Category Archives: Social Innovation

The Triple Bottom Line Framework

The Triple Bottom Line Framework

GUEST POST from Dainora Jocuite

Money, money, money. It wasn’t so long ago that it was always sunny in the rich man’s world. But today, things just aren’t that easy, and talking about money isn’t enough.

Businesses cannot thrive and survive in a competitive environment with only one bottom line – profit.

United Nations Global Compact report points out that such issues as poverty, an uneducated workforce, and resource scarcity will, and already is, causing issues for business growth. In addition, both investors and potential talents are looking deeper than just the company’s financial success before they commit. So, next to Profit, business’s effect on People and the Planet are just as crucial measurement indicators.

“Poverty, conflict, an uneducated workforce, and resource scarcity for example, are also strategic issues for business success and viability.”
– UN Global Compact

And what do you get once you combine all three? Planet, People, and Profit are often referred to as the three pillars of sustainability. However, for a business to define sustainability, to have clear and reachable goals, and in return to have a fitting strategy to reach those goals can be challenging.

This is where the need and benefits of the triple bottom line framework become most evident.

What is the Triple Bottom Line Framework?

The term triple bottom line (TBL) was coined by John Elkington, corporate environmentalist, and author back in 1994. It isn’t exactly a new concept and we had plenty of time to see it being tried on by different companies like Patagonia, Unilever, Novo Nordisk and so many more. It is evident that the triple bottom line approach works.

So, what exactly is TBL?

Many like to argue that it is just another accounting tool. Yet in Elkington’s own words, it is a sustainability framework that examines an organization’s social, environmental, and economic impact. It measures a business’s environmental efforts (“planet account”), social well-being (“people account”), and a fair economy. It can be implemented by a business, a non-profit organization, or a governmental institution. It is flexible and adaptable.

Decades before the triple bottom line, the dominant belief was that the only responsibility a business has is to generate profit. It was set in place by economist Milton Friedman and his shareholder theory. With TBL, Elkington challenged the status quo by proposing accountability to all stakeholders and not just shareholders.

In addition to helping with planning sustainable growth, the triple bottom line can act as a reporting tool, thus, it focuses on long-term results and not just one-off campaigns to gain some publicity – can an organization sustain a just economy, environmental resources, and human capital?

Once we shift our attention from quarterly reports to a span of multiple years,

sustainability is no longer just a “to-do” list, but an opportunity that will rejuvenate business in an economy that does not exploit natural resources and social systems.

Triple Bottom Line 3 Areas

The Three Pillars of Sustainability

The triple bottom line goes hand in hand with the 1987’s Brundtland Report and the three key areas of development established by it: environmental conservation (Planet), economic development (Profit), and social sustainability (People).

Yet the definition of sustainability is a little bit more complex than that.

It is natural, that once you think of sustainability, your mind might wander to emissions, deforestation, climate change, and other related issues. For the longest, environmental changes have been the most reported and the most talked about topic. And for a good reason. The environmental pillar or Planet is considered to be the most important component of sustainability as it contains the social and economic systems within it.

But just like there wouldn’t be people without a planet, there wouldn’t be a business without people, and there wouldn’t be prosperity without business. All three areas are tightly interconnected and initiatives to address one often overlap with the other area, and naturally, when everything is so tightly knit, trade-offs are inevitable.

Sometimes decisions must be made to accommodate people at the cost of the environment OR decisions must be made to solve one environmental issue at the cost of another. A good example here would be an effort to reduce the consumption of single-use plastic bags by offering paper bags instead. Paper bags are easier to recycle and even if they do end up in a landfill, the lifespan of paper is drastically shorter than plastics. However, paper bag production is resource-heavy, consuming “four times more energy than plastic bags”.

Trade-offs make it impossible to talk about sustainability without considering all the pillars equally. Implementing the triple bottom line helps a business to form a holistic view of it.

Sustainability strives for:

  • Viable environmental-economic impact: business is executed with the environment and resources in mind, when possible, looking for green solutions or giving back, i.e., reforestation work.
    Trade-off: green business solutions can be intrusive and negatively affect private property (i.e., wind turbines in neighboring lands).
  • Bearable socio-environmental impact: education and awareness allow people to make environmentally conscious decisions, curb consumption and develop healthy habits that directly impact the environment.
    Trade-off: minimal consumption and complete protection of the land stalls economic growth.
  • Equitable socio-economic impact: people have an opportunity to work and earn a fair wage, and business strives to increase the general welfare of the people and increase the standard of living. This generates economic opportunity for both businesses and individuals. Corporate taxes also play a crucial role here – it is thanks to taxes that an organization contributes to supporting various societal programs.
    Trade-off: new business ventures can create more jobs but increase consumption of nonrenewable materials.

Planet

Planet bottom line focuses on an organization’s environmental impact, both positive and negative. Sustainable innovation (or on the environmental scale – eco-innovation), helps an organization to place its focus on the environment, by improving its production, manufacturing, marketing, and also all the in-house functions.

Impact on the planet can be created by such efforts as choosing natural and/or locally sourced materials, upcycling waste, using recyclable components, reducing unnecessary travel time, or saving energy usage.

Positive environmental impact can seem grandiose and nearly impossible to achieve. Not every organization is equally equipped to take drastic measures and pursue such efforts as reforestation, ocean clean-up, or full refurbishment of manufacturing facilities. Thus, while many regulations and recommendations exist, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to sustainability. Reporting and measurement really depend on such variables as the organization’s industry, location, size, and financial capabilities.

In addition, pursuing this bottom line can put the business in limbo, forcing it to decide between faster or more sustainable goods delivery; lower-costing or ethically sourced materials, and so on. These and similar initiatives can seem costly and counterproductive to what a business should be doing – generating profit. Yet like with most things in life, sustainability is not just black or white and it would not be a prevailing topic if there wasn’t true profit to be gained.

Benefits of The Planet Bottom Line

Besides the obvious emotional benefits of saving the earth, just feeling good while doing good, and complying with regulations there are practical reasons why you should pursue Planet bottom line:

  1. Satisfying consumer demand: GreenPrint’s 2022 Business of Sustainability Index indicates that demand for sustainable services and products is growing with 69% of respondents saying that “a product’s environmental friendliness is important to their purchasing decision” and 78% agreeing that they are interested in buying from environmentally friendly businesses.
  2. New business opportunities: a shift towards net zero is creating demand for new green solutions. A recent report by McKinsey indicates that reaching net zero by 2050 requires “investments amount to $9.2 trillion per year, of which $6.5 trillion annually would go into low-emissions assets and enabling infrastructure”.
  3. Cost reduction: in another report McKinsey notes that environmentally focused initiatives can “improve operating profits by up to 60%”, by reducing unnecessary waste as well as the usage of water or raw materials, that due to growing scarcity, are becoming more and more expensive.
  4. Improved brand image: knowing that consumers are seeking environmentally friendly products and services, it makes sense to invest in and report on sustainability initiatives. It improves the brand’s image which can lead to increased sales. In addition, nowadays, stakeholders can easily hold an organization accountable for action or inaction, thanks to the speed at which information spreads on social media. Even the smallest misstep by a brand can be rapidly broadcast to millions, causing damage, and leading to lost revenue.
  5. Minimizing regulatory risks: Staying within safe lines of regulations keeps your organization from fines and penalties. Plus, it’s typically easier and less expensive to take such measures proactively, than it is to do so when your hand is forced.
  6. Competitive edge: by excelling at and advocating for an environmental cause, an organization can put pressure on its competitors and use the achievement as a competitive advantage.

Initiatives to Consider

As mentioned earlier, pursuing The Planet bottom line does not necessarily mean making big and drastic changes. Environmentally positive impact-creating initiatives that you can consider are:

  • Recycling opportunity in-house and limited use of materials (i.e., unnecessary printing).
  • Reducing travel, remote work opportunities, and/or public transportation benefits.
  • Partnerships with green businesses and buying locally manufactured goods.
  • Optimizing and reducing energy consumption.
  • Seasonal company-wide green initiatives (i.e., day to collect trash or volunteer).
  • Becoming an ambassador of an environmental cause and advocating for it.
  • Creating an option for customers and employees to donate instead of receiving material gifts.
  • Workshops and training to educate and bring awareness on environmental issues and how the organization can positively impact it.
  • Find innovative ways to be more effective or efficient in your operations by involving employees.

The bigger picture will always be comprised of smaller bits and pieces and while the above-mentioned initiatives might seem small, put together they can make an impact. That’s why giving your employees a voice and engaging the whole organization is so important. While it might sound like a big and complex feat, right tools, such as Viima can simplify the process allowing you to run idea challenges on sustainable innovation and development topics.

Reporting

Now, while environmental initiatives are important on many different levels, from a business point of view, they should contribute to profit generation. Thus, once your Planet bottom line initiatives are in place and running, it is crucial to report on them either on your website, or in your annual business or sustainability report.

The Non-Financial Reporting Directive (NFRD) came into effect back in 2018 requiring public interest companies with more than 500 employees to report on how they are dealing with sustainability matters. In 2024 we will see an additional directive on Corporate Sustainability Reporting which will apply to large companies that meet 2 of the following 3 criteria: more than 250 employees; more than €40 million net turnover; more than €20 million on the statement of financial position.

But reporting should be considered by small organizations too as talking about your achievements beyond the mandatory reporting will positively affect your brand image, it will increase transparency, and improve your reputation.

Reporting and measurement of positive impact can be quite difficult, especially if it is a voluntary initiative and is not based on any regulation-implied requirements. Below is a list of KPIs to consider:

  • Information on electricity consumption.
  • Information on fossil fuel consumption.
  • Information on waste management.
  • Change in land use/land cover.
  • Reduction in greenhouse gas emission.
  • Amount of waste generated and, when relevant – amount recycled.
  • Amount of ethically sourced materials.
  • Information on volunteering or charitable work done.
  • Information on new local, sustainable partnerships.

People and the Triple Bottom Line Pexels

People

People of the triple bottom line encompasses all the people included in or affected by a business.

It goes far beyond just the small circle of shareholders. This category includes (but is not limited to) employees, suppliers, wholesalers, customers, local or global communities within which the business operates, and future generations. Some people like to emphasize the future generations by separating it into the fourth sphere and adjusting the framework’s name to quadruple the bottom line. Yet in J. Elkington’s views, the future generations are simply an inseparable part of society, and it fits just perfectly in the People category.

There are certain aspects of this bottom line that might be regulated by local or regional governing bodies. For example, local labor law might indicate a specific number of working hours per week, how long lunch breaks your employees are eligible to take or what kind of health insurance the company must provide. However, as with all things sustainability, social responsibility extends beyond the bare minimum – it is a business’ voluntary and proactive way of recognizing its impacts on stakeholders.

The People aspect is an organization’s social impact or social responsibility. And as earlier cited UN Global Compact states, “social responsibility should be a critical part of any business because it affects the quality of a business relationship with stakeholders”.

Benefits of The People Bottom Line

Social initiatives might not be seen as profitable in the short run, but on a bigger scale, doing what is right and doing good positively affects the company’s standing amongst its competitors. For example, such initiatives can positively affect the following:

  1. Employee retention: Companies that invest in their employees’ satisfaction end up saving resources in the longer run. Time and money spent searching, hiring, and training employees can be invested in different opportunities. In addition, people that want to stick around in a company indicate good organizational health and improve brand image.
  2. Attraction of top talents: More and more routine work is being automated, and value is starting to be increasingly created by fewer people of higher talent creating systems, processes, and technology (=innovations) that drive value. Thus, attracting these top talents is increasingly important, but more and more of these people are these days motivated by factors such as the purpose and mission of the organization beyond just compensation, career growth, etc. more traditional factors.
  3. Customer loyalty: Companies willing to walk that extra mile, give to societies or contribute to positive impact will reap the benefits of a better brand image, and in line with their customers’ social values they will naturally have a chance to retain old and attract new customers.
  4. Raising capital: Socially responsible investing is constantly growing and the opportunity to attract investors depends on the organization’s sustainability achievements, the social aspect and how your organization treats people are always on the list of things to be evaluated.
  5. Avoiding risk: Strong commitment to social initiatives will eliminate work-disrupting and reputation-damaging risks. Any mistreatment of an employee or other community member can cause a severe backlash that will affect the organization’s profitability. In addition, the business’s focus on social responsibility in return creates supply chain security.
  6. Expanding the market: If most people can’t afford to buy your services, the size of your market dramatically increases if you are able to a) lower the prices of your products by decreasing costs, and/or b) by helping improve the income of said people. Combining both can be a powerful way to grow the business and create a more positive impact all around you.
  7. Source for innovation: As mentioned in our earlier article social issues need to be addressed and this in return can create business opportunities – “more than 80% of economic growth comes from innovation and application of new knowledge.” People-centric innovation (social innovation) enables the business to tap into that growth and reap benefits.

Initiatives to Consider

There are a lot of organizations that go far beyond the basic in-house social needs and are willing (and are financially capable) to give back to communities with charity work, donations, education grants, and various volunteering and community engagement initiatives.

However, not every company is capable of running such initiatives. Smaller-scale improvements like supporting your employees in setting up home offices with recycled or new equipment can be a great morale boost. In return, it creates comfort for people to work from home, reducing time spent commuting and/or using cars, leaning toward the Planet bottom line. With sustainability, every small effort counts.

  • Paid internships for students.
  • Organizing educational projects for externals (i.e., coding academy for students, job searching training).
  • Skill training and learning opportunities for employees.
  • Internal anti-racist training.
  • Employee surveys or feedback to keep everyone in the loop.
  • Salary transparency.
  • Employee stock plan.
  • Volunteering work within the nearest communities.

Reporting

Topics to report on and how your organization’s initiatives affected them can be:

  • Demographics of your employees and partners (i.e., working with small or minority-owned businesses).
  • Vacation days collected and used to see whether employees are rested and not overworked.
  • The average difference between wages and finances needed for minimum living standards in the area.
  • Average commuting time.
  • Average employee benefits.
  • Information on diversity of employees.
  • Job safety KPIs (i.e., reported incidents, corrective actions taken).
  • The number of new jobs created.
  • Hours spent on employee or external communities’ training.
  • Information on second-tier suppliers (i.e., where and how your first-tier suppliers are sourcing materials).

Dubai Skyline Unsplash

Profit

Profit by default seems to be the most analyzed and the best-understood segment of all the three covered in this article. By definition, profit means “money that is earned in trade or business after paying the costs of producing and selling goods and services”.

TBL is not meant to discount profit in any way – rather incorporate it into the other two legs of sustainability: investment in social initiatives or environmental projects relies directly on profit and a company that does not do well financially cannot contribute to the other areas – social and environmental impact.

Profit refers to the influence that the organization is creating on the whole environment within which it operates: ethical means to earn a profit; cooperating with and supporting ethical partners; fair wages and full taxes paid.

Profit as a component of TBL is pretty straightforward, yet there are certain aspects that might be confusing. And it seems to arise from a two-sided view of Profit: the philanthropic take with emphasis to give back to society as a charity, and pure profit to satisfy shareholders.

However, when talking about sustainability and the triple bottom line, these two sides are inseparable. The company can stay in business and drive value for the People and the Planet only if it makes a profit.

The triple bottom line’s Profit is a cycle: a business that makes a profit can then invest in innovation, creating a positive impact on the Planet and the People; can then pay taxes that in return will be used for social good; can then grow to create jobs for People and so on.

Key Points

Conclusion

The triple bottom line like other sustainability-oriented initiatives can seem quite idealistic in a world still strongly focused on profit.

But as McKinsey report over the past 5 years, investment into sustainable funds has been on a rise and even if current environmental, social, and governance (ESG) frameworks are far from perfect, ESG considerations are becoming more important in companies decision making. In addition, investing in sustainable innovation does result in stronger economies, higher living standards, and more opportunities for individuals.

There are no better words, to sum up this article than John Elkington’s words:

“To truly shift the needle, however, we need a new wave of TBL innovation and deployment. None of these sustainability frameworks will be enough, as long as they lack the suitable pace and scale — the necessary radical intent — needed to stop us all overshooting our planetary boundaries.”

The challenge here is that businesses still must satisfy shareholders and to deliver the value they have to make tradeoffs. There’s no one golden rule on how to satisfy all three areas of TBL equally, it is a continuous, balancing act, and decision-making should be based on long-term goals. But the fact is, that decisions must be made, and it is the best time to go beyond planning and start implementing.

This article was previously published in Viima’s blog.

Image Credits: Unsplash, Viima, Pexels

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Growing Shoes for Growing Children

Shoe That Grows

I love elegant design solutions for problems that are more important than some of the silly things that we think of as problems in the first world.

Their mission is simple, make shoes that will last longer for the kids that need them most and then work to find people who can distribute them to groups of children in need, while also helping those groups raise the money to fund the shoes to take with them and distribute.

Today I came across a video for the shoes that grow highlighted in this video:

The design challenge was pretty simple, how can you design a children’s shoe with a reasonable cost that:

  • Lasts for several years
  • Changes shape so that it continues to fit as the child grows (in this case it is designed to grow up to five sizes)
  • Breathes as the majority of children in need live in warmer climates

What do you think? Innovation or not?

For more information, please visit http://theshoethatgrows.org


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Get Social with Your Innovation

Get Social with Your InnovationIf your organization is struggling to sustain its innovation efforts, then I hope you will do the following things.

  • Find the purpose and passion that everyone can rally around.
  • Create the flexibility necessary to deal with the constant change that a focus on innovation requires for both customers and the organization.
  • Make innovation the social activity it truly must be for you to become successful.

If your organization has lost the courage to move innovation to its center and has gotten stuck in a project – focused, reactive innovation approach, then now is your chance to regain the higher ground and to refocus, not on having an innovation success but on building an innovation capability. Are you up to the challenge?

There is a great article “ Passion versus Obsession ” by John Hagel that explores the differences between passion and obsession. This is an important distinction to understand in order to make sure you are hiring people to power your innovation efforts who are passionate and not obsessive. Here are a few key quotes from the article:

“The first significant difference between passion and obsession is the role free will plays in each disposition: passionate people fight their way willingly to the edge to find places where they can pursue their passions more freely, while obsessive people (at best) passively drift there or (at worst) are exiled there.”

“It’s not an accident that we speak of an “object of obsession,” but the “subject of passion.” That’s because obsession tends towards highly specific focal points or goals, whereas passion is oriented toward networked, diversified spaces.”

More quotes from the John Hagel article:

“The subjects of passion invite and even demand connections with others who share the passion.”

“Because passionate people are driven to create as a way to grow and achieve their potential, they are constantly seeking out others who share their passion in a quest for collaboration, friction and inspiration . . . . The key difference between passion and obsession is fundamentally social: passion helps build relationships and obsession inhibits them.”

“It has been a long journey and it is far from over, but it has taught me that obsession confines while passion liberates.”

These quotes from John Hagel’s article are important because they reinforce the notion that innovation is a social activity. While many people give Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, and the modern-day equivalent, Dean Kamen, credit for being lone inventors, the fact is that the lone inventor myth is just that — a myth, one which caused me to create The Nine Innovation Roles.

The fact is that all of these gentlemen had labs full of people who shared their passion for creative pursuits. Innovation requires collaboration, either publicly or privately, and is realized as an outcome of three social activities.

1. Social Inputs

From the very beginning when an organization is seeking to identify key insights to base an innovation strategy or project on, organizations often use ethnographic research, focus groups, or other very social methods to get at the insights. Great innovators also make connections to other industries and other disciplines to help create the great in sights that inspire great solutions.

2. Social Evolution

We usually have innovation teams in organizations, not sole inventors, and so the activity of transforming the seeds of useful invention into a solution valued above every existing alternative is very social. It takes a village of passionate villagers to transform an idea into an innovation in the marketplace. Great innovators make connections inside the organization to the people who can ask the right questions, uncover the most important weaknesses, help solve the most difficult challenges, and help break down internal barriers within the organization — all in support of creating a better solution.

3. Social Execution

The same customer group that you may have spent time with, seeking to understand, now requires education to show them that they really need the solution that all of their actions and behaviors indicated they needed at the beginning of the process. This social execution includes social outputs like trials, beta programs, trade show booths, and more. Great innovators have the patience to allow a new market space to mature, and they know how to grow the demand while also identifying the key shortcomings with customers who are holding the solution back from mass acceptance.

Conclusion

When it comes to insights, these three activities are not completely discrete. Insights do not expose themselves only in the social inputs phase, but can also expose themselves in other phases — if you’re paying attention.

Flickr famously started out as a company producing a video game in the social inputs phase, but was astute enough during the social execution phase to recognize that the most used feature was one that allowed people to share photos. Recognizing that there was an unmet market need amongst customers for easy sharing of photos, Flickr reoriented its market solution from video game to photo sharing site and reaped millions of dollars in the process when they ultimately sold their site to Yahoo!.

Ultimately, action is more important than intent, and so as an innovator you must always be listening and watching to see what people do and not just what they say. Build your solution on the wrong insight and nobody will be beating a path to your door.

NOTE: This article is an adaptation of some of the great content in my five-star book Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire (available in many local libraries and fine booksellers everywhere).

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Powering Monday Night Football with Feet?

Shell Kinetic Soccer Field in BrazilElectricity.

It’s not exactly cheap, and in rapidly modernizing countries (or even U.S. municipalities with budget woes) the idea of illuminating a neighborhood soccer field so kids and adults can play at night (especially in a poorer neighborhood), might seem like an impossibility.

But a couple of weeks ago Pelé (the Brazilian soccer player) and Shell (the global oil – ahem energy company) this week showed off a soccer revolution, a field located in the heart of Morro da Mineira, a Rio de Janeiro favela, capable of capturing the kinetic energy created by the movement of players around the field and combining it with nearby solar power to provide a source of renewable electricity for lighting the field.

The field uses two hundred high-tech, underground tiles to capture the energy created by players running around the field, along with energy created by solar panels next to the field and stores it in batteries next to the field. These new floodlights provides the players with a lit field and everyone else in the favela a safe and secure community area at night.

Until it was redeveloped by Shell, the soccer field was largely unusable and many young people were forced to play in the streets. The Morro da Mineira project shows how creative ideas delivered through committed partnerships can shape neighborhoods and transform communities.

The effort is a component of the Shell #makethefuture program, which endeavors to inspire entrepreneurs and young people to see science and engineering as potential career choices, and hopes to inspire both to use their minds to develop energy solutions for our planet’s future. The kinetic technology used at the soccer field was developed by a UK Shell LiveWIRE grant, which is designed to be a catalyst for young students and entrepreneurs seeking to grow promising ideas into viable and sustainable businesses.

Could we someday see a World Cup match lit by the players or maybe even a Monday Night Football game?

Only time, and a continued commitment to advancements in renewable energy generation and storage, will tell.

For other interesting kinetic energy inventions (and potential innovations), continue reading here (link broken).

Image Source: Treehugger


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The Challenge of Autonomous Teaching Methods

The Challenge of Autonomous Teaching Methods

An estimated 250 million children around the world cannot read, write, or demonstrate basic arithmetic skills. Many of these children are in developing countries without regular access to quality schools or teachers. While programs exist to build schools and train teachers, traditional models of education are not able to scale fast enough to meet demand. We simply cannot build enough schools or train enough teachers to meet the need. We are at a pivotal moment where an innovative approach is necessary to eliminate existing barriers to learning, enabling the seeds of innovation to be imparted to every child, regardless of geographic location or economic status.

XPRIZE Chairman and CEO, Dr. Peter H. Diamandis announced the $15M Global Learning XPRIZE today to help solve these challenges. The Global Learning XPRIZE is a five-year competition challenging teams to develop an open source solution that can be iterated upon, scaled and deployed around the world, bringing quality learning experiences to children no matter where they live. Enabling children in developing countries to teach themselves basic reading, writing and arithmetic.

At the same time, XPRIZE will launch an online crowdfunding campaign to mobilize a global street team of supporters to get involved with the Global Learning XPRIZE. Every dollar pledged will go towards optimizing the success of the prize, specifically focusing on supporting team recruitment globally and expanding field testing.

The Global Learning XPRIZE will launch with a six-month team registration period followed by 18 months of solution development. A panel of third-party expert judges will then evaluate and select the top five teams to proceed in the competition, and award each of them a $1M award. Solutions will be tested in the field with thousands of children in the developing world, over an 18-month period. The $10M top prize will ultimately be awarded to the team that develops a technology solution demonstrating the greatest levels of proficiency gains in reading, writing and arithmetic.

The learning solutions developed by this prize will enable a child to learn autonomously. And, those created by the finalists will be open-sourced for all to access, iterate and share. This technology could be deployed around the world, bringing learning experiences to children otherwise thought unreachable, who do not have access to quality education, and supplementing the learning experiences of children who do.

The impact will be exponential. Children with basic literacy skills have the potential to lift themselves out of poverty. And that’s not all. By enabling a child to learn how to learn, that child has opportunity – to live a healthy and productive life, to provide for their family and their community, as well as to contribute toward a peaceful, prosperous and abundant world.

XPRIZE believes that innovation can come from anywhere and that many of the greatest minds remain untapped.

What might the future look like with hundreds of millions of additional young minds unleashed to tackle the world’s Grand Challenges?

The Global Learning XPRIZE is funded by a group of donors, including the Dick & Betsy DeVos Foundation, the Anthony Robbins Foundation, the Econet Foundation, the Merkin Family Foundation, Scott Hassan, John Raymonds and Suzanne West.

For more information, visit http://learning.xprize.org.

COMMENTARY

I am very excited about this new effort, as I am a big believer that we should live in a world where the next Einstein could come from anywhere, but I have a few of concerns:

  • It seems to be focused on the use of technology
  • Five years is a long time (will they get a five-year-old solution?)
  • It doesn’t engage the target users in co-creation throughout the whole process (it’s outside in)
  • It seems to ignore the infrastructure in place in areas of the greatest need (where students don’t even have desks)
  • The most capable solutions may be too expensive to implement in the target areas
  • The goal should be to build an autonomous learning system that can be used for reading, writing, and arithmetic, but also extended to do much more
  • Teaching students skills autonomously is fine as long as there is social practice as part of the curriculum
  • An over-reliance on autonomous teaching will lead to less innovation not more
  • We are already seeing negative effects in first-world society from too much reliance on technology
  • If we want more innovation, we need to be teaching our kids ICE skills not just STEM, ICE being Invention, Collaboration, and Entrepreneurship – these are all social skills that don’t need technology (but can use it)

For more on my views on improving education (which doesn’t require education reform or new technology), please see my article Stop Praying for Education Reform.

For those of you who are going to enter a team, I look forward to seeing what you come up with and I hope that you’ll keep some of the above in mind!


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Speeding Innovation to Africa

I came across an interesting crowdfunding site called The 1% Club. What makes it interesting it that is designed to help launch improvement projects in Africa that will make it cleaner, safer, and/or friendlier through a partnership between charity (Dutch National Postcode Lottery) and the general public. Here is a video that describes itself:

The way that it works is that if the general public contributes the first 30% to back an idea (crowdfunding) in 30 days, then the Cheetah Fund will contribute the rest to fully fund the idea and launch it in Africa.

For an example of one of the projects, check out:

The Maternal Portal Project

The Maternal Portal project is a mobile health technology intervention that seeks to reduce maternal deaths, by using localized voice technology to reach out to expectant mothers in their local languages with relevant information pertaining to pregnancy and childbirth. The localized voice messages will educate women on basic malaria prevention, proper nutrition routines, and how, when and where to seek for medical assistance.


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Improving Education for 20 Cents a Student

I love examples of simple, inexpensive solutions that solve important problems. Solutions like the water bottle light, the gravity light, etc., and Mike Freeston was kind enough to send this most recent example that I will share with you today. Thank you Mike!

The video details the work of a Non-Governmental Organization (aka NGO), that was created as a Community Service Center for marginalized families in rural areas an urban slums. It’s called Aarambh, and they wanted to help students who don’t even have the basic facilities, to be more comfortable and productive at school.

Most schools in rural India have two basic problems:

  1. Schools don’t have proper desks, which leads to poor eyesight, bad posture and bad writing.
  2. Students don’t have school bags.

Aarambh came up with a solution which tackled both these problems with a single, thoughtful design.

Aarambh came up with a design for portable desks made using discarded cardboard boxes (aka cartons). This choice for raw materials is both economical, and easily available. The stencil design, when cut and folded, creates a desk suitable for use by students whom must sit on the floor AND it also can serve as a school bag.

Brilliant!


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Using Gravity to Save and Improve Lives

Using Gravity to Save and Improve Lives

I came across an IndieGogo project that is focused on building and trialing a gravity-powered power station that can serve either as a lantern or as a flexible power source that can be used to power a task light, recharge batteries, or potentially other things that users might dream up that the designers can’t yet imagine.

Check out their video from IndieGogo:

They have already raised FIVE TIMES the money they set out to raise on IndieGogo.

I found it interesting in their promotional video that initially they started with a design challenge of designing a system that would charge a light for indoor use using a solar panel, but that they decided to abandon the approach specified from the outset and pursue alternate power sources.

Also interesting from the IndieGogo project page are the following facts:

The World Bank estimates that, as a result, 780 million women and children inhale smoke which is equivalent to smoking 2 packets of cigarettes every day. 60% of adult, female lung-cancer victims in developing nations are non-smokers. The fumes also cause eye infections and cataracts, but burning kerosene is also more immediately dangerous: 2.5 million people a year, in India alone, suffer severe burns from overturned kerosene lamps. Burning Kerosene also comes with a financial burden: kerosene for lighting ALONE can consume 10 to 20% of a household’s income. This burden traps people in a permanent state of subsistence living, buying cupfuls of fuel for their daily needs, as and when they can.

The burning of Kerosene for lighting also produces 244 million tonnes of Carbon Dioxide annually.

So, what do you think, a meaningful innovation or an interesting but impractical invention?

More information available on their web site here.


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Stop Praying for Education Reform

Stop Praying for Education ReformWhen it comes to education, we should adopt Nike’s famous motto and ‘Just Do It’.

In the United States (and probably many other countries around the world), it has become a popular pastime to complain about the state of the public schools. People complain about school funding, teacher performance, curriculum, class sizes, and more things than I care to remember right now.

And while the Gates Foundation and many other great organizations are trying to come up with new ways to make education delivery and administration better, the fact remains that education funding is likely to get worse (not better) and any reform is likely to take a long time to implement in the face of stiff resistance.

So what are parents to do?

Well, in my interview with Seth Godin at the World Innovation Forum (2010), he suggested that parents are going to have to take increasing responsibility for educating their own children at home AFTER they get home from school. The interview is one of many innovation interviews I’ve done, and is below for your reference:

But, I’ve been thinking lately that while parents may be interested in supplementing the education their children receive at school in order to help them succeed in the innovation economy (a topic for another day), they may NOT possess the knowledge, skills, abilities (or maybe even the desire) to succeed at this admirable task.

I have another idea.

It is time for us as parents and community members to stop praying for education reform, and instead take action. I’ve given you the WHY, now let’s look at the WHO, WHAT, and WHERE.

The WHO

You! Many people have knowledge and skills that they can share with kids. Skills and knowledge that will help prepare the next generation for the realities of a workplace that demands more flexible thinking, creativity, problem solving, and entrepreneurial skills.

The WHAT

Let’s face facts. Today’s schools are designed to mass-produce trivia experts and basic competency in reading, writing, and arithmetic (and maybe some history, science, and other important subjects).

But, to succeed in the innovation economy, the next generation is going to need to be proficient in at least these ten things:

  1. Creativity
  2. Lateral Thinking
  3. Problem Solving
  4. Innovation (of course!)
  5. Interpersonal Skills
  6. Collaboration
  7. Negotiation
  8. Partnerships
  9. Entrepreneurship
  10. And much, much more…

The WHERE

Our workplaces and our schools may be the most common places for citizens in our societies to congregate, but there is another place where we could come together to supplement our childrens’ educations…

Congregations: (a definition)
1. The act of assembling.
2. A body of assembled people or things; a gathering.

Now, the word is often used in a religious context, but not all people are religious (or even belong to a religious congregation). But, we have buildings all over the world that are designed for people to come together to study or pray together – or that belong to the government and can be used by the general public. We can use these buildings as gathering places to educate our children for the innovation economy.

Conclusion

We need to come together as societies and communities and fill the gaps in our educational systems that are unlikely to go away any time soon. We need to stop waiting for others to fix the problems and instead do what we can as individuals by coming together to solve this key challenge for continued prosperity. We must do this now.

Who’s with me?

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Innovating for Fun and Social Good

I came across this a while back on sitsite.com’s blog, use it in some of my innovation speaker engagements, and had to share it. After all, we could all use a little more fun in our lives, and if some social good can be achieved in the process, all the better!

It is from a Swedish site advertising a contest that was designed to award a 2,500 Euro prize for the idea that best exemplifies the premise that:

“something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better. Be it for yourself, for the environment, or for something entirely different, the only thing that matters is that it’s change for the better.”

To see more examples or to enter the contest, please visit The Fun Theory site. The campaign and competition are sponsored by Volkswagen – Smart move!

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