Putting the ‘i’ back into ICT

Most people in the tech and development space are familiar with lots of acronyms. The acronym ‘ICT’, or “information communications technology” has gotten a lot of mention lately from the development space as well as from the tech world, but very very little from the media world. There’s been a ton of focus on communications, and on the technology, but what specifically is being communicated? What’s the content? And who is focusing on it?

It would be worthwhile to bring back the focus to the ‘i’ – to the information itself – with ICT programs across the globe – and bring media producers to the table during brainstorms. Development agencies are not in the content business, and tech companies rarely are – so it’s the job of content creators, to ensure that the wrapper of messaging, as well as the strategy of how that content gets to the audiences that need it is thought through, along with the technologists. At least, that’s what I’d like to see more of.

Light Up Malawi Getting “Acquired” by buildOn

More and more non-profits are merging, and getting acquired and this is a practice I hope to see more of as common sense dictates – the best way of delivering change is not always to have a thousand voices yelling, but one very strong voice leading the pack. I was definitely excited when an opportunity came to practice this common sense came to the NGO I founded a few years ago.

As many of you know, my passion project Light Up Malawi has been run by Ryan Renner for the past several months as I took a job at the State Department and then at the Broadcasting Board of Governors to be their new co-director of Innovation. As a federal contractor, I could not hold any executive function with any non-profit organization, so I stepped down to an advisory role. While LUM was in good hands with Ryan – we also realized that the political environment in Malawi was not ideal. For a young organization like ours could thrive, or even survive, we needed entirely different circumstances, or years of experience. Both of which we did not have.

After a remarkably simple conversation with our first pilot partners, buildOn we were able to transfer the funds raised so far on Global Giving (the most amazing website for non-profit fundraising ever!) and put them into a community education program around clean energy. We think its a win-win situation. Thanks to everyone who supported us in the early days and fans through out. Thank you for believing that a few people can make a difference in the world, because we did! More details on the change here:

http://lightupmalawi.org/

Light Up Malawi

UPDATE: We’ve raised $6500 and secured a spot at the Unreasonable Institute! Thank you to all of our sponsors and tweeters that helped make us winners in the crowdfunding competition.

This is exciting news, because through the institute this idea hatched during a trip to India in November will get connected to some great advisors and fantastic funding. Light Up Malawi is indeed a very ambitious project, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. We are determined to bring sustainable energy solutions to one entire country. That’s one nation completely off the grid – using solar, wind, biomass, and kinetic to achieve this. Malawi is where my mother grew up, and I have family there to this day. I grew up hearing her stories about the country and the people. We believe that Malawi is the best place to start on a mission of this magnitude. And we believe we can do it. I hope you’ll join me on what will be a remarkable journey to prove to the world that poverty can be solved with sustainable, strategic solutions.
For more: Go to Lightupmalawi.org/about

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India, I feel you.

The TED India conference was a great jumping off point to begin my need finding research in India. I continued traveling around the country for the month researching opportunities after the conference meeting people and organizations in Bangalore, Mysore, Ahmedebad, Udaipur and Rajasthani villages, Delhi, Bombay and Ludhiana. I came only with the intention to find something I could contribute to,  holistically of course – through both my agency and its offerings as well as on a personal level. During all my time on trains, planes, cars and autorickshaws here are the main themes and realizations culled from my travel:

Design Poverty: Indian light switches, the irregular height of stairs and floors, the chaos in visual communications,  the accepting of shoddy industrial design as the norm, the total lack of accessible design,  the general cacophony of any public or private space and in 80% of instances user experience so bad it will give you a headache. Not to mention the encouragment of noise pollution in every corner of India. I know no outsider, or insider can really change India – in fact Indian culture will never change -  and I hope it doesn’t.  However small changes that heighten the quality and experience of life,  with the right education of India’s designers and the right demand from its increasingly educated consumers could make a massive difference to India overall. Methods for ending poverty could be designed into this education as well.

Reverse Diaspora: Many Indians like myself, that are brought up abroad are returning to India to join the “wild, wild east”. At TED it felt as though 1/3 of the people were from Silicon Valley- and though the convection between India and Silicon Valley is well established for technology talent, I am excited to see how my generation uses it for the social good and designing a better world.

Contradictory Space: India is a giant contradiction, and Indians work and live in this contradictory space daily, and are comfortable and balanced within this space. This would help explain a bit about the clash that sometimes occurs when foreign companies come to India expecting a smooth transition. Devdutt Pattanaik outlined  this in his talk explaining the fundamental cultural differences between the East and the West and how they play out in business and why.

Jugaad: finding a workaround. Jugaad literally means an arrangement or a work around, which have to be used because of lack of resources. Indians have always employed Jugaad, which is in essence not doing things the formal way, but rather maneuvering one’s way and finding loopholes around the answer ‘no’. Indians do not like to hear or say no. There’s almost always a way, which is a great mentality to live in.

Indigenous Inventions: financial and physical products that are invented by the end users are more valuable to them than the one’s we design down to them. The Honeybee Network and their inventions and the Chit Fund are great examples of this.

Disruptive Everything: disruptive business models, disruptive design, thinking, talking – all of it -is being embraced more and more in India and the world as a more attractive option than the tried and tested. Disruption not only stems from innovation, but more importantly serves to keep the playing field democratic. I absolutely subscribe to this theme.

Philanthrocapitalism: Or, compassion based business as I like to call it, is often baked into many Indian companies. Culturally, social responsibility is part of daily life, so its much less of an afterthought in India than elsewhere.

Corruption: No one thing has halted India’s progress more than this. Until things are done in a more transparent way, and the bribes vanish, its going to be very difficult for India to become the world leader it ought to be. I wish Shaffi Mather lots of luck with his anti-corruption campaign.

The Kids: It is known that the true change in India and the world will be with the next generation, and education in India needs a revolution, now. Many people are doing that including Kiran Sethi of the Riverside School and Deepti Doshi who is bringing La Escuela Nueva to India. With the right type of responsibility baked into their education, be it for sustainability or social change or design thinking, the next generation is where change lives. That said, having the largest, youngest economy in the world, might turn one of India’s greatest criticisms into its greatest boon.

Mobile Truths: Everyone knows its vital to banking the unbanked and setting up payment systems. I see lots of places where it hasn’t been used yet to its full potential, like in the education sector, in food, in advertising and public service – which could really prove to be the best tool to solve mass scale problems in India.

More to come as I process and digest this incredible month of research.

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Project: Bordeaux Repositioning

How does a legacy brand like Bordeaux remake itself in the US market where California wine is king, and where Frenchness is both a boon and a liability?
Solution: While all the details can’t be exposed of this ongoing campaign, I identified several key factors along the purchase chain and in the perception of the word Bordeaux itself. I wasn’t rebranding a brand, but a region and at the most basic level a heavily associated word. By conducting focus groups from coast to coast as well as tons of research from online surveys I came up with a strategy that hits practical and socio-cultural needs and leverages social media activation in an organic way.
Results: The campaign is now in the hands of the talented people at Creativefeed for execution, and you’ll be sure to see the work out and about.
Role: Strategic Brand Planner, Digital Strategist, Scenario Planner, Researcher