Even when you said you were piloting something or trying something new? Surely you failed because you didn’t get the job done, weren’t smart enough, or ran into politics.

Developers for Development: Using Open Source Technologies in Disaster Response and Beyond

Richard Murby's picture

keys2innovJoin us on Monday March 1st at 2:00 pm EST for the 2nd event in the keys2innov series. This event looks at the innovative solutions used by the crowdsourcing community in their stunning response to the Haiti Disaster and will explore how these initiatives are changing the landscape of development.

The event will be streamed online in English, French and Spanish. You can also follow updates and put questions to the panel by using the #keys2innov tag.

Full event details below
 

Water and Poor People: No More Charity

Tom Grubisich's picture

When Ned Breslin, CEO for the international social company Water for People, talks, the effect can be like a splash of cold water on your face.  Development-speak is not his style.

Take this snippet from his new "Rethinking Hydro-Philanthropy" essay:

 

 

"Success will require less single-minded focus on the absolute number of people without access to water and sanitation facilities and more focus on the serious questions around long-term impact and sustainability. So that years after the cameras have left, the donor reports have been filed, and the press release circulated, the community is not forgotten."

"Sweat equity" from needy communities is not enough, Breslin argues.  "Up-front community contributions," he says, are essential to making new water -- and sanitation -- facilities sustainable.

Water for People won a US$200,000 Development Markektplace 2007 award for water facilities in Malawi, which Breslin, in this radio interview, says "has some of the worst water and sanitation problems in Africa."

Breslin's credo -- that water and sanitation in poor countries should not be viewed as a charity mission -- is being validated elsewhere.

'Hot Spots,' 'Bright Spots,' and Hidden Strengths in Capacity

Tom Grubisich's picture

There is a laser-like focus on the capacity of developing countries to respond effectively to the steep challenges of their Millennium Development Goals and

Ethiopian farmer, with his children, shows newly irrigated crop to extension agent.

destructive climate change.  Capacity gaps are relentlessly pinpointed.  Sometimes national governments themselves provide the toughest evaluations, like this one from Bangladesh's Ministry of Environment and Forest on the country's climate adaptation action program:

"...institutional capacity including human resource quality [is] weak and poor and needs substantial improvement if the challenges of climate change are to be faced squarely....A lack of awareness, both of the potential gravity and the extent of the problem as well as possible actions that could be taken, is the foremost [barrier]. This lack of awareness exists at all levels from national level policy makers to sectoral and local level officials as well as amongst civil society and the most vulnerable communities themselves...."

There are, to be sure, capacity gaps in Bangladesh and other developing countries, and identifying what and where they are is the first step in closing them.  But there are also "bright spots" and, perhaps more important, underlying strengths, especially at the local level across all developing countries that can be masked by the emphasis on gaps.

Why the Innovation Fair on Conflict and Fragility Matters

Egbe Osifo-Dawodu's picture

Egbe OfisoIn case you are wondering why a busy person -- like you -- should take some time off to offer ideas for the Innovation Fair on moving beyond conflict in Cape Town in April -- well, here's a story...

Today, I learnt that a high school classmate was burnt to death by rampaging youths during a violent crisis in an African country. I keep imagining  what she was thinking about the last few minutes of her life. I remember us talking about growing old, having children and grandchildren -- the dreams of youth.  Those dreams will never come through for her, and mine for as long as I have them would always be scarred. Now if this was a rare and unusual incident, we could dismiss it as an unfortunate tragedy and move on. Yet on daily basis, thousands of people in various parts of the world have to face and live with such tragedies -- losing sisters, brothers, daughters, sons, parents, cousins, and friends. 

With  a significant proportion of the world living under conflict conditions or under the fear of a potential conflict, we live in extraordinary times.  The  need for intellectual exchange, thinking outside the box, and cooperation has never been greater.  Armed conflict, crime, and violence spill over borders -- no one is immune.   How we handle these challenges will determine the world's fate for generations to come.  To address these issues can we continue business as usual?  The answer should be clear: We can not.

Learning Where You Least Expect It

Aleem Walji's picture

I was recently re-reading the December 2009 Issue of the Harvard Business Review. The issue featured a Spotlight on Innovation and I was struck by a credo used by Ken Bowen, the founding scientist of CPS Technologies (maker of an innovative ceramic composite). It reads

“The Insights required to solve many of our most challenging problems come from outside our industry and scientific field. We must aggressively and proudly incorporate into our work findings and advances which were not invented here.”

As counter-intuitive as it may seem for a chemist to learn from a poet or an economist to learn from a biologist, there’s also something incredibly simple about this insight. If it were obvious, people would have seen it already.  And yet what is most elegant is often what is most simple (but not necessarily obvious). It’s why lateral thinking is so powerful and why children, precisely because they are playful, see connections between things, that just don’t occur to us wiser folks.

It’s in the spirit of non-obvious connections, continuous learning, and seeking insight from wherever it can be found that I approach the development space. Who would have thought that the introduction of the mobile phone would do more for increasing access to financial services, reducing travel times, and arguably lifting people out of poverty than perhaps any technology in the previous three decades? What’s the role of the mobile phone going forward, beyond voice, as a platform to link people to new knowledge, increase social accountability, and reduce the impact of man-made and natural disasters? It may require a little imagination to think of how a simple phone could help answer those questions but we’re seeing examples all over the world of each. From Ushahidi to M-Pesa to Datadyne, we might look beyond the usual suspects and think of groups like MobileActive as a source of game-changers in the development space.  

Do you have a big idea that can help address Conflict and Fragility? Submit your idea now...

Boris Weber's picture

Innovation Fair - Moving Beyond Conflict

Call for Proposals - Feb. 15 – March 2 NOW EXTENDED March 7 - Now Accepting Proposals

Soliciting Innovative Approaches and Research to be presented during the Conflict and Fragility Week in Cape Town, South Africa, April 12-15, 2010

Necessity is the mother of invention. Many times, people living and working under the most difficult and challenging conditions, with minimal tools and capacity, have come up with creative and even innovative solutions to the enormous challenges they face. Organizations and researchers around the world have been equally creative working with communities living in situations of fragility and conflict to find solutions to ensure delivery of basic services, improve governance and create jobs.

Innovation Fair: Moving beyond Conflict

This Innovation Fair, organized by the World Bank Group, is seeking to identify such high-impact approaches to working in fragile and conflict-affected states in order to share and, if possible, scale them up. The Fair will convene international experts on conflict and fragility, development researchers and practitioners, software developers, donors and private sector to exchange experience, establish new collaboration, and forge longer-term partnerships.

A Global Capacity Map -- What If?

Tom Grubisich's picture

Countries are rated how effective they are in human development, governance, and doing business.  What if they were rated by their capacity to achieve success in all key areas of their national mission?

Ratings would measure progress in such mission "how-to's" as knowledge sharing, stakeholder participation (especially at the local level), and program results vs. objectives.

The U.N. Development Programme has singled out what it calls major successes in capacity development in 19 nations that included the Least Developed Countries of Laos, Rwanda, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Sierra Leone, Bhutan, Nepal, Mozambique, and Afghanistan.  But there's no comprehensive capacity rating of all 49 LDCs, much less all 145 countries classified as developing.  Even the UNDP ratings of 19 countries are based only on selected initiatives in those countries.

Mapping capacity -- horizontally across countries all the way from the national to local levels -- would, no question, be a major undertaking.  But if public, private, and nonprofit development actors collaborated, especially by mobilizing advances in networking technology, the job would not seem to be insurmountable.  Perhaps it could begin with the LDCs and go forward from there.

Multi-layered, continually updated capacity maps could be an important new tool especially for the poorest countries and their development donors in closing stubborn gaps toward achievement of 2015 Millennium Development Goals.  The maps could also be a big help to all developing countries and donors in responding to locally diverse impacts of climate change.  And that's just for starters.

Social Entrepreneur -- With an Emphasis on 'Entrepreneur'

Tom Grubisich's picture

We're hearing more and more about the "social entrepreneur" as the development community looks for new ways to achieve better results, especially with many developing countries struggling to meet their 2015 Millennium Development Goals and at the same time cope with destructive climate change.

Ashoka, itself a pioneer in social entrepreneurship, has a pretty good definition:

"Social entrepreneurs are individuals with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems. They are ambitious and persistent, tackling major social issues and offering new ideas for wide-scale change."

But maybe the definition should also emphasize a special breed of social entrepreneurs -- those who tackle major social issues by launching projects that seek to be profitable.

When Fast Company magazine in 2008 honored 45 nonprofit social entrepreneurs "who are changing the world," it also tipped its hat to 10 for-profit companies with social missions.

Trying to change the world with a project funded by development donors can be maddeningly frustrating.  Even with a successful pilot, a nonprofit company is likely to encounter repeated funding snags and gaps in its quest for sustainability and replication.

Joel Selanikio was a Marketplace 2003 winner with the innovative idea to collect health-care data with hand-held computers.   DataDyne, the company that pediatrician Selanikio and his partner, technologist Rose Donna, co-founded, is a not-for-profit limited liability corporation (LLC).  Its personal digital assistant -- EpiSurveyor -- was an immediate success in health care in Sub-Saharan Africa and other developing countries.  But Selanikio had to keep making the rounds of donors for each step of his growth.  He was the model of the "ambitious and persistent" social entrepreneur -- but: "I got tired wearing out the knees of my trousers" making successive proposals to development donors, he said in an interview.

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