For the past two days, I’ve been attending (and also a speaker) at The Social Innovation Summit, a private, invitation-only forum that explores the frontiers of social innovation. The audience includes top corporate CSR executives, venture capital investors, government leaders, foundations, nonprofits, and social entrepreneurs. The agenda includes discussion and presentation of the innovative projects and approaches and the challenges of scaling social change. I attended the conference last year and this year, like last year, was a fantastic learning and networking opportunity.
Marnie Webb and I were the panelists for a workshop session called “How Technology Can Accelerate Social Change: Social Data in the Cloud,” moderated by Jane Meseck, Director of Global Citizenship and Public Affairs at Microsoft. We had a wide ranging discussion about the hot topic of data in the social change sector and some of the challenges that nonprofits face embracing it. One of the emerging trends that Marnie mentioned that caught my attention was the idea merging of hardware, data, mobile and social for social change. It sounds like science fiction, but let me share a few examples I heard about at the conference.
One example comes from, StethoCloud, which developed a solution to diagnose childhood pneumonia. Hon Weng Chong, a member of the team, described StethoCloud is a “cloud-powered, mobile-hybrid stethoscope for early detection of pneumonia.” It connects a stethoscope hardware device to a mobile phone and the user is able to transmit diagnostic information into a cloud service, reproducing the diagnostic capability of a trained medical doctor. This concept was second place winner of the Microsoft Imagine Cup Grants program (which is part of Microsoft’s YouthSpark Initiative that encourages young entrepreneurs and philanthropists.
The StethoCloud is an extension of telemedicine. During the conference, we got a live demonstration of how Dr. William Kennedy, Chief Pediatric Urology, uses a video system from Cisco to check in with patients in remote clinics. (He writes about this on Huffington Post). He did a live demonstration of a check in with a patient and reviewing his ultrasounds. It was inspiring to see it in action, but also how they improvised to get it started. Lacking space to set up the remove video conferencing station, they took over a supply closet.
Jacquelline Fuller, Director of Charity Giving and Advocacy at Google moderated a session called “Changing the World Through Technology” which featured two winners of their recently announced Global Impact Awards. She framed it as “edgy technology that may not work, but if it does it will leads to dramatic social innovation.”
Not surprisingly, charity:water was one of the organizations selected. charity:water is known for being an innovator in social fundraising as well as its mission to have clean water. They received $5 million for water-monitoring technology at 4,000 wells across Africa to ensure better maintenance of and access to clean water for more than 1 million people. Paull Young told me later that this was something they had been thinking about and trying to do for years. “Field staff and partners visit the wells, but it impossible to know if clean water is flowing 24/7. The technology, if it works as planned, should give us real-time data and allow to innovate in well maintenance – as well as donor accountability. Paull said, imagine a kid who raised money for a well when he was 12 and at 18 can look up on an app and get a report on his well. You can learn more about the project on the organization’s blog.
Another winner featured at the Summit was Barcode of Life consortium (lead by the Smithsonian) received $3 million for DNA barcoding to protect endangered species, of which more than 2,000 are protected from illegal trade by UN regulations. Intercepting wildlife transferred across borders is critical to slowing illegal trade and DNA barcoding provides a public library of DNA barcode tests for enforcement officials to use as a front-line tool.
These innovations take a combination of fearlessness and creativity. One of the inspiring stories from the conference was Caine’s Arcade as shared by filmmaker Nirvan Mullick who told this amazing story of how one child’s invention with cardboard boxes in Los Angeles, captured on a YouTube Video, not only raised money for a scholarship for this young boy, but also sparked a creativity in the schools movement and the launch of a foundation dedicated to encouraging creativity, The Imagination Foundation.
This is only a small slice of the ideas and projects I learned about at the conference, but the inspiration will be enough to last the whole year!